Monday, 21 September 2020, seventeen (17) states and three (3) international organizations collectively called International Partners (IP) of Somalia issued a face-saving Joint Statement under the umbrella of the United Nations Mission for Somalia (UNSOM) to express their position towards the political agreement between president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo of the federal government of Somalia (FGS) and the five presidents of the Federal Member States (FMS), plus the Governor of Benadir Regional Administration on an indirect electoral model for the election of the members of the federal parliament in 2020. The agreement was announced on Thursday, September 17, 2020 after series of meetings in Dhusamareb, the Capital of Galmudug State and finally in Mogadishu. Major players in the Somali politics like China, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt are not mentioned in the Joint Statement.
The agreement came about after IP exerted sustained pressure on President Farmajo and Presidents of the FMS, who were in standoff for almost two years. A consensus on the electoral process for 2020 election became urgent and critical goal after the touted direct election since 2017 became absolutely impossible for lack of credible preparation. In the light of the current volatile political, security, and economic situation, and time left for the term of the members of parliament ending in December 2020, indirect election became the second best option possible so as to ensure the continuity of the legitimacy, security, and stability of the fragile state of Somalia.
Therefore, the hope was that the agreement between the Somali leaders who were incommunicado for two years would be received as a victory for the IP and relief for the Somali people. Indeed, the majority of the Somali people welcomed the announced agreement which eased slightly the political tense brewing in the country.
However, the headline and the content of the Joint Statement reflect the erosion of consensus among the IP, the loss of influential global leadership, and the need for face-saving strategy after the rejection of the much publicized direct election without political will and follow-up actions. The IP acknowledge the agreement but withheld to offer congratulations and support for its immediate implementation.
It’s disingenuous and daydream to ask for direct election that has been foiled by the incumbent federal government of president Farmajo with the aggressive support of the international partners. The return to the 2016 indirect electoral model is itself a special advantage because the Somali people know how it works and what’s wrong with it if fix is needed before actual election process starts. The push for direct election under the current situation in Somalia is pointless.
Somalia needs the support of the international partners but at the same time suffers the consequences of their machinations, conflicting geopolitical interests, capricious or malicious behaviors of representatives. For their part, the Somali leaders bear more blame because they failed to serve their country and people with sense of patriotism, integrity, competence, responsibility, and respect of the rule of law and human rights.
What is striking more is the silence of the IP on the long delayed appointment of a new Prime Minister and formation of new Council of Ministers responsible for the businesses of the federal government. It’s inexplicable why the IP have not been disturbed by the brazen abuses of the constitution with regard to the unconstitutional actions of the caretaker government following the scandalous no-confidence motion against former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheire’s Cabinet. It is hard to reconcile the IP calls for democratic progress and their inaction towards daily undemocratic corrupt actions and abuses.
The Joint statement exposes the IP disregarding the reality in the country and bias to uphold their unjustified position for direct election despite the necessary condition for it is nonexistent at all. It also raises issues that should be beyond consideration at this moment of political crisis. For example, while it is important to appoint Judicial Services Commission and Human Rights Commissions, it is dangerous to appoint those commissions with unlawful process and in the midst of electoral crisis. Encouraging decisions to establish state institutions under lawlessness and controversial climate weakens the foundations of the Somali state and devalues the effectiveness and benefits of the international support.
The IP expressed disappointment that the agreed indirect electoral process falls short of the “longstanding Somali goals of direct voting for members of parliament in this electoral cycle.” This blames the Somali leaders for the failure of missing once again to hold direct election in Somalia. On the other hand, it is fair to argue that the disappointment of the international partners for falling back to 2016 indirect electoral model is hypocrisy or crocodile tear at the best, because they have been accomplices of the failure and knew well that there were no political, security, legislative, administrative, and financial preparations for one person one vote election in the past three and half years. No one should be fooled by the misnamed electoral law enacted in February 2020 as a law for one person one vote. For all practical purposes, the law is contradictory, impracticable, and not for direct election.
The persistent demand of the IP to mix incompatible electoral elements of direct and indirect elections like political parties, challenged federal system, National Independent Electoral Commission, voting of citizens without census, ID, and voter registration, distribution of parliamentary seats on clan and constituency basis, disregard of voter equality, discrimination of voters, women’s quota, role for traditional leaders, volatile security and political situation, is recipe for disaster and setback for building a democratic nation. The incoming federal leaders after election must assume the responsibility of addressing all the critical tasks neglected by the incumbent government, including the design of an electoral system that is compatible with the Somali political system and traditions.
Another puzzling observation of the Joint statement is, “to whom it is addressed?” since there is no legitimate Council of Ministers responsible for handling all the issues raised in it. The functions of the President are dependent on the executive. The term of the federal parliament ends 3 months. The recently appointed Prime Minister Eng. Mohamed Hussein Roble is going through the process of formation of Cabinet and parliamentary confirmation that will take weeks. There is no time left for properly addressing the review of the Provisional Constitution unless the International Partners are prognosticating term extension for the incumbent government beyond February 7, 2021, which is surely an explosive presumption and raises question of legitimacy.
Besides the legitimate, pertinent demand for free, fair, transparent, and inclusive election, the appeal for a roadmap with clear milestones for democratic progress under the current lame duck government seems wishful desire. Despite Somalia received valuable international support, it’s also true that it has lost 4 years with no progress in political, security, social, and economic goals with the full knowledge of donors. In the next 5 months, the focus should remain on managing reasonably and responsibly the political election for peaceful transition.
Dr. Mohamud M Uluso