Somalia is preparing to move from clan-based political system to one-person, one-vote elections in 2020 to replace delegate-based elections in which clan elders pick members of parliament who would in turn choose a president.
This week, President Mohamed Farmajo signed an election bill into law, paving way for the country to hold its first popular election in half a century, and which political parties can compete for power.
In 2016, Somalia and its Western backers had cancelled a plan for a one-person, one-vote due to fears of al Shabab attacks which vowed to disrupt any form of election.
More than a dozen political parties have been formed to replace clan-based politics and members of parliament and senators are required to be members of a political party or lose their seats.
Most of these parties face numerous challenges including technical know-how and recruitment and a hostile environment. The political parties, some of whom are based outside the country, are required to register 10,000 members and open offices in half of the country’s 18 regions.
“Registering 10,000 members could be difficult for these new parties. They will most likely seek membership from their clan members. Although we are progressing, we will still have clan-based parties,” said Ali Abdirahman, a businessman in Mogadishu.
Some of these parties are run by individuals as an “enterprise” and many do not have offices. This prompted a warning from the chairperson of the National Independent Electoral Commission (NEC).
“Any party that is confirmed to have no physical address or does not operate as a genuine political party will lose it registration certificate,” Ms Halima Ismail, the NIEC chair, warned.
However, observers say the creation of new political parties is a major step towards a return to democracy and a sign of enthusiasm for multi-party politics in the Horn of Africa nation that is recovering from three decades of a brutal civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
According to Halima, multi-party democracy will help eliminate tribalism and will help the country shift from clan-based politics.
“Political parties are required to build their institutions properly, but when a political party does not open offices, it shows it cannot act as a government in-waiting. ”
Currently, Somalia’s politics is clan-based where clans share political power. It uses a system known as 4.5, where each of the four major clans get equal political representation while the smaller clans, represented as 0.5, share the remaining slots.
The four major clans share the presidency, premiership, speakership of the parliament and the head of the judiciary.
In 2017, 135 clan elders selected 14,025 electors who later picked 275 members of parliament who in turn elected a president.
The election was held inside an airport hangar in the capital, Mogadishu, for security reasons and there were allegations of corruption including voter bribery.
Al Shabab, an Al-Qaeda-linked group fighting to overthrow the internationally-backed government based in Mogadishu, threatened to disrupt the election.
The group still remains a threat to the democratisation of Somalia and will be much harder for political parties to open offices in at least nine of the 18 regions of Somalia some of which al-Shabab has significant presence.
Al Shabab continues to target clan elders who participated in the election of 2016, executing some of them in public in a move to instill fear to public involvement in a secular election.
The African Union Mission in Somalia, commonly known as Amisom, plans to withdraw its troops in 2020 or 2021 the same year direct elections are planned and when Somali forces are expected to take over responsibility of the country’s security.
If the security situation remains as it is, it will be harder for the public to come out and take part in the first ever democratic election in 50 years.
Coronavirus or no coronavirus, Somalia opposition wants election
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted planned events across the world; sporting activities postponed indefinitely, UN climate conference put on hold, and elections in many countries delayed.
But in Somalia, leading opposition parties are demanding for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held on time, without considering whether the country can manage an election in an era of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The Forum for National Parties (FNP), an alliance of six political parties, including two parties led by former presidents, Sharif Ahmed and Hassan Mohamud, accused the government of ‘overlooking the urgency of implementing the multi-party system in the country, and interfering in the activities of a joint parliamentary committee on elections, leading to suspension of its work drafting and completion of an electoral law, saying those are tactics to delay the polls.’
Somalia is scheduled to hold both parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021 respectively. Although an electoral law has been passed, it is still unclear whether the country will go for a one person, one vote election or maintain the status quo where clan elders will pick members of parliament who will in turn elect a president.
Should Somalia delay its election?
Kenya is delaying five by-elections because of Covid-19. The country has so far recorded close to 200 cases and four deaths.
Ethiopia announced postponement of its parliamentary elections, and in the US, States have put off presidential primary votes.
Elections have been rescheduled before. In 2018, the Democratic Republic of Congo delayed the presidential poll because of Ebola. In 2001 the UK general election was held off because of the spread of foot and mouth disease across the country.
The most important reason for postponing an election is the health of everyone involved. It will be difficult to hold an election without exposing those involved to the risk of contracting the new coronavirus.
Although coronavirus cases in Somalia stand at seven, people should not take chances, and must abide by government directives and scientific advice in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.
An election is the opposite of ‘social-distancing.’ It is a public event that deliberately bring together people to exchange ideas about the future direction of their country. It involves candidates and their supporters holding campaign rallies and events.
Elections are also supposed to be a time for talking. Simply holding an election is insufficient because citizens should actively consider their interests and the issues; weigh up competing arguments made by candidates; and discuss them around the dinner table, and in coffee shops.
Then, on election day, citizens, in this case, MPs, if Somalia doesn’t hold direct elections, turn up to polling stations (and airport hangars) and are handed a ballot paper. Election staff, who work extremely hard to keep Somalia’s democracy moving, will also be affected.
Elections do bring a lot of people together. Somalia’s election involves people and candidates coming in from Europe and the United States, the current epicenter of the novel coronavirus, unknowingly bringing the virus with them.
However, postponing an election could result in leaders, both at the legislature and the executive, remaining in office longer.
Postponement should be the last resort, but if the coronavirus does not go away in the next few months, political stakeholders in Somalia should reach consensus on a clearly agreed timetable for rescheduling is crucial. Democracy relies on a responsible government and political parties, who should put the lives of fellow citizens first before their interest.
What does Kenya want in Jubbaland?
A row between Somalia and Kenya over Jubbaland region in Somalia is threatening the security situation on both sides of the border.
Earlier this month, fighting between forces loyal to Jubbaland regional administration and Somali National Army spilled over into Mandera town that borders Somalia’s Bulla Hawa. Somali forces say they were pursuing a fugitive local minister in Jubbaland wanted for crimes in Mogadishu. Somalia accused Kenya of harbouring the minister, Abdirashid Janan.
Jubbaland consists of three provinces; Gedo, Middle Jubba and Lower Jubba, but control of Lower Jubba and Kismayu port is the biggest prize. Jubbaland is a potentially rich region, with good seasonal rainfall, year-round rivers, forests, and lush farm- and range-lands, as well as potential offshore oil and gas deposits.
The domestic stakes are high, as clan factions fight over the division of resources.
In October 2011, Kenya entered Somalia to fight al Shabab group, which it accused of abducting foreign tourists inside its territory. Later, it became part of the African Union mission to help Somali government defeat al Shabab.
For long, Nairobi wanted to establish a buffer zone in Jubbaland to prevent al Shabab militants from crossing into Kenya. If it can prevent al Shabab attacks because of the buffer zone, its tourism sector will flourish and a massive project on Lamu Port will go on, as investors will have no fear of attacks coming from Somalia.
Ten years later, Jubbaland remains one of Somalia’s most-unstable regions and it failed to act as a buffer zone to stop al Shabab from carrying out attacks inside Kenya. Since Kenyan troops entered Somalia, the al Qaeda-linked group carried out dozens of attacks in Kenya, killing hundreds of Kenyan citizens in the process.
Kenya’s interest in Jubbaland goes beyond creating a buffer zone and stopping al Shabab from entering Kenya. It sees economic interest in Jubbaland. Some influential Kenyan politicians and well-connected businesspeople want access to Kismayu port to avoid paying taxes at the port of Mombasa.
Though banned by the United Nations Security Council, the harvesting and export of charcoal has become a particularly lucrative industry, and continues to flourish with the help of Kenyan troops who are part of the African Union Mission in Somalia, commonly known as Amisom. Moreover, some within the Kenyan government are benefitting from this illegal trade, according to a United Nations report.
With a weak central government in place, whoever controls Kismayu can have influence over oil deposits in a contested maritime zone. Kenya supported the re-election of Ahmed Mohamed Islam, also known as Madobe, in August 2019, despite opposition from Mogadishu.
Both Kenya and Somalia claim ownership of 100,000 square kilometres triangle in the Indian Ocean believed to have large deposits of oil and gas. In 2014, Somalia sued Kenya at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Nairobi of encroaching part of its territory. Kenya tried to persuade Somalia to withdraw the case from the ICJ and settle the dispute of the court, but Somalia rejected Kenya’s plea.
“There is nothing ideological that ties Kenya to Madobe, except the fact that he is the best person to guarantee security which is in our interest. It is about the stability of the region, prosperity and security,” says Peter Kagwanja, a University of Nairobi lecturer told Kenya’s second-largest newspaper, The Standard.
Kenya also wants to get rid of Somali refugees, but before it does that, it may want to create some resemblance of stability in Jubbaland so that it could repatriate hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees living in camps in northeastern Kenya, and convince the international community that the region is safe and refugees can return. The Kenyan government says al Shabab elements hide in refugee camps where they plan attacks in the country.
Kenya’s action in Jubbaland may result in a clan warfare not only within Somalia but also in Ethiopia and Kenya, where clans in Jubbaland dispute also live.
The disagreement between Somalia and Kenya could jeopardise the security cooperation between the two – a big boon for al-Shabab – which is a pain in the neck for both countries.
Presidents Mohamed Farmajo and Uhuru Kenyatta are meeting in Nairobi this week to try to resolve their differences. Mogadishu and Nairobi can ill afford to take their eyes off the ball – al- Shabab, their common enemy, and waste their energy on resolvable diplomatic disputes.
Al Shabab has been driven out of major towns in Somalia but it is still capable of conducting high-profile attacks within and outside of Somalia, Kenya being the most vulnerable.
The top 10 Twitter accounts to follow in Somali politics
Twitter is so stuffed full of political news, opinion and analysis that are hard to pick out the worthwhile comments from the rest.
But, if you follow the right accounts, you will enjoy a feed which is insightful, informative, and witty in its coverage of Somalia politics.
The Frontier has compiled the top 10 Twitter accounts to follow if you are interested in Somali politics, so you can keep up with all the latest news, analysis, controversy, surprises, and the latest development as they happen. The list includes journalists, analysts, academics, and others.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of the biggest or best known accounts. This is the Twitter accounts that we judged to be the most influential and smartest on all shades of the political spectrum, based on best use of Twitter through frequency, aggregation, interaction, and how useful we felt their content is.
We did not consider the number of followers they have.
Do you think we missed a brilliant Twitter account that should be on this list? Make your case in the comments below.
The list below is in no particular order of rank.
Harun is a VOA journalists and host for Investigative Dossier, a VOA radio program and the first-of-its-kind by Somali media. He tweets breaking news on politics, security, and anything else on Somalia. He is a must-follow for Somalia breaking news.
Rashid is a researcher and an analyst. He tweets on security, migration, stabilisation, political, and geopolitical developments. He is an essential follow for anyone interested in Somalia political analysis. He is a researcher at Research and Evidence Facility. He is a former Horn of Africa project director at International Crisis Group, and a former analyst at BBC Monitoring.
Afyare is an assistant professor of international politics at the Qatar University’s International Affairs Department. He is the author of “Understanding the Somalia Conflagration: Identity, Political Islam and Peacebuilding.” He tweets on Somalia politics, and could be of help if you are interested.
Adam Aw Hirsi
Adam is a former minister in Jubbaland, a regional admnistartion in southern Somalia. He also served as policy advisor to Somalia prime minister. He tweets on politics, and also acts as fact-checker for those he finds tweeting or writing false information on Somalia.
Abdimalik is a researcher and an analyst. His tweets mainly focus on politics, governance, and geo-politics. He was recently appointed as a lead researcher communications officer at Somali Public Agenda. He provides world-class analysis on Somali politics, and sometimes offers recommendations. He is an essential follow if you need to understand Somali politics, both at federal and state levels.
Abdirashid is the director of Heritage Institute, a think-tank based in Mogadishu. He is also former government minister, an analyst at International Crisis Group, and a communications director at Villa Somalia. He is an expert on Somali issues, and would be helpful if you follow him. He provides recommendations in his tweets.
Farah is a former Deputy Speaker of the Kenya National Assembly, and served as a member of parliament for 10 years. He advocates for a stronger, effective Somali central government.
He backs the federal government irrespective of who is in charge of Villa Somalia. He tweets against foreign interference in Somalia and is a vocal defender of the current administration. If you are interested in how foreign countries do interfere with Somalia’s internal affairs, Farah is an ideal follow.
Abdulaziz Bilow Ali
Abdulaziz is a journalist working for China Global Television based in Mogadishu. He tweets everything-Somalia, including breaking news. If you need to catch up with the latest news and development, he is a nice follow.
Sahra Abdi Ahmed
Sahra is a VOA journalist. She has more than 15 years’ experience in journalism, and she previously worked with Reuters. Her tweets focus on politics and social issues.
Hassan is a freelance journalist based in Mogadishu. He tweets breaking news and news reports on Somalia, and other Somalia-related stories. He is an ideal follow.
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