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Whistling, fact-checking and missing links: Key highlights from Farmajo’s speech

Editorial Team

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By Abdimalik Abdullahi

The opening of the 7th session of the Somali Bicameral Parliament was a unique one. It coincided with a time when Somalia finds itself amid a political uncertainty largely emanating from the failure of the political elite to settle for an inclusive electoral model and poor relations between the centre and the periphery. The country also struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic that has the potential of pushing the election timelines among other potential threats.

This 7th session, which is also the second last one, has important and intricate national issues to address and deliberate upon. From the electoral law-cum-model, the constitution review process to the representation of Mogadishu in the Upper House. The parliament has a load of work to carry on its back and has to work in a limited time frame and an environment characterized by the politics of push and pull.

Highlights from the Speech of the President

The speech of President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” was the most awaited. For a leader who leads a troubled nation and whom critics accuse of poor public relations and lack of consultations with the political stakeholders, the speech served as a litmus test as to what the president intends and how he will lead the nation in this trying times.

The president listed some of the achievements of the government, sent condolences to a deceased MP, thanked the Government of Turkey, and praised the work of the parliament. He emphasised on the aspect of universal suffrage and that the Somali people will have the opportunity to directly cast votes for their favourite leaders for the first time in several decades. The president urged the Somali people to get ready for free and fair elections and vote for the parties of their choice.

The president has time and again underlined that this is his stand but by him maintaining that has caught many unawares. Many, including me, doubted his commitment to universal suffrage but he seems to be striking us with sheer surprise. The feasibility of the universal suffrage is, however, still doubtful and seemingly a daunting task to deliver- at least in the short remaining time and if there is no extension. It’s wonderful but also concerning the MPs didn’t mind asking about the viability of a one-person-one-vote; bringing in the question of whether they are also warming up for extensions or have no clue of what the president’s sentiments entailed.

The president has also requested the joint sitting of parliament to support him in ensuring Mogadishu gets representation in the Upper House. He explicitly termed his request as a “presidential one”. It’s an open fact that the representation of Mogadishu and the status of the Benadir region is marred by a lot of election politics, clan power play, and legal quagmires, and hence wouldn’t be a walk in the park given the short time and the sharp political division. If the representation of Mogadishu is determined and agreed upon, Farmajo will have an advantage and a legacy that he can use to appeal with the Mogadishu elite and the masses (in the case of a one-person one vote).

An analytical reading between the lines of the president’s words also suggests that the representation of Mogadishu shall be an inclusive one that meets the threshold of the national image (read 4.5 formula).

Parliament drama

It is always tough to draw the line between what is misconduct in the chambers of the parliament and what is not. Even legal minds have difficulties in defining this matter and tend to disagree over the simplest misconducts. Speakers often differ in the judgments they make when confronted with such situations.

The Somali parliament is familiar with sessions turning rowdy and sometimes even violent. The memories of incidents from the embarrassing physical fighting of the members of the Somali parliament in 2005 in Nairobi, Kenya among others paint a picture of where the parliament came from.

Somalia’s immediate neighbour, Kenya, has had its fair share of drama in their parliament. For instance, in 2016 when President Uhuru Kenyatta was giving a state of the nation address in the parliament, he was faced with whistles and booing from opposition MPs who were later ejected from the sitting amid other disciplinary measures. However, the Somali constitution doesn’t address in detail how such situations should be tackled.

If you subject the moral compass to how some of the MPs behaved in Saturday’s sitting (whistling, standing up without speaker’s permission), we can agree on the bottom line of this: that such conduct was not honourable and desirable for legislators. They should have listened to the speech of the president and use other channels to air their concerns and resentments. The speakers of both houses should put their chambers in order and prepare for such situations in the future.

However, we should also note the whole mess speaks to a deeper problem in the country’s political landscape and is something triggered by grievances certain regions and political groups have against the government of President Farmajo. I bet it was no surprise for him to witness such a turn of events.

The president, for more than two years now, has barely any relations with sections of the political class and some of the member states.

Highlights of the speeches of the Speakers of the two houses

The speaker of the Lower House, Mohamed Mursal, called upon the government to expedite the process of establishing the Justice Service Commission and submit the names of the commission as well as the Judges of the Constitutional Court. He also lauded the Commission tasked with the constitution review for the work they have done in undertaking member states level consultations in South West, Hirshabelle and Galmudug, and urged them to consult with the remaining member states.

Moreover, Abdi Hashi, the speaker of the Upper House, emphasised that for federal-level elections to be held it will be a prerequisite for the Federal Government, the Federal Parliament, Member States and other political stakeholders to come together to agree on an inclusive approach towards the elections. He also urged the Federal Government and the Member States to solve their disagreements through talks in the spirit of the national interest.

Fact check

President Farmajo has alluded to a few issues that have stirred controversy and debates among the Somali people. For the public interest, such issues should be debunked and subjected to a fact check.

1. The president said that his government is the first government (after the civil war) that has provided free education to the Somali people.

Fact: That’s simply not true. The first free public education was launched during the tenure of President Hassan Sheikh. Maryan Qasim who the Minister of Health, Education & Social Services by then led this initiative dubbed “Go‐2‐School” – aada dugsiyada – in 2013. The program which was supported by UNICEF enabled an estimated 250,000 children and youth across the country to go to school at the end of 2014.

However, it is worth noting that the Ministry of Education is currently doing a marvellous job by providing free education to more than 16,000 students in Mogadishu, took over the management of 24 public schools and has almost 1000 teachers in its payroll.

2. President Farmajo said that there were 24 cases of insecurity in the first three months of 2020.

Fact: Security incidents from January to March has surpassed 700 incidents. These incidents included mortar attacks, bomb blasts, assassinations of high profile persons, and attacks on government and AMISOM bases.

3. The president has also lauded the parliament for working with his government cordially and collaboratively and playing their oversight role.

Fact: Yes, cases of motions of no confidence that crippled previous governments were very minimal but since the controversial ouster of Speaker Mohamed Jawari, the blockade on the residence of Speaker Mursal, and “buying’ the loyalty of the House leadership, the parliament has been reduced into a rubber stamp for the government.

Missing Links

Some prudent national issues were missing from the speech of the president. In an important forum like the joint sitting of the parliament, it was a constitutional duty that the president addressed some of the issues and challenges the country faces.

The president didn’t address:

– How in the proposed electoral law/model the OPOV which he sounds so passionate about will be compatible with the 4.5 clans power-sharing formula and -more confusing- the part system.

– COVID-19 and where the country stands at the moment with regards to the pandemic.

– The deep division and disagreement between the federal government and the member states, what he will do (if any) to overcome that.

Way forward

This is a special time that calls for well-measured deliberations and decisions. The transition period and electioneering season puts the political stakeholders into task and they have no option but to look for a broad consensus on the sticking issues.

The leadership of the Parliament should lead the nation in rolling out an implementable electoral model. It should also, with the necessary speed, address the outstanding issues including the representation of Mogadishu, electoral model, and the ambiguities surrounding it.

President Farmajo should at this juncture get ready for engagements with the stakeholders and even extend an olive branch to those he perceives as his political nemesis. Even with the parliament supporting his call for an OPOV, he will still need to win over the confidence of the different stakeholders for the country to move on.

And more importantly, the self-defeating political posturing and rhetoric should stop for God’s sake. Time and history would not favour the political class if they continue with the same political theatrics and the scripts we have watched for the last 2 years. Cognizant of the short remaining time, the virtual meetings between the government and member states should restart as soon as possible to prepare good grounds for the leaders to engage and reach a consensus.

 

Abdimalik Abdullahi is a researcher and analyst of Somali politics. He tweets @Abdimaleik and can be reached at abdimalikanwar@gmail.com

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Hi

    June 19, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    You haven’t mention reguraly paying salary of army and other employees, fighting corruption which enable to generate enough revenue which was short supply before this government and more

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Politics

White House endorses Somaliland, Taiwan diplomatic ties

Editorial Team

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Somaliland foreign minister Hagi Mohamud and his Taiwanese counterpart Joseph Wu during the signing ceremony of diplomatic cooperationa
   

 

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The United States is backing the recent diplomatic engagement between Somaliland and Taiwan, a decision that will infuriate both Mogadishu and Beijing.

The support comes barely a month after Hargeysa and Taipei announced they are opening representative offices in each other’s capital.

On July 1, Taiwanese foreign minister Joseph Wu said Taipei and Hargeysa had agreed to establish ties based on ‘friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law.’

The two sides have signed agreements in February 2020, but only made the details public in July. According to the agreement, the new relationship will focus on agriculture, education, energy, fisheries, health, information and communications, and mining.

“Great to see Taiwan stepping up its engagement in East Africa in a time of such tremendous need. Taiwan is a great partner in health, education, technical assistance, and more,” the US National Security Council said in a tweet.

The National Security Council is the principal forum used by the US President for consideration of national security, military and foreign policy with senior national security advisors and cabinet members.

The move by the US will enrage China, which says the People’s Republic of China represents ‘whole of China’ on the global stage.

China describes Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.

While the United States has no official relations with Taiwan, the Trump administration has ramped up backing for the island, with arms sales and laws to help Taiwan deal with pressure from China.

Taiwan is claimed by China, which sees the island part of its own territory. Beijing says the island could be brought l under its control by military force if it deems necessary. In elections and public opinion surveys.

Somaliland is a self-declared republic which broke away from the rest of Somalia in 1991 when a coalition of clan militia toppled President Siyad Barre.

Although no country recognises Somaliland, it has an effective government system; has its own currency, a central bank, police, army and other state institutions.

Only 15 countries recognise Taiwan as an independent nation.

Somaliland is located in one of the most strategically contested parts of the world – The Horn of Africa. The region serves as a political and cultural bridge between Africa and the Middle East and borders the Red Sea — a gateway to the Suez Canal and a vital corridor for maritime trade.

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Reform

Kenya to reopen places of worship next week

Editorial Team

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Kenya will reopen its places of worship in four phases beginning Tuesday next week, the Interfaith Council looking into opening of mosques, churches and temples has recommended.

However, there are guidelines to be met before the reopening takes place. These include; hand-washing, wearing of proper face-masks at all times, practicing social distancing, no more than one hour service, attendance of not more than 100 people at a time and people aged above 58 years of age should not be allowed in.

The council, working with the ministries of health of interior, said it had meetings where it received views from various religious leaders on how places of worship would begin operating in compliance with health safety rules.

Kenya closed mosques, churches and temples mid March after the country recorded the first few cases of COVID-19.

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Politics

Somalia has a ‘man problem’, and it needs to fix it

Editorial Team

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An all-man group photo of Somalia government director-generals
   

This week, a group photo of director-generals of government ministries appeared on social media. The director-generals were 22, all men. Somalis asked, where are the women? No one in government bothered to answer that question.

While there are an uncountable number of professional Somali women, the photo gave the impression that there are no women who are qualified to hold this kind of work.

Somali women are under-represented in every sector of the society: economic, social and politics. The minimum quota for women in parliamentary representation is 30 percent, but this has not been achieved yet: women have just 24 percent of seats.

Although this is an improvement, women were not involved in the initial stage of the election. Currently, the Somali politics is a clan-based which requires male traditional elders to select delegates which would in turn elect members of parliament. Even if the country goes for a direct election, women will still face the same challenges.

Women rights are some of the many casualties of a three-decade old civil war in Somalia that followed the collapse of the last effective central government in 1991.

Somalia is now ranked the fourth most dangerous country to be a woman and the endless civil war continues to fuel violence against women.

The government has taken positive steps to create laws that guarantee women their rights, doing away all forms of discrimination in employment, politics and education. The problem is it has not been implemented.

For example, in 2016, the cabinet proposed a bill, known as the National Gender Policy, and sent it to parliament for approval. It is still lying there. If passed, we do not know when, women will the legal rights to earn as much as men and to run for political office, including the presidency.

A number of women have declared their interest to stand in the last presidential election, but withdrew their candidacy due to threats from al Shabab group and other sections of the society.

Islamic scholars as well as ordinary Somalis condemned the bill. They said it promoted Western culture by granting “excessive” rights to women, and some even thought it endorses same sex relationships.

Al Shabab, which is fighting to overthrow the government in Mogadishu, has also condemned the gender policy at the time, saying it “promotes Western culture.” A pro-Al-Shabab website Somali Memo reported the policy under the headline: “Somali government passes law legalising same sex marriage.”

The country’s top Islamic body, the Somali Religious Council, reacted to the proposed gender policy bill. “It is a dangerous policy, which has nothing to do with Islam,” said Sheikh Bashir Ahmed, the council chairman.

It is a recipe for rebellion against their parents and husbands; a situation that is likely to weaken Muslim society, the council’s chair said.

In an interview with Radio Shebelle, Ahmed accused the peacekeeping force Amisom – African Union Mission in Somalia – of promoting the policy by helping organise women conferences. This prompted Information Minister Mohamed Mareye that Amisom was not involved in policy making.

Social media users reacted too, with many contributors mistaking the “gender equality” to mean same sex marriage.

The Somali Religious Council later said it supports the bill after consulting the government, although it insisted the policy gives ‘excessive right’ to women.

In 2013, a court in Mogadishu handed a six-month jail sentence to a 19 year-old woman who said members of the country’s security forces raped her. Two journalists who reported the rape were also jailed for “defamation and insulting state institutions.” Reporting on rape is one of the most sensitive topics in the conservative Horn of Africa nation due to culture and social stigmas.

And in 2018, al Shabab killed a woman they accused of being married to 11 women at the same time. They buried her neck-deep and stoned her to death at a public square in southern town of Sablale. Victims of al Shabab brutality do not get fair legal representation at al Shabab “Islamic courts”.

These are just examples, a big number of Somali women continue to suffer the same way.

Until the government changes its behaviour toward women and women in parliament and outside of it speak up for their rights, more than half of Somalia’s population will continue to suffer in injustice.

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