Similar to previous administrations, the FGS has prioritized the defeat of its domestic political opponents during the last months of its mandate rather than creating a conducive environment for elections and defeating al-Shabaab.
The political disruption that the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) has directed in Galmudug and Jubaland regions will undermine the process to build a consensus on a format and timeline for 2020-21 national elections.
On February 2, the FGS-backed regional parliament in Dhusamareeb installed the government’s preferred candidate – Ahmed Abdi Kariye “Qoor Qoor” – as Galmudug president.
This result came even after rival processes elected leaders of splinter administrations due to allegations that the FGS had overseen undue interference with the selection of regional parliamentarians and electoral commission members.
Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama’a (ASWJ) elected its own leader Sheikh Mohamed Shakir in a rival ceremony in the same town. And, a faction loyal to incumbent Ahmed Duale Gelle “Haaf” selected their dissenting leader in Galkayo – bringing the claims to the regional presidency to three.
Oddly, the American Embassy in Mogadishu congratulated Qoor Qoor’s victory, even as it later vaguely admitted the election was “imperfect.” The U.S. likely did not want to endorse the formation of splinter groups to contest disputed electoral processes, which has become a common practice.
Instead, the U.S. validated an election disputed by a majority of those involved and failed to send any signal to the FGS – at least publically – that its behavior is unacceptable.
Equally important, Qoor Qoor’s mandate is only as strong as the territory his administration controls and the communities that accede to his authority – which is inarguably modest.
Haaf’s faction in Galkayo has held demonstrations against Qoor Qoor:
Meanwhile, only a small number of Qoor Qoor’s supporters celebrated his victory in Dhusamareeb. (There may be a no better time for Qoor Qoor and the FGS to fast-track Qatar’s support for the multi-million dollar development of Hobyo port to shore up his base.)
ASWJ had predominant control of Dhusamareeb before the December 2019 power-sharing agreement with the FGS to integrate the militia into the regional government and national army. Now that another agreement between the two disputants has collapsed again, there is a higher risk of violence if ASWJ seeks to exert its authority over the FGS in the town.
Relations between the FGS and Jubaland have only deteriorated further following Ahmed Madobe’s contentious re-election in August 2019.
Ironically, Madobe appears to have employed the same strong-handed tactics as the FGS to create an electoral architecture that would guarantee his victory. And similarly, the international community did not refute its result. Perhaps it is a blessing to Western envoys that the FGS did not declare them as persona non grata as was done to UN Special Envoy Nicholas Haysom, who criticized the FGS’ arrest of ex-Shabaab senior leader Mukhtar Robow during the Southwest region election.
Since its attempt to oust Madobe through the regional election failed, the FGS is seeking to reduce Madobe’s sphere of influence in the region, particularly in Gedo where opposition to Madobe is more common. The Ethiopian government has supported this effort almost certainly because it meets its strategic objectives to ensure regional leaders cater to its interests.
The first step in this plan has been to pressure local leaders to renounce their support for the Jubaland administration. In November 2019, Ethiopian forces controversially detained the local leaders of Beled Hawo, Luuq, and Dolow, as well as a senior Jubaland army official. The detainment was intended to coerce their allegiance to the FGS rather than Jubaland.
Most recently, on February 6, the Somali military detained the deputy governor of Gedo region and the governor of Bardheere town after they arrived in Mogadishu. While the reason remains unclear, it is likely related to the FGS’ influence campaign in Jubaland.
Other Somali media outlets have reported an increase FGS presence in Bardheere, including forces from Somalia’s federal spy agency. The prioritization of efforts to displace pro-Jubaland officials in Gedo is even more shocking since al-Shabaab still controls the entirety of Middle Juba region – a whole third of Jubaland.
The FGS also arrested Jubaland security minister Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur “Janan” in Mogadishu as he was in transit to Ethiopia, which raises the question of whether Ethiopia played the part of luring Janan into his arrest. Amnesty International and the United Nations have documented serious allegations against Janan that deserve consideration in the court of law. Unfortunately, the political dispute between the FGS and Jubaland complicates the merits of his arrest.
On January 31, Janan escaped house arrest in Mogadishu and briefly fled to Kismayo, and then to Kenya, before arriving in Gedo, where tensions between his forces and the FGS began to escalate. Inevitably, he retreated again to Mandera, Kenya as Somalia called on neighboring authorities to arrest him.
It is helpful to point out that in October 2019, Kenya’s aviation authorities allowed an aircraft to depart directly to Kismayo for Madobe’s inauguration, despite a directive from Somalia to force all arriving flights to stop over in Mogadishu. This time around, Kenya has treated Somalia’s request to arrest Janan with similar defiance and has reportedly flown him between the two countries as he seeks to reassert his authority in the region. Elders in Beled Hawo have expressed concern about potential violence between Janan’s forces and Somali government troops, which have assumed control of the border town.
On the Role of the U.S. Military
All these efforts raise the question of whether the FGS is pulling its own weight in regard to fighting al-Shabaab with the same vigor that it battles regional leaders.
U.S. AFRICOM has prefaced each statement of kinetic strikes on al-Shabaab with the phrase, “In coordination with the Federal Government of Somalia.” While it is helpful from a public relations standpoint to frame drone strikes as a collective effort between the U.S. and Somalia, it is unclear what substantive role the FGS plays in the planning and execution of these operations.
In a way, this perfunctory protocol obfuscates how the U.S. is taking a stronger role than Somalia in counterterrorism operations as the FGS focuses on its domestic opponents. The U.S. should consider what impact its drone strike program has on the FGS’ desire to play its own part in degrading al-Shabaab’s capabilities, especially since the effectiveness of the program is debatable.