Somalia’s President May Worsen Electoral Impasse Without Foreign Pressure

Protests against President Farmaajo in Mogadishu, December 15, 2020

Pressure from foreign donors, rather than public protests, is more likely to force Somalia’s president to cease stifling the opposition, interfering with electoral committees, and diverting blame for electoral delays.


  • Following previous agreements on an alternative process for one person-one vote elections, Somali stakeholders were tasked to form federal and state-level electoral committees and prepare election venues in each region. The Upper House was scheduled to be elected from Dec 1-10 while Lower House polls would be conducted from Dec 10-27. Both houses are scheduled to elect the president by February 8, 2021.
  • Opposition figures, including the Forum for National Parties (FNP), ex-Prime Minister Hassan Kheyre, and regional leaders in Jubaland and Puntland have refused to participate in elections until election committees are reconstituted to address concerns the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) has installed political loyalists and spies into its ranks.

President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo” is much more likely to change his tactics if there is more pressure from foreign partners, rather than public protests. He continues heavy-handed tactics that are hampering a consensus on a way forward. Recently, Farmaajo “severed” ties with Kenya over alleged interference in its electoral process. And, he reportedly sent additional troops to Gedo region, contradicting a request from Jubaland president Ahmed Madobe that they be removed before elections.

Here are some additional points to consider on why further foreign elite pressure is required.

·         Farmaajo can stifle public protests: The opposition blamed Turkish-trained Somali special forces for firing on civilians during December 15 demonstrations, and police later closed off streets to prevent further protests. There is a history of Somali elites paying protesters that undermines the legitimacy of their actions. But the more important point is that public protests have not swayed elite behavior in recent history. Rather, it has been either armed conflict or donor country pressure that brings the country’s elites to the table.

·         He succumbed to elite pressure before: When Somalia was experiencing a similar political crisis in 2011, then popular Prime Minster Farmaajo agreed to resign as part of a broader deal that extended the mandates of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden. Farmaajo could be looking for a similar liberty this time around, since he previously served as the scapegoat.

·         Opposition hypocrisy should not be ignored: Ex-president Sheikh Sharif, and his political partner ex-president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud – who also enjoyed a mandate extension when elections were delayed – have objected to any such leeway for Farmaajo. This severely undercuts their argument that a mandate extension should not be an option if elections are not held on time. And it should be noted that Farmaajo is not inventing new tactics to undermine the Somali opposition, as we have seen these tactics used continually over the last ten years.

In its most recent statement, the international community attributed equal responsibility for the electoral delays, referencing the opposition’s threat to hold parallel elections and hinting at FGS efforts to install political aides and intelligence agents in regional committees.

If there is not further pressure on Farmaajo, he could take further measures to divert blame for the delay or create other distractions:

  • Calling for the Withdrawal of Kenyan Troops: Farmaajo likely thought this measure would be too drastic at this point in the simmering row with Kenya. Apart from troops in Afmadow and Kismayo, Kenyan troops already have largely withdrawn to areas close to the border due to al-Shabaab’s mass raids on its vulnerable forces in the hinterlands. There is also the question of whether Farmaajo would be ready for the international backlash from a suggestion that – if carried out – would jeopardize security in Jubaland (of course, at the expense of his rival Madobe.)  
  • Unilaterally Extending the FGS Mandate: If the political impasse continues and it is clear that the presidential election will not take place on time, Farmaajo and his allies could declare a mandate extension without the consent of other senior leaders.
  • Starting Elections Without Consensus: Alternatively, Farmaajo and his allies could commence elections without support of the opposition, with the intent being to urge the international community to label his rivals as spoilers for not joining the process.

By publicly failing to lay a majority of the blame at Farmaajo’s feet, foreign partners risk emboldening Farmaajo and allowing him to continue – if not escalate – his current tactics that make it harder to forge a consensus on a way forward.

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