Somali President’s Mandate Extension: Brilliant Strategy or Grave Misstep?

This week, Somalia’s president Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmaajo” signed an unconstitutional Lower House resolution extending his term for two years and mandating One Person-One Vote (OPOV) elections to be held in 2023.

The move is the latest controversy in elections that continue to be postponed over several process disputes between the Somali government’s coalition (including Southwest/Galmudug/Hirshabelle) and opposition figures (including the National Salvation Forum (NSF), Puntland, and Jubaland, among others).

The term extension is a shocking decision from a political perspective, given that Farmaajo already had claimed his mandate was extended.

  • On February 9, Farmaajo’s spokesperson claimed the mandate extension the Somali parliament granted itself in October 2020 applied to the presidency as well. Surprisingly, UNSOM Special Representative James Swan largely agreed with this position, which makes it more curious why Farmaajo would seek a duplicative — and equally dubious — justification for extending his term.
  • While most of the international community’s (IC) previous criticisms seemed to be aimed at the opposition for failing to swiftly attend negotiations, foreign partners have now introduced the threat of sanctions and visa restrictions on the administration.

Farmaajo could be trying to entrap the opposition to violating the IC’s other red lines, namely commencing partial elections or a parallel political process.

  • In December 2020, the opposition formed a “parallel” electoral committee in rejection of the pro-Farmaajo bias within the official commission. While the opposition has not commenced an alternate process yet, doing so would play right into the president’s hands.
  • Farmaajo would be prepared to reframe the opposition, once again, as the true “spoilers” if they followed through with commencing an alternate election or forming a “transition” council that did not recognize the government.


Cracks in the Security Sector

  • Even opposition protests against the government intended as peaceful pose a high risk for violence due to trigger-happy armed components on each side.
  • Unaligned elements also pose threats, as a Somali army general recently threatened to launch an attempt to take over the airport following the signature of the extension. While possibly benign, the more important point is that the elites within the opposition do not have command and control of armed militias that could bring violence.
  • New data on Somalia from ACLED shows that continued political discord contributes to the broader scale and tempo of violence ranging from communal disputes to terrorist attacks.

Farmaajo’s Game of Diplomatic Chicken

  • While the IC determines when and if it will follow through on its diplomatic threats against Farmaajo’s administration, the president will wield his authority to denote antagonistic foreign personnel as “Persona Non Grata” like a sword.
  • In 2019, Farmaajo employed this tool with impunity when he expelled then Special Representative Nicholas Haysom following his criticisms of the government.

Categories: Peace Process

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