Somalia Election Crisis: What You Need to Know About Farmajo-Roble Power Struggle

Farmajo Roble

MOGADISHU (Somaliguardian) – Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo announced on Monday that he had suspended his Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, accusing him of corruption and troops were immediately deployed to seize his office.

In an address to the nation, Roble accused the President of an “attempted coup” and of efforts to loot parliamentary seats after the offices of the Prime Minister and cabinet members had been taken over by troops loyal to Farmajo. He argued that the “former president” is similar to other presidential candidates and should wait for the upcoming vote and ordered the armed forces to begin taking orders from him, threatening action against those who fail to abide by the instructions.

A spokesman for Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, speaking to VOA Somali on Monday, dismissed the claims and asserted that the Premier was stoking tensions to sway attention from corruption case against him.

Analysts say the renewed rift is nominally over a delay to the elections but rather a power struggle. What is now going on is wrangling between “two thieves disputing on looting”, said well-known Somali scholar Abdi Ismael Samatar, adding that both men were earlier in agreement on rigging parliamentary polls. The personal interests of both strongmen have pitted them against each other, he added.

There is growing fear that the division among government’s leaders could distract authorities from the fight against Al-Qaeda-aligned militants, who are in control of large swathes of territory throughout south and central Somalia.

Prior to the flare-up, calls from opposition leaders for taking corrective measures against fraud in the election for a number of parliament seats had fallen to deaf ears. But the new agitation grew after Roble received information that Farmajo was planning to oust him by first launching a smear campaign followed by corruption allegations.

He has begun efforts to counter the looming the threat and form new allies by dismissing 7 members of the Electoral Disputes Resolution Team, ousting the head of the Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT) and replacing the defense minister – who were all deemed close associates of president Farmajo.

As the tensions boiled over, former speaker of parliament Mohamed Mursal, speaking at a ceremony held this week in Mogadishu to commemorate the 78th anniversary of the Somali police, hinted another possible attempt to extend Farmajo’s term in office and claimed that an election agreement reached on September 17 2020 was due to expire within days. Just a day later, the President said in a statement he would convene a meeting to pick a new Prime Minister.

Roble called for collective measures to deal with spoilers in Somalia’s elections. In response to his request, the United States said on Monday it would take an action against those obstructing the polls and warned against violence.

Traditional leaders, politicians and military officials of the Premier’s clan (Habargidir) gathered for a meeting in Mogadishu shortly after the “failed coup attempt” and agreed to mobilize thousands of troops to pressure Farmajo to quit and shield Roble from further attacks. They have urged other Hawiye clans to join their bid to topple the embattled Somali leader.

Hundreds of troops were mobilized within hours, who occupied main roads in the capital, including Sayidka junction, which is just 1 km away from the president’s residence. A military official said they would not leave the areas they had taken until they dislodge Farmajo from Villa Somalia. Dozens of military vehicles carrying troops, who had vacated front-lines against Al-Shabaab in the Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions entered Mogadishu overnight.

Photos circulated online showed armored vehicles parked at the gates of the presidential compounds which appears to have been surrounded by troops opposing the suspension of the Prime Minister.

Far many, Farmajo wanted to use the suspension as a bargaining chip, similar to what he did months ago when Roble agreed with him to exhonorate key allies of the president accused of killing a female spy Ikran Tahlil, and did not want tensions to turn into a full-blown war that could favor his opposition.

The incumbent president is trying to foil an upcoming meeting of the National Consultative Council (NCC), in which regional leaders and the PM are expected to address concerns on elections’ transparency and limit election locations. He is also exerting major emphasis on the reinstatement of his allies in the electoral bodies, who have swept to victory dozens of his vetted loyalists, including some in the security detail of his advisor Fahad Yasin.

Roble claimed on Sunday that the president was hell-bent on looting parliamentary seats and opted for halting elections when he had begun to introduce corrective measures against fraud and manipulation activities.

US congresswoman Ilhan Omar said on Monday it was time for Farmajo to “step aside” after staying a year in office beyond his term. The United States, the United Nations, the United Kingdom and other members of Somalia’s international partners called for restraint and calm amid simmering tensions.

Opposition leaders are mobilizing more troops for a new showdown while Farmajo is in talks with a number generals allied with the opposition, promising them millions of dollars if they break ranks with his critics and join his forces. Fear grows in Mogadishu of potential fighting after the escalating buildup has dashed hopes for peaceful elections.

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