30.05.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia
It has been a week since the ocean blue flag with the bright white star was ceremonially and peacefully exchanged between two Somali leaders. It was 55 years ago when the first Somali President Aden Abdulle Osman became the first African leader to democratically transfer power to his successor, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke in 1967. Ironically, the incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo passed the key to the Presidency to the same President that passed him the key five years earlier in 2017, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud. The ceremony held for both Presidents was an astounding one, which demonstrates that despite major setbacks over the last year, Somalia is moving in the right direction.
However, many Somalis were disappointed by not only the reality that the Somali elections were delayed by over a year, but also the simple fact that the election was not a direct election. In other words, One-Person-One-Vote (1P1V). The reality is that both the previous Mahmoud Presidency and the Farmaajo administration both failed to hold direct elections in Somalia despite the provisional constitutional guaranteeing this fundamental democratic right for every Somali citizen.
The reasons to as how and why are never ending. A myriad of hurdles and problems in Somalia with the fundamental being security as well as the failure by Federal Member States (FMS) and the Federal Government in correctly implementing federalism. This directly stems from the limited development on the constitution and Federal law that defines more accurately the direct boundaries between federal and state level authority. This is further undermined by a Supreme Court that lacks the judicial power to implement its own ruling.
The combination of all these factors has created an environment of bumping heads as leaders push for vested interests, playing a political game with limited rules.
Irrespective, within the framework accepted by all Somali leaders, Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud appeared victorious which came as a surprise to some and expected result to others.
How did Hassan Sheikh Mohamud defeat Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo?
One thing Hassan Sheikh succeeded in and Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo failed is in the building of key close political allies that supported his political agenda within Parliament and beyond.
Sure, Farmaajo had a large support amongst the Somali people, but the reality is that he didn’t replicate that support amongst the Somali political elite equally. This was an indirect election. The electoral were the Parliamentarians, not the public. Therefore, public opinion was not necessarily considered.
There were three ways Farmaajo could’ve gained more support in the paradigm:
- One way could even developing strong relationships with established politicians that share a similar vision and support his agenda.
- The second way could have been supporting or growing newcomer politicians that are a new generation of ‘Nabad iyo Nolol’ that would continue his vision inside Parliament among others places, even after his defeat.
- Build bridges with some opposition politicians to gain some backing outside of ‘Nabad iyo Nolol’. The reality is that too many enemies is not good for anyone. A politician must compromise to gain more universal support. The lack of this resulted in Farmaajo being politically cornered as virtually all candidates agreed to unite against Farmaajo.
Hassan Sheikh is a politician that has been in the game for a very long time, having already served as President for four years and spending five years in Somalia as opposition. Ultimately, he built a team around himself of loyal MPs & Senators.
The Union for Peace and Development (UPD) party was one of the first parties in Somalia since the civil war. This network around Hassan Sheikh coupled with his coalition with other opposition figures gave him the numbers against Farmaajo.
Changing Political Dynamic in Somali Politics
The issue with Hassan Sheikh’s UPD party as much as all other political parties in Somalia is that it lacks an ideology or key sets of principle adhered by all members. Essentially, MPs/senators that are members of UPD do not stand on a party manifesto but rather are a group of close political allies. Additionally, the public do not have the same degree of power over the party as proper membership is not implemented.
As a result, it is seen more as a coalition of friends rather than a political party with key principles & ideology. In other words, it would be difficult to compete in a 1P1V election dynamic as members do not all stand for a particular manifesto. Nevertheless, one can look at the nature and climate created by the 4.5 system and indirect elections that have resulted in this culture of politics as political candidates seek the validation from their clan rather than society as a whole. Consequently, this would not require a manifesto as would be envision in a democratic election.
Nevertheless, what one can see is a political dynamic shifting from independent politicians seeking jobs to groups of what can be described as a proto-political party system. One side we have a somewhat opposition known as Nabad iyo Nolol party and on the other side we see the Union of Peace and Development party.
So, what next for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud?
The President must build a government that is diverse and represents all political thoughts in Somalia. It cannot exclude large sections of society. This would increase the political opposition to the President much like Farmaajo faced during the latter years of his Presidency. The President must make political friends, compromise and listen to the other side. He must accept that Somalia has to be governed equally rather than one-sided politics.
Additionally, It’s now critical more than ever for Hassan Sheikh to work on the delivery of 1P1V. For years, UPD led by Hassan Sheikh criticised the Farmaajo administration for its failings on the election among other things. As President Hassan Sheikh already served a first term and was one of the most vocal opposition figures against the Farmaajo administration, the pressure is high against the newly elected President to deliver this election. The Somali people have been patient enough for their constitutional right.
This is the chance for the opposition of five years to live up to all the criticisms and words they spoke the last few years.
Then, a comparison can be made by the public who decide the next Somali government by 2026 on the ballot box.