Brewing tensions between South West State and the Federal Government

16.8.2022: Mogadishu, Somalia

In a surprise move to many, President Laftagareen of South West State travelled to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa earlier this month.

This came following visits by senior Ethiopian security officials to Baydhabo as part of Addis Ababa’s new security policy as a result of the recent Al-Shabab attack in Somali Galbeed.

It is reported that Laftagareen received an official invitation at this meeting however Horumar cannot verify this independently.

It is also reported that upon finding out, Villa Somalia informed President Laftagareen to wait out the official visit to Ethiopia but he refused the request.

A similar visit by President Deni to Addis Ababa was also perceived as growing tensions between Mogadishu and Garowe, especially following the appointment of Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre and the announcement of the cabinet.

Irrespective, Mogadishu has remained quiet on all these trips publicly.

What is clear is that there is a brewing and increasingly intensifying political rift between Federal Member States, especially between South West State Somalia and Mogadishu.

What has caused the political rift?

There are numerous major causes that have resulted in distrust between Mogadishu and Baydhabo. Since earlier this year, there has been a coalition of politicians that originate from South West State that have been engaged in the preparation of the removal of President Laftagareen. Some members of this coalition include former Lower House Speaker and South West State President, Sharif Sheikh Adan, Former Lower House Speaker Jawaari, current speaker Adan Madobe and even the Somali Defence Minister, Abdulqadir Mohamed Nur.

The dispute revolves around two major elements:

  • The elections that took place in South West State Somalia in which some politicians claim to have been denied access to participate in the elections of Parliamentary seats. The most vocal of these dissidents is Former Speaker, Jawaari.
  • The looming South West State regional Presidential election which has been disputed by the opposing political camps.

President Laftagareen was elected President of the Federal Member State on the 19th of December 2018. The regional constitution stipulated that a Presidential term would last 4 years with an election to follow.

However, the issue was that the Presidential term was 4 years whereas the Parliament and in turn the government’s term was 5 years which politically cannot work. This would result in the South West State voting to provide Laftagareen and his administration a one year extension to allow the terms of the government and parliament to coincide.

This has been disputed and rejected by Laftagareen’s opposition who are adamant to for elections to be held by December 2022.

This rift between South West State politicians has been brewing under the surface for a year prior to the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud in May of this year.

In May 2022, President Laftagareen summoned all MPs and Senators representing South West State to discuss political events that were unfolding in Mogadishu including plans to remove him from office by this coalition of South West State politicians.

Speaking to the media, MP and former Commander of the Custodial Corps Mahad Abdirahman Aadan said: “we know there are meetings being held in Mogadishu and we will defend President Laftagareen.”

So, since the election of Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud, what steps has Villa Somalia taken regarding this brewing conflict in South West State Somalia?

The government would release the former Al-Shabab Deputy Leader and Spokesman, Mukhtar Roobow – a man that was in direct competition with Laftagareen during the 2018 elections before his detention by the previous administration.

In fact, Roobow would be offered a senior cabinet post in the new government led by PM Hamza Abdi Barre, a decision that has sent shockwaves in Baydhabo.

Some analysts have argued that Villa Somalia has the intention of replacing Laftagareen with Roobow in the upcoming elections as we have began to see Roobow embed himself within the opposition coalition aforementioned, giving a speech during an event held for him in Mogadishu.

Statements made by Roobow in recent days have also raised eyebrows. One of such statements he continues to repeat is the fact that he would not be holding the position of Religious Affairs Minister for much longer. Some of have translated this to be a sign that Roobow and Villa Somalia have plans for him to run for office again.

Roobow originates from South West State, having previously hid in the Bakool region alongside his militia of fighters he led following his rift with Al-Shabab at the time. It is reported that militia is still present in Bakool and has allegiance to Mr Roobow. So to Laftagareen, the empowerment of Roobow is a direct threat to himself and administration.

Why has President Hassan Sheikh decided to side with the opposition?

Well, President Hassan Sheikh perceives Laftagareen as a clear ally of former President Farmaajo. It is reported that Hassan Sheikh wants an individual that he can work with and will not question his government or policies. Indeed, Laftagareen is a politically vocal individual.

We can see Hassan Sheikh having already made similar moves for Galmudug with newly appointed Interior Minister, Ahmed Fiqi as a replacement for President Ahmed Qoor-Qoor. Fiqi is a direct opposition to Qoor-Qoor, having being fired as Galmudug Regional Security Minister following his support for ASWJ during battles between Galmudug State and the militia.

We can similarly the appointment of Abshir Omar as Foreign Minister. Mr Omar previously served as the Secretary General of the main opposition party in Puntland, Mideeye.

Mideeye defeated Deni’s incumbent political party during the 2021 direct elections in Qardho district among other places.

What are the possible consequences in South West State as the disputed election date looms in the horizon?

It is quite possible for South West State to witness events that unfolded in Mogadishu against the former government in Baydhabo.

The idea of ‘Badbaado Koonfur Galbeed’ or the South West State Salvation group could be formed. We have seen a similar group formulated in Galmudug against Qoor-Qoor by opposition leaders during the 2021/2022 Somali Presidential elections.

Additionally, during a recent speech, Mukhtar Roobow gave credit to the so-called National Salvation Force Militia in Mogadishu for what he described as “restoring peace and government to Somalia”.

Such a statement indicates that Mr Roobow endorses the use of violence to topple a government one disagrees with. Now, with a militia present in Bakool, it is quite possible that a new militia can be formulated against Laftagareen.

This explains recent decision by Baydhabo that flights travelling to the State would have to provide a list of passengers before travelling from Mogadishu – a decision which demonstrates the level distrust between South West State and Mogadishu.

What about the role of Ethiopia?

As I have previously discussed, tensions between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa have grown as a result of a foreign policy decisions in Somalia.

An agreement signed between Ethiopian and Somali governments in Mogadishu in 2018 emphasised the importance of the respect each nation will give to each others national sovereignty and integrity.

It seems as though the decision by Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud to jointly condemn what Al-Sisi described as “unilateral decisions” on the Nile River in Ethiopia as caused a major political response in Addis Ababa. Indeed, GERD is a matter of Ethiopian internal affairs and an issue that has been ongoing since 2011

As a result, it seems though Ethiopia has perceived such policy as a violation of the agreement signed by former President Farmaajo and Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed. Consequently, Ethiopia now sees Somalia as a threat – a tool for Egypt to influence and attack Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has already returned to her old ways as Addis invited both Deni and Laftagareen behind closed doors without consultation with Mogadishu.

For Laftagareen, the recent Al-Shabab threat coupled with the threats from Mogadishu means that he would rather deal with Ethiopia.

Of course, I do not agree with such a decision because it makes him no better than Ahmed Madobe of Jubaland.

However, Laftagareen signed agreements with Jigjiga according to both regional governments. These agreements were internationally legal because they came under the wider Ethiopian-Somali security pact that signed in 2018.

I will endorse and support joint cooperation between Somali Galbeed and neighbouring regions of South West State or Hirshabelle.

But, we cannot support Laftagareen seeking support beyond Somalis and into a territory that could destroy his political career.

As for Hassan Sheikh, it best that he stops the support of the opposition so aggressively as he is right now. He is adding fuel to an already heavily light fire.

Rather, he must make steps to rectify relations with Baydhabo and Jigjiga before visiting Addis Ababa and showcase neutrality on the Grand Ethiopian Dam dispute.

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