Somalia: The shift from crooked democracy to authoritarianism

Somalia’s presidential election last year seen as milestone of corruption by some and others as a fresh start for a war ravaged country is looking more and more like a false dawn – a huge opportunity lost. 

The Nation’s new government has taken U-turn on the long walk to democracy since coming to power in February 2017. In the face of non-stop power consolidation, Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo focused heavily on political opposition groups to consolidate power by cracking down on dissidents, political opponents and critical journalists while neglecting the much expected offensive against Al-Shabaab and at the same time relying solely on America’s drone strikes which is barely a sustainable solution, considering the group’s control of vast territories and the effect of civilian casualties, combined with the overstretched AMISOM troops and endemic deficiencies within the Somali national army.

The political crisis deepened as the country experienced a series of violent attacks, including raids, politically motivated detentions and other forms of intimidations by government officials directed against political opponents. These appalling acts by the government were simply acts of suppression. Even though, these events caught the attention of Somalis throughout the social media, the local media response was tepid, given a combination of bribes and their fear of retaliation by an administration that does not extend far beyond the capital, Mogadishu — an administration that remains dependent on western support and AMISOM troops for its survival.

Early this year, the Special Representative of UN Secretary-General to Somalia, Michael Keating warned that heavy-handed politics were a risk to the stability, pointing to the violent arrest of opposition figure Abdirahman Abdishakur that led to his injury and the death of five of his bodyguards in mid-December. Days later, the home of Senator Abdi Qaybdid, a former chief of police, the minister and regional head was raided by Somali security forces. “These incidents have highlighted basic problems that need to be addressed, such as inadequate rules and safeguards governing the conduct of politics, including impeachment procedures; blurred roles and lines of accountability of the many security actors; and the perpetuation of corrupt practices and of untraceable money in the political marketplace.” He went on to say that “all Somali actors need to respect the rule of law and resist the use of violence against their political opponents.”

Consolidation of power

In an apparent violation of the country’s constitution, President Farmajo dismissed Hassan Ibrahim, who served as the Chief Justice for two years on Sunday replacing him with a relatively unknown and inexperienced 36-year-old, Bashe Yusuf. This is the latest of what was a series of power grabs which consolidated all three branches of the government in the hands of one authority; a decision that was made in the name of judicial reforms has received a strong rebuke from Somalia’s legal and intellectual community.


Prof. Samatar blasts Farmaajo’s chief justice appointment

In a Somali-language interview on Monday, Prof. Abdi Ismail Samatar, a widely respected Somali intellectual who also was the head of the election commission to oversee the integrity of last year’s Somalia presidential elections – said that it was unfathomable that an individual who never sat as a judge to be appointed as the nation’s Chief Justice.

“This (Chief Justice Appointment) is something that I have never heard about in my life. This man who was named as the Chief Justice never sat as a judge. How can he render legal judgement with no experience?” said Prof. Samatar. He has not worked as a professional barrister or lawyer, his professional career is primarily NGO work, notably at Mercy Corps as a Program Officer. He added that, for a man who never sat as a judge to be elevated as the top justice in Somalia is a major problem for our country and if the President insists on his appointment than his credibility as a leader should be called into question. Furthermore, Prof, Samatar charged that the deputy prime minister of Somalia and Bashe Yusuf Ahmed are maternal cousins, which leads to more nefarious speculations surrounding the controversial appointment.”

Prof. Samatar said that to be a functioning democracy, the three arms of government must be separated. “The executive branch should be separated from the legislative branch which should be separated from the judiciary, adding that Somalia has barely healed from the scars of the last political conflict that pitted the legislative branch and the executive branch and came within whiskers of open conflict.” That protracted political tussle eventually led to the ouster of former Speaker Jawari. Samatar lays blame with the executive arm of government for that political crisis.


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