The tortuous parliamentary selection needs more time, but the chances are that Hassan Sheikh, despite losing international confidence, will win
No Somali President was elected on 30 November, as scheduled, but it looks now as though the process will be brought to a conclusion by 15 December.
It had already become clear the 30 November deadline would be missed when, five days beforehand, the scheduled day for the election of a parliamentary Speaker passed with nobody appointed.
Now, the international powers which dominate Somalia’s affairs, headed by the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General, Michael Keating, are intent on putting a stop to the electoral process. They fear the consequences of too much delay. Keating, we hear, is pushing for 15 December as the cut-off date for the complex process: under it clans and sub-clans pick members of the parliament and the parliament picks the president (AC Vol 57 No 20, Electoral roads to federalism).
The ‘partners’ are at odds over whom they favour to lead the country. Britain was once opposed to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is seeking to continue in office, but is now resigned to accept whomever the process throws up, however much they have used money and naked power to get there. The United States, however, still wants the process to work hard. Somalia’s regional partners, Kenya and Ethiopia most important among them, don’t know whom they want.
The Islamic nations involved, mainly the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, are also in disagreement.
If he wins, Hassan Sheikh will owe his victory to astute manipulation of a process that was full of openings for the corrupt. Members of parliament are still being chosen, but he looks likely to end up with the most supporters in the chamber. Yet there are still plenty of hurdles for him to overcome and opportunities for upsets.
By 29 November the end of the selection process was approaching for the Upper House while that for the Lower House was only half-complete, with 170 of the total of 275 MPs selected. In the Upper House, 43 of the 54 seats have been allocated.
Puntland got eleven Senators, while Galmudug, South West State, Jubaland State and Hir-Shabelle each got eight. The problem with the remaining eleven senatorial seats is that they are destined for Somaliland (i.e. the Dir clan) and, unlike the other federal entities, Somaliland does not recognise the national selection process.
The Senators claim they represent their clan, but not Somaliland. That is also why the 45 seats allocated to Somaliland still have not been filled.
Votes for women
This year’s selection process was also designed to ensure that 30% of the new parliament be female, and it largely succeeded. If a clan had three members of parliament, all it had to do was nominate one woman, much as it rankled with many male candidates and elders. The most important and powerful of the clans, however, were able to keep men among their nominees by forcing or bribing lower-ranking clans or sub-clans to select a woman and so maintain the quota.
The Waisle, for example, were assigned three seats. One, a Senate seat, was taken by a member of the influential Abdirahman sub-clan. In order to satisfy the requirement of one female representative among the three Waisle, the elders decided to prevail upon the Absuge sub-clan to nominate a woman. More influential sub-clans might have baulked but the Absuge were happy to comply because this gave them their first-ever seat in the Mogadishu parliament. They had previously been excluded because of their association with the hated regime of ex-President Siad Barre. This left the Ali Gal sub-clan able to nominate the third representative, Sadeq Abdikarim (see below), who has been helping finance the process.
The entire process has been, as expected, marred as much by corruption and manipulation as by violent attacks by Al Haraka al Shabaab al Mujahideen. The US in particular has raised objections to many MPs, but the force of the criticism was weakened by perceptions of hypocrisy. The US was highly critical of the selection of four MPs in Galmudug who are close supporters of Hassan Sheikh. But Ambassador Stephen Schwartz and his Western colleagues have been much quieter on the selection as MPs of former warlords and once demonised characters like Musa Sudi Yalahow, an important Mogadishu warlord between 2000 and 2006 and Abdi Hassan Awale Qaybdid, a former lieutenant of the notorious Mohammed Farah Aideed who was accused of involvement in the killing of UN peacekeepers in June 1993.
In a strongly-worded letter to the President of Galmudug on 18 November Schwartz complained about the conditions in which four MPs were selected: Mahad Mohamed Salad (currently Minister for the Presidency), Abdiqadir Gafow, the brother of the National Intelligence Chief, General Abdulahi Gafow Mohamud, MustafSheikh Ali Dhuhulow, an ex-Minister, and Sadeq Abdikarim, who is director of the President’s office. The Galmudug President, Abdikarim Hussein Guled, brusquely dismissed the complaint not because it wasn’t true, but because clan justice had already spoken. Abdiqaadir Gafow had indeed, as accused by Schwartz, arrested people using his brother’s name. But he was made to apologise quickly afterwards and pay a heavy fine to the offended parties as prescribed in traditional law, heer. From the Somali point of view, the case is settled so no one – especially foreigners – should interfere.
Several observers pointed out that Sadeq Abdikarim’s appointment might not meet the standards of liberal democracy but the international community has already, de facto, bought into the horse-trading of inter-clan mediation mediated by cash and so should not complain.
Manipulating the electoral process has not been difficult because there is no single electoral body of 14,000, as sometimes trumpeted abroad, but 275 groups of 51 individuals, an eminently malleable number. In some cases, the electing body has accepted the hospitality of one candidate. In others they were kept in isolation in a hotel with no contact with other candidates. In yet others, most of the candidates for the post were fake, soon leaving or disappearing and leaving the selection committee with only one effective choice.
Money has been widely used at all levels of the selection process, albeit not exclusively, to influence many elders. The scale of it is hard to gauge, because sometimes the electoral process has been above board. In other cases up to US$700,000 is rumoured to have been spent on getting elected. Some $1.2 million was also spent, we hear, to block a candidate.
In such an environment it is easy for international officials to lose their bearings. One foreign official complained that the ins and outs of inter-clan relations and negotiations were too complex for it to be worth the while of most foreign officials to master, despite their importance to the running of the country.
Hassan Sheikh’s team may be richer than the others but that is not enough to ensure victory. Nearly a year ago, they had identified their opponents in Parliament –those who could not be easily bought – and arranged for them to be challenged in their sub-clans by rivals who then won. The tactic paid off handsomely.
At this stage of the process, a close look at the selected MPs and a very conservative estimate about the selection of the remaining MPs indicates that Hassan Sheikh will be able to count on the votes of 110 to 130 MPs and Senators. From there to the additional votes that will take him to a majority (165 votes out of 329) after a first round is no great distance.
That is not to say the incumbent is a shoo-in. If the Speaker of Parliament turns out to be Hawiye, as Hassan Sheikh is, he won’t be able to take the presidency under the rule that two members of the same clan may not hold both posts. This means that neither Darod nor Hawiye politicians will support one of their own for the speakership, so obsessed are they with executive power. The second obstacle is the most dangerous one: some event that triggers an unforeseen clan dynamic that unexpectedly upsets previously-laid plans. Something like this happened in 2012 when Hassan Sheikh prevailed over Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (AC Vol 53 No 19, New president, new laws and old enemies).
It is unlikely that the new President will be chosen before January. The selection of the Speaker will be of immense interest. The rumour mill is already producing names of candidates whose only role is to derail the presidential campaign of more prominent figures. One fear is that potentially credible candidates with something to offer the country will withdraw from the fray, leaving the field to the most greedy.
Foreign partners make their choices
While Somalia’s Western partners are being worn out and confused by the demands of keeping up with the electoral process, Islamic countries are divided on whom to support. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s backing which, we hear, has been cemented by lucrative business between their respective cronies. The United Arab Emirates has never hidden its hostility towards Turkey’s role in Somalia and has different preferences. It favours candidates such as current Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke (Daarood/Majerteen) and Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame(Hawiye/Habr Gidir) in an attempt to promote secular – or at least less Muslim Brotherhood-oriented – politicians to govern Somalia.
No one knows what will happen. Omar has a chance of getting the support of the Puntland President, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas, as the latter decided not to campaign for the national presidency, but Abdirahman could not get a seat in parliament and won’t have much clan support for what looks like a personal quest after his failed attempt in 2012 elections.
Ethiopia will quietly endorse Hassan Sheikh. Addis Ababa has the greatest control over Somali politics today and a warm relationship with Hassan Sheikh’s inner circle.
Kenya would prefer Omar Abdirashid but won’t be able to spend much money to help him. This is partly because the anti-corruption campaign in Kenya is gaining momentum and, more importantly, Kenya’s elections next year are going to be heavily-contested and war chests will need to be as full as possible. Uganda and South Africa like Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, but they cannot influence the process without investing heavily.
US Al Shabaab joins the US rogues’ gallery
President Barack Obama formally declared Al Haraka al Shabaab al Mujahideen an enemy on 27 November, according to an authoritative report in the New York Times. The designation makes them part of the armed conflict that Congress authorised against the perpetrators of 9/11 terrorist attacks, The move is intended to shore up the legal basis for an intensifying campaign of airstrikes and other counterterrorism operations which will involve US troops on the ground and operations undertaken not solely in support of the local armed forces. US commanders have already warned of an increase in unilateral operations by their armed forces.
The US government’s motivation is threefold. Firstly, the African Union’s African Mission in Somalia’s force seems weaker now than for several years. Some attribute this to effective Al Shabaab operations, fatigue and low morale, others to the cuts in the European Union’s subsidy of the soldiers’ wages.
One purely military reason for greater involvement by the US in Somalia is to fill the vacuum left by Ethiopia’s withdrawal of thousands of its troops. Ethiopia needs them to deal with civil unrest at home, but it is also happy to send a message to the world that its role in Somalia is indispensable.
A third reason is that the Somali Special Forces who have been trained by the Pentagon’s US Africa Command have been having good results on the ground but still need US support. Expectations are high for the new Somali force. The new Obama policy is also a way to narrow the gap between his own counter-terrorism policy and whatever President-elect Donald Trump may decide concerning fighting jihadists in Africa.