Will Farmaajo break the one-term presidency jinx?

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo in Mogadishu after he was elected president in 2017. He will be seeking a second term in 2021. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What you need to know:

  • Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo has boosted revenue but has poor relations with federal states.
  • Unlike previous administrations, Farmaajo has mobilised the public to support the government.
  • In Somalia’s history of presidential elections, none of the incumbents have ever been re-elected.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, who is in the running for re-election in 2021, is facing a number of challenges despite his relatively good performance.

Since his election on February 8, 2017, President Farmaajo has mobilised the public to support the government in a way that previous administrations did not.

The president has improved the country’s financial management by boosting government revenue collection, embarked on streamlining the oil and gas sector by instituting a legal framework, and he enjoys goodwill from donors and development partners.

President Farmaajo renounced his US citizenship and has maintained a firm stance over the maritime boundary dispute with Kenya.

However, he does not have good relations with three federal states—Jubaland, Puntland and Galmudug—and his efforts to make the centre stronger than the periphery has earned him both friends and enemies, especially given that the 2012 Provisional Constitution provides for a federal system not a centralised one.

MPs support

This means that should the country go to the elections with the 4.5 formula in which clan elders elect MPs who in turn vote for the president, President Farmaajo could lose the support of MPs from three of the five federal states.

The 4.5 is a power-sharing arrangement that considers four major clans and a coalition (0.5) of smaller clans.

Somalia watchers say that the only way the president can extend his term is by persuading the MPs and the international community that he needs time to ensure that the next election is conducted under the universal suffrage system—which is currently unlikely because of insecurity and the uneasy relations between the centre and federal states.

Opposition leader Abdalla Ahmed Ibarahim says that President Farmaajo is trying to persuade the MPs to vote for an extension, which could be possible because they also are not sure of their own re-election.

However, Mr Ibrahim says that donors and development partners may not buy the idea unless the president convinces them that the extension will prepare the country for a one-person, one-vote system.

In Somalia’s history of presidential elections, none of the incumbents have ever been re-elected.

Sheikh Sariff Ahmed, Abdullahi Yusuf and Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud were all booted out after their first terms.

President Farmaajo will be judged on the major pillars that were part of his manifesto—improved security, political stability, revival of the economy, the war against corruption and his positive engagement with the international community.

According to Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, the director and senior consultant at Southlink Consultants and Horn of Africa Political Scientist at Kenyatta University, President Faarmajo has failed to install a friendly government in Jubbaland, Puntland and Galmudug, which could cost him the re-election.

“President Farmaajo is not as popular now as he was two years ago. He abused his own nationalistic narrative by seeking to form a strong centre in a federal system. Although Somalia’s politics is difficult to predict, all the indicators show he will be a one-term president,” said Dr Abdisamad.

In September 2018, the five federal states—Hirshabelle, Puntland, Galmudug, Southwest and Jubbaland—suspended their co-operation with Mogadishu, citing President Farmajo’s failure to fight Al-Shabaab and his interference with their internal affairs. However, President Farmajo has managed to win over Hirshabelle and Southwest, and is now wooing Puntland.

Debt relief

On the economic front, President Farmaajo’s administration has made sustained progress in debt relief, robustly engaged with international financial institutions, and the Finance Ministry has been effective in keeping the public informed about income trends by putting the country’s budget online.

However, he is yet to win the war against corruption, and late last year the government had to dissolve the Parliamentary Finance and Planning Committee after $42 million went missing.

His biggest weakness is his inability to create political inclusion. He had promised a system of inclusive and stable politics that would include a review of the Provisional Constitution, deepening the federal system, and designing a one-person, one-vote electoral system.

A review of the Constitution cannot take place without an agreed-upon amending formula, which does not exist. This means that one-person, one-vote in 2021 remains a dream.

But above all President Farmajo will be judged by his ability to improve security and downgrading of Al-Shabaab.

His government has pledged to rebuild an inclusive security force, and align security action with reconciliation and grassroots community engagement known as the Wadajir Framework.

The challenge is how to get the federal states under leaders who had been members of the previous National Security Council under President Hassan to support him.