Somalia polls crucial to Horn of Africa

Monday October 19 2020
somalia pic

Electoral officials count votes during the electoral process to choose members of the Lower House of the Federal Parliament in Baidoa, Somalia in November 2016. @UN

All roads in Somalia now lead to the 2020-2021 elections. The elections come at the tail-end of the longest and most effective political partnership in Somalia, between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo” and Former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.

Had the partnership held together, the Farmaajo-Khaire axis would have easily secured re-election in view of their collective achievements. However, the controversial ouster of Khaire from office in late July 2020 ended the partnership, setting the stage for one of the most epic and fierce electoral battles in modern Somalia.

It is now official: Legislative elections will take place on December 1 and 27, 2020, followed by presidential elections on February 8, 2021.

This comes in the wake of new consensus on election modalities agreed upon by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), federal member states and political parties, which ended “Somalia’s manmade electoral crisis” and delightfully forestalled a dual constitutional and political crisis.

Somalia has shelved the one-person-one vote, upholding the existing clan-based system where delegates from clans elect 275 MPs of the lower house, who in turn elect the president.

The new consensus repudiates a controversial announcement in late July, which postponed legislative elections until February and presidential polls until August 2021. This divisive edict had underhandedly extended Farmaajo’s reign by six months.


While Covid-19, increased al-Shabaab attacks, severe locust invasion and time needed to organise one-person-one-vote polls were cited as prompting the delay, Somalia faced a serious constitutional crisis.

The constitutional mandates of both the federal parliament and the FGS expire on December 27, 2020 and February 8, 2021, respectively. Yet, the provisional constitution prohibits term extensions for elected officials beyond their four-year mandates.

Despite this, Villa Somalia badly needed the delay for purely political reasons; to gain extra time to surgically deal with ‘unfriendly’ regional presidents as political rift with federal member states widened. But war against regional governments and push for the delay of the elections stretched the Farmaajo-Khaire partnership to its breaking point.

In Dhusamareb conferences called in July to discuss electoral modalities, Khaire appeared to lean on the side of federal member states and political parties. On July 25, he was forced to resign as prime minister after parliament passed a controversial vote of no confidence. After the ouster, Farmaajo was on the defensive, accused of showing dictatorial tendencies and heading an illegitimate government.

His government was split right down the middle. Members of Cabinet disputed the legality of the no-confidence motion, accusing the Speaker of failing to respect the parliamentary rule of procedure. Diplomats decried the “irregularities” of the voting process, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the illegal ouster.

The end of the partnership, in turn, diminished Farmaajo’s re-election chances. Farmaajo, who easily swept to power atop a crest of euphoria, has lost his shine. Unwittingly, his political party, Nabad iyo Nolol (Peace and Life), has pursued a centralising doctrine that repudiates the federal character of Somalia.

Besides fighting rival Marehan sub-clans in diverse regions, he also antagonised influential Darod regional presidents, including Said Abdullahi Dani and Ahmed Madobe, the current presidents of Puntland and Jubaland, respectively.

This hardline stance against federal member states has mobilised opposition against Farmaajo across Somalia’s clan divides.

Moreover, a vision of a ‘Marehan aristocracy’ in Villa Somalia and regional member states has put him at loggerheads with influential leaders, including from his own Darod clan.

As such, Somalia’s coming election is a Manichean choice between dictatorship and democracy, militarism and development. But other odds are against the incumbent. Somalia has a notorious history where no incumbent so far has been elected twice.

The Somali ballot will ripple through the region. Judging from his past campaigns, Farmaajo’s 2020-2021 bid will follow an “Us-Vs-Them” trope. In 2017, he rose to power shrilly on a blistering anti-Ethiopian platform. Discernibly, his term reflects two equal phases: anti-Ethiopian (2017-2018) and anti-Kenyan (2018-2020), which overlap with the campaign period. Occurring against the backdrop of a series of diplomatic tiffs –including a maritime dispute, the 2019 Jubaland State elections and skirmishes in the Gedo region – pundits predict that Villa Somalia’s 2021 campaign will rest firmly on a blistering anti-Kenya plank.


Peter Kagwanja is Chief Executive of the Africa Policy Institute