Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmaajo, has signed a controversial law to extend his term by two years despite threats of international sanctions.
The move is the latest in a deepening political crisis that analysts warn risks undermining the peace process and stability in the Horn of Africa country.
Here’s what you need to know:
The lower house of the Somali parliament voted this week to extend Formaajo’s four-year term, which expired in February, for two more years. Lower House Speaker Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdurahman said the move would allow the country to prepare for direct elections.
Farmaajo then signed off on the extension of the disputed mandate in law, although the resolution was not submitted to the upper house, which would normally be necessary. Upper House Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi immediately called the move unconstitutional, saying it “would lead the country to political instability” and pose security risks.
The extension was also condemned by the United States and the European Union due to concerns, it could deepen divisions in the country.
“There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” Mohamed Mubarak, executive director of Marqaati, an anti-corruption NGO that advocates good governance and transparency in Somalia, told Al Jazeera.
“The president is hanging on to power and there is no political agreement on the current situation.”
How did we get here?
The president and leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states reached an agreement in September to prepare for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021. (Read more about Somalia’s unique electoral system here.)
As part of the deal, planning for the elections was to begin on November 1. But the deal fell apart amid disputes over how to conduct the vote, while talks in February between Farmaajo and leaders of the country’s federal states failed to break the deadlock.
The leaders of the federal states of Jubaland and Puntland accused the president of reneging on the deal and packing election commissions with his allies – a claim that Farmaajo denied.
Farmaajo has accused regional leaders of creating a deadlock, but opposition groups have said they will no longer recognize his authority after his term expires.
Abukar Osman Mohamed, a resident of Mogadishu, told AFP news agency that the extension was “illegal and may lead the country into a political crisis.”
However, another resident of the capital, Abdulkadir Ahmed Mohamed, supported the decision as “the heads of state in the region could not find a solution”.
Is there a risk of violence?
Farmaajo’s rivals in Jubaland and Puntland have formed an alliance with a powerful coalition of presidential contenders and other opposition heavyweights in the capital, Mogadishu. They include two former presidents and the president of the senate.
Opponents of the president have warned that the decree ruling risks jeopardizing peace and stability in Somalia – a serious threat given that Jubaland and government forces have clashed on the battlefield and some of Farmaajo’s enemies are in command. clan militias.
There have already been high profile defections. Mogadishu’s police chief was sacked after trying to shut down parliament ahead of the mandate vote, declaring it a theft of power in a public address.
Analysts fear a break-up of Somali security forces along political and clan lines, as well as the outbreak of fighting in Mogadishu.
“We are in a very dangerous situation,” Mubarak said.
Where could this lead?
Analysts have warned that the political feuds are playing directly in the hands of al-Shabab, the armed group that controls swathes of Somalia and launches frequent attacks in an attempt to overthrow the internationally recognized government in Mogadishu.
Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have released propaganda videos in recent weeks that capture the political chaos, portraying the country’s elite as greedy for power and unfit to rule.
Mubarak said his main concern is that “the rule of law is being erased”.
“The president uses the security forces as he sees fit, so my main concern is that even if Farmaajo is removed from office or if he stays, it becomes the norm,” Mubarak added.
“Each president will try to extend his term, will try to use the security forces to intimidate his enemies, will try to install his puppets in the federal member states,” he said. “I think it is very dangerous for the state construction company in Somalia.”
How will the world react?
Members of the international community have called for immediate elections.
In a joint statement on Saturday, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union and the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said they would not support any extension of the president’s term.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday he was “Deeply disappointed” by approving the legislation, adding that it will pose serious obstacles to dialogue.
“This will require the United States to reassess our bilateral relationship with the Somali federal government, to include diplomatic engagement and assistance, and to review all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability ”. he said.
Mubarak noted that world powers have a lot of influence in Somalia as the government “draws its power” from the international support and recognition it receives.
“We need the international community to give up and demand action,” Mubarak said.
“There should be credible threats of sanctions and action taken, otherwise the president will continue to do what he is doing. Supporters of Somalia, because of “counterterrorism”, will continue to support the government because there is no other alternative. “