While international attention has been focused on Ethiopia’s multiple internal and foreign policy crises, the political situation in Somalia has gone from precarious to untenable, further eroding peace and security in the strategically important Horn of Africa.
The lower house of Somalia’s parliament has voted to postpone national elections, which have already been delayed by months, by an additional two years, leaving themselves and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmaajo, in place in the interim. Unsurprisingly, Farmaajo has approved the proposal. But the initial delay occurred largely because Farmaajo, whose mandate expired in February, was insisting on maintaining control over the complicated electoral process in which he aimed to be returned to office. It is difficult not to see the latest development, which purports to put the country on a path to eventual direct elections, as an even more flagrant power grab.
Even if one thought highly of Farmaajo’s leadership (and most concerned about the militarized authoritarianism taking hold in the region feel quite differently), the process unfolding in Mogadishu is likely to provoke even more instability in an exhausted and fragile country, which is why the United Nations, African Union, European Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) warned against mandate extensions just days ago. Somalia’s Senate has rejected the lower chamber’s decision and called for international intervention. Would-be contenders for the presidency are unlikely to retain faith in the country’s tortuous political processes, a dangerous development in a place armed conflict has often trumped rule-governed arrangements for political contestation. Largely autonomous regions of the country, which have chafed at Farmaajo’s efforts to assert stronger central control, will be even less likely to work in any kind of coordinated fashion with authorities in Mogadishu.
It is well past time to elevate Somalia on the international agenda, and to send a clear message to Farmaajo that it is time to move on. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a start on Tuesday night, issuing a statement expressing “disappointment” and noting that the term extension would compel the United States to reevaluate the bilateral relationship, but it will take a great deal of diplomatic work, coordination with other influential states, and sustained engagement at the highest levels to have a hope of salvaging the situation and restoring any confidence in the laborious, internationally backed effort to bring peace and accountable governance to Somalia.
This publication is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.