SOMALI PRESIDENT SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL MEASURE EXTENDING TERM BY TWO YEARS

Somali President

By Donnelly McCleland

Somalia has accused some of its foreign backers of undermining its sovereignty after the embattled government was threatened with sanctions over a decision to extend its mandate by two years. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed [commonly known as Farmajo] on Wednesday [14 April] signed into law a “special resolution” extending his time in office, despite his term expiring in February, and repeated warnings that such a move would not be supported by western powers. It followed a total collapse in United Nations (UN)-backed talks between the central government in Mogadishu and two of Somalia’s semi-autonomous states over how to proceed with delayed elections in the fragile nation. (AFP)

Somalia’s election delays

Somalia’s constitution dictates that the president is elected by the country’s lawmakers, made up of 275 members of parliament and 54 senators. Under its current indirect election system, 27,775 electoral delegates — who are nominated by traditional clan elders — vote for members of parliament while state legislatures elect the senators. Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire fell to a no-confidence vote in parliament in July 2020, officially for having failed to organise elections by universal suffrage. Two months later the president agreed with five regional leaders and the mayor of Mogadishu on the organisation of elections on a basis of indirect suffrage, before the end of his term in February 2021. However, Somalia has failed to hold the necessary ballot to choose new lawmakers, so no new president could be elected. On 12 April, Somalia’s lower house of parliament voted to extend the president’s mandate for two years, a decision judged unconstitutional by the speaker of the upper house (the Senate). The legislative and parliamentary votes were originally scheduled for 2020 but were postponed twice because of disputes over election details between the central government in Mogadishu and the semi-autonomous federal member states. The main issues between the governments and the clans are the distribution of resources, military and political power.

Somalia’s central government controls only a part of Somali territory and relies on the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, AMISOM, to confront the violent insurgency of the militant Islamist group al-Shabab, and the less potent Islamic State (IS). Somalia has been marked by over two decades of war and political instability following the removal of President Siad Barre in a 1991 coup.

Analysts contend that under President Farmajo’s watch, the tension between the central government in Mogadishu and the federal states has increased. According to a DW article, Horn of Africa expert Matthew Bryden said the nation of some 15 million people, “is politically more fragile now than when Farmajo took office.” Bryden is highly critical of the President’s term: “Having had four years to prepare the ground for elections, Farmajo really hasn’t presented any kind of plan or proposal or done any work, which is what led us to this very dangerous political and constitutional crisis.”

Political and constitutional expert Aweys Salat, based in Mogadishu, said the extension of the president’s term was unconstitutional. “It seems the president ignores that every resolution or law requires approval of both houses of parliament, the senate and the house of representatives,” Salat told DW. “The residents in the capital Mogadishu are tired of war, and they are asking politicians to respect the constitution,” Salat concluded.

International response to Somalia’s political deadlock

The African Union, European Union, United Nations and regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, said in a joint statement on Saturday 17 April that they would not support any extension of the president’s term. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on Tuesday 20 April saying the US was “deeply disappointed” in the government’s decision to extend their mandate in this manner and warned “such actions would be deeply divisive” and erode the progress toward peace that has been made in tandem with the international community. He also pointed out that it would divert attention from countering the terrorist threat of the al-Qaida-affiliated group Al-Shabab.” The top US diplomat said the implementation of the law would compel his country to consider sanctions or other steps such as visa restrictions.

The threats of sanctions and possible cuts in aid carry huge weight. According to Somali government data, Somalia received $2 billion in overseas development assistance in both 2017 and 2018 (representing roughly a quarter of the country’s GDP), with the EU and the US among the top contributors of this aid.

However, it looks like Mr Mohamed is looking elsewhere for support. On Monday 19 April, President Mohamed met with his counterpart President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Kinshasa. Mr Tshisekedi is also the chairman of the African Union. Mr Mohamed welcomed the African Union taking a principal role in facilitating dialogue between the Somali government and other stakeholders in the country.

Mr Mohamed’s government has promised a “one-person, one-vote election within two years.” However, past administrations have made similar pledges, but no such vote has been held in half a century in the Horn of Africa nation.

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Somalia remains one of the most ‘unreached’ nations in the world. From a population of over 16 million, it is estimated that there are only a few hundred Christians in Somalia. Most Somalis believe that to be Somali is to be Muslim, so those who come to faith in Christ are accused of rejecting not only their religion but also their nationality. Somali Christians are more likely to be killed by the jihadist terrorist group al-Shabab or family members than to be imprisoned by the government. However, Ben I. Aram[1] explains in his insightful journal article, Somalia’s Judeo-Christian heritage: a preliminary survey, that it is a widespread misconception that the history of Christianity in Somalia is brief, or that it originated with the advent of Western missions. He makes use of written records, archaeological data, and vestiges of Judeo-Christian symbolism in Somali culture, to demonstrate that Judaism and Christianity preceded Islam to the lowland Horn of Africa. He explains that it is vital for the Christian in Africa’s self-understanding to recognise that the Christian presence in Africa is almost as old as Christianity itself.

Aram’s article further explains the impact of Islamisation: “For a variety of reasons, Muslims have deep historical consciousness. Also, along with other Cushitic and Semitic peoples of the Horn of Africa, Somalis place a high value on history. At the same time, non-Arab Muslims such as the Somalis tend to view their pre-Islamic history and culture from a perspective inherited from Arab Muslims. Just as Arabs have tended to glorify their post-conversion history while denigrating their ‘jaahiliya’ (time of ignorance), traditionally Somalis have more often focused on their more recent history than their pre-Islamic era.” He goes on to quote V.S. Naipul (1998), providing further insight into the far-reaching impact of Islam: “Islam is in its origin an Arab religion. Everyone, not an Arab, who is Muslim, is a convert. Islam is not simply a matter of conscience or private belief. It makes imperial demands. A convert’s worldview alters. His holy places are in Arab lands; his sacred language is Arabic. His idea of history alters. He rejects his own; he becomes, whether he likes it or not, a part of the Arab story. The convert has to turn away from everything that is his. The disturbance for societies is immense…People develop fantasies about who and what they are; and in the Islam of converted countries there is an element of neurosis and nihilism.”

There had been hoped that increased stability in Somalia – and advances made against al-Shabab, and other terror groups – would usher in a time of opportunity for believers in Somalia, some ‘breathing space.’ The recent decision by the government, and international threats of sanctions, could, however, prolong instability and allow terrorist organisations to regroup and even gain numbers in the form of frustrated, unemployed youth. An INcontext contact with extensive involvement in Somalia explained: “The presidential politics issue inside Somalia has no direct bearing on the scattered and greatly persecuted Somali Christians there. However, in as much as it weakens the already fragile government in the face of the fanatic jihadist al-Shabaab, this current dispute is not at all a good thing.”

Somali Catholic nationalist and diplomat Michael Marian made a significant comment at a cabinet meeting in the early 1970s that Somalia would never have peace until it returned to its roots. According to analysts, his remark implied Christianity – which is something the global body of Christ can certainly pray into, that Somalians will have the opportunity to discover and nurture a new identity in Christ.

Despite the relentless persecution Christians in Somalia face, there is, according to the African Research Journal of Education and Social Studies (2020), no evidence to indicate that all these challenges have slowed down the numerical growth of the Somali Church. Aweis Ali from the African Nazarene Church in Kenya succinctly sums up the situation in Somalia and thereby encourages us to persevere in prayer: “No soil is too hard for the seed of the gospel.”  Romans 10:1-4 also reminds us of the need to intercede for those who are misled: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (ESV)

Please pray with us:

  • For a breakthrough in Somalia’s political process, that greater stability can become a reality
  • For the Lord to open Somalis’ eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God; especially for those Somalians desperately seeking their true identity, that they may find it in Christ
  • For the believers in Somalia to be strengthened and encouraged by His Spirit, not to lose hope, but to continue ‘fighting the good fight of faith’

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Image: REUTERS/Feisal Omar

[1] the author’s pen name. The author has been in ministry among Somalis since 1982, in Somalia itself, and Kenya and Ethiopia

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