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Somali president calls for elections amid unrest

April 27, 2021

The president agreed to not extend his term in an overnight speech. The country's prime minister had signaled his opposition to the president's plan to extend his mandate. Some residents have started fleeing Mogadishu.

A man with an RPG on his shoulder
Armed forces clashed on the streets of Mogadishu on SundayImage: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP Photo/picture alliance

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed called for elections on Wednesday and agreed to not extend his presidential term by two years.

"As we have repeatedly stated, we have always been ready to implement timely and peaceful elections in the country," said Mohamed in a Wednesday morning speech on state television.

"But unfortunately, our efforts were hampered by individuals, and foreign entities who have no aim other than to destabilize the country and take it back to the era of division and destruction in order to create a constitutional vacuum," added the president.

Mohamed, also known as Faramaajo, lost more allies on Tuesday in his bid to stay in power. 

Mohamed had signed a law extending his mandate by two years, provoking political violence in the capital Mogadishu. 

But Galmudug and Hirshabelle, two Somali states that were formerly aligned with the president, called for the cancellation of the term extension and resuming talks on the national electionin a joint statement on Tuesday.

Later in the day, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble supported Galmudug and Hirshabelle's appeal and called for preparations for a new election.

What is the situation in Mogadishu?

Residents began fleeing their homes on Tuesday, fearing more clashes over Mohamed's move. 

Civilians piled televisions and mattresses into rickshaws or loaded belongings onto donkeys, according to the AFP news agency.       

On Sunday, groups of armed men opposing the president exchanged fire with security forces.

Government troops have blocked major roads as armed opposition held positions in parts of the capital.

Military forces supporting opposition groups take position in Mogadishu.
Opposition protesters are supported by armed groups in MogadishuImage: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP Photo/picture alliance

What fueled the tensions?

In February, Somalia's election was delayed amid disputes between the federal government and the states of Puntland and Jubbaland on how to conduct the vote.

Earlier this month, the lower house of parliament voted to extend President Mohamed's four-year term in office. However, the Senate rejected the move.

The president tried to defend his actions in a recent interview with a local newspaper, The Buffalo News, saying that Somalia "cannot afford a power vacuum."

"Who can lead, if we leave?" he asked. 

Legislators of the lower house of parliament raise their hands to vote to extend Mohamed's term
Somalia's lower house of parliament approved the extension of Mohamed's termImage: Feisal Omar/REUTERS

What does the unrest mean for Somalia?

The move sparked threats of sanctions from the US and the EU. The latest violence  threatens Somalia's security and "undoing fragile gains made over the past decade and a half," said the International Crisis Group, a think tank.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Barre'smilitary regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fueled by clan conflicts.

The country also still battles al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked Islamist militant group.

Al-Shabab controlled the capital until African Union troops pushed it out in 2011. 

fb,kbd/sri (AFP, AP, Reuters) 

This is an updated version of an earlier article.