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US, EU, threaten to sanction Somalia

Isaac Mugabi
April 15, 2021

The United States and European Union say Somalia risks facing sanctions if it fails to resume talks to end its deadlock over elections. But President Mohamed has extended his mandate despite the international criticism.

Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed
Somalia's president extended his rule for two more years sparking international condemnationImage: Vladimir Smirnov/TASS/imago images

Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has signed a controversial law extending his mandate for two more years despite international criticism.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned that "such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country's progress."

It also jeopardizes "partnership with the international community, and divert attention from countering Al-Shabab."

Blinken further said the US was "deeply disappointed" and warned that President Mohamed's actions could erode the progress toward peace made in tandem with the international community.

The top US diplomat said the implementation of the law would compel his country to consider sanctions or other steps such as visa restrictions.

European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened "concrete measures" without an immediate return to talks on holding elections.

The United Nations Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), in a joint statement with EU nations, regional IGAD bloc, and the United Kingdom, said it was "deeply concerned" and would not support the extension.

In Mogadishu, political and constitutional expert Aweys Salat, 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."

Regional observers have also warned that Somalia's current political crisis could deal a blow to efforts to stabilize the fragile state after decades of civil war and an Islamist insurgency.

Legislators with their right hands raised
Somali legislators of the lower house unanimously voted to extend President Mohamed's government for two yearsImage: Feisal Omar/REUTERS

Somalia hits back at 'foreign allies'

Somalia has accused some of its foreign backers of undermining its sovereignty amid the threat of sanctions.

"While we appreciate the concerns of our friends and international partners for Somalia's stability and security, it is regrettable to witness champions of democratic principles falling short of supporting the aspirations of the Somali people to exercise their democratic rights," the country's Foreign Ministry said.

"Inflammatory statements laden with threats, which undermine the political independence and sovereign rights of national institutions, will only serve to embolden terrorist organizations and anti-peace elements in Somalia," the ministry's statement added.

Somalia's president, best known by the name Farmajo, and the leaders of the country's five semi-autonomous federal states had reached an agreement in September on indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.

But it fell apart over how to conduct the vote, and multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse. The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023, the first such direct poll since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup before ruling for two decades.

A presidential election was due to have been held in February. It was to follow a complex indirect system used in the past in which special delegates chosen by Somalia's myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

A 'constitutional crisis'

 Abdi Hashi Abdullahi, the senate speaker,  has slammed the move as unconstitutional and said it would "lead the country into political instability" and pose security risks.

A coalition of opposition presidential candidates in a joint statement called it "a threat to the stability, peace and unity" of the country.

People gathered at a roadside
Mogadishu residents are worried that the political crisis might plunge the country into turmoilImage: Feisal Omar/REUTERS

"There is now a constitutional crisis in the country as the senate, or upper house speaker, rejects the extension for the president and the lower house. The fear of chaos, suspension among the politicians, is too high now in Mogadishu and other parts of the country," Salat, the constitutional expert, told DW.

Somalis speak out

While some in Mogadishu welcomed the extension of Abdullahi Mohamed's government for another two years, others are apprehensive that the extension could plunge the country into a political crisis.

"I think the two-year extension is needed. The president has done a lot of good things in the past four years. The president tried to hold the elections, but some politicians and regional states have crippled the process. If all political actors agree, we hope to have popular elections or a one-man-one-vote election in the next two years," Ilyas Nor told DW.

But for Shub'eyb Omar "the extension for the president and parliament is unacceptable."

"The president failed to have elections in the country under his legitimate four-year term. Both the president and the parliament need to rethink about this unlawful power extension," Omar said. 

Jamuria Ahmed, a mother of two, told DW: "I'm happy with the extension for the president and the parliament by two years since the regional states and the central government were unsuccessful in ending the impasse on the clan-based indirect elections. We need to participate in the one-man-one-vote elections. There are political spoilers in the country who do not want to let our nation move forward."

"My message to the Somali leaders and intellectuals in Mogadishu is to calm down and compromise for the interest of the people and solve all issues through dialogue. There are significant improvements and developments in our country, especially in Mogadishu, and we need to seize this opportunity, which is for everyone's interest," Nor Hassan, another Mogadishu resident, told DW.

Somali Al_Shabaab militants
Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia could take advantage of the crisis and carry out attacksImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/F. A. Warsameh

Somalia's complex politics      

 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. The group controlled Mogadishu until 2011 when African Union troops pushed it out.

Al-Shabab retains parts of the countryside and targets the government, military and civilians in attacks in Mogadishu and regional towns.

Somalia still operates under an interim constitution, and its institutions, such as the army, remain rudimentary, backed up with international support.

The 59-year-old President Mohamed was wildly popular when he came to power in 2017. The veteran diplomat and former prime minister, who lived off and on for years in the United States, had vowed to rebuild a country that was once the world's most notorious failed state.

However, observers say he became mired in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, hampering the fight against Al-Shabab, which retains the ability to conduct deadly strikes both at home and in the region.

In February, some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.

Mohammed Odowa contributed to this report.

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