Power struggle between Somali president and prime minister intensifies

18 Nov 2014

Power struggle between Somali president and prime ...

More than 100 Somali lawmakers put forward a parliamentary motion on 17 November calling for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to dismiss Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed. The motion comes amid a bitter dispute between Ahmed and Mohamud after the prime minister reshuffled the cabinet in October, side-lining one of the president’s most powerful allies. The stand-off has paralysed the government and could undermine recent security gains made by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), while also delaying key investment decisions.

The stand-off between the Somali president and the prime minister began on 25 October when Ahmed removed Farah Abdulqadir, a major Mohamud ally, from the portfolio of justice and constitutional affairs. Mohamud issued a statement a day later saying that he had not been consulted on the reshuffle and thus it was “unconstitutional”. In protest, parliamentary factions loyal to the president launched two motions of no-confidence against Ahmed on 11 and 15 November. Both of these failed after MPs backing the prime minister disrupted the session by heckling and singing the national anthem, forcing the debate to be suspended. Then on 17 November, more than 100 lawmakers, including 14 cabinet ministers, put forward a parliamentary motion calling for the president to dismiss the prime minister. Ahmed has rejected the calls, saying he was willing to accept the resignation of any minister that is unhappy with his leadership.

Crises of this sort are common to Somali politics, where clan divisions frequently manifest in disputes between the three principle seats of power: the president, prime minister and speaker of parliament. Ahmed was only appointed prime minister in December 2013 after a similar power struggle between the prime minister and president led to the downfall of his predecessor, Abdi Farah Shirdon. This was followed in May by a parliamentary motion calling for the president’s resignation over his failure to tackle insecurity.
The sacking of Abdulqadir, however, is particularly controversial, given that he is thought to be among the most powerful figures in Somali politics. Abdulqadir is a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Damul Jadiid (‘New Blood’) group that constitutes the president’s inner circle and is thought to wield considerable influence in government. This has fuelled resentment among secular politicians and alternative religious factions, and the reshuffle was likely an attempt to capitalise on this in order to assert the prime minister’s authority over his cabinet.

The prime minister’s attempt to confront this faction comes with significant risks. Under the provisional constitution, the prime minister is responsible for the appointment and dismissal of cabinet members, though this is meant to be in consultation with the head of state. As such the legality of the reshuffle is questionable and such disagreements have previously led to the prime minister’s departure. How long this will take, however, is unclear, with previous disputes often requiring lengthy parliamentary debates or the intervention of foreign intermediaries. On 16 November, the UN’s ambassador to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, and a delegation of the Western diplomats met with Mohamud and Ahmed but failed to achieve a reconciliation. The UN has warned the crisis could have severe implications for the transition process.

Until the dispute is resolved, Somali politics will remain deadlocked. This will undermine the Somali government’s ability to extend its rule in areas recently captured by AMISOM from al-Shabaab. This includes a series of coastal towns seized as part of Operation Indian Ocean, launched in August. The offensive was designed to cut al-Shabaab’s access to the multi-million dollar charcoal trade and on 5 October saw the capture of the last of group’s littoral bases in Barawe. However, infighting in Mogadishu has repeatedly stalled the process of consolidating the federal government’s position in newly captured territory, allowing factionalism to emerge among competing clan groups in areas recently vacated by al-Shabaab.

The gridlock of parliament and the presidency will also delay major investment decisions, including the process of cancelling or renegotiating nine multi-million dollar contracts over alleged irregularities. The contracts include a USD 37 mn deal with London-based Soma Oil and Gas to carry out a seismic survey of Somalia’s offshore sector, as well as deals to revamp the country’s dilapidated ports. The government pledged to review the contracts in October after a donor-backed committee identified a number of transparency issues with the deals. However, with many of the contracts required to undergo parliamentary scrutiny, the political impasse now threatens to delay this process, further hampering Somalia’s long-term recovery and undermining the restoration of investor confidence.


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