Somalia Election Stalemate May Embolden Al-Shabaab

After holding talks with three regional states, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has announced that elections will go forward, despite strong dissent among the country's leaders.

There is near-unanimity that Somalia is on the edge of a precipice due to an election stalemate created by outgoing President Mohamed Abdullahi "Farmaajo" despite pressure from the Council of Presidential Candidates -- a formidable coalition led by former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed -- Somali citizens and the international community.

The opposition and most federal member states (FMSs) no longer recognise Farmaajo, whose constitutional term lapsed.

Amid their calls for a National Transitional Council comprising civil society, the opposition, Speakers of Parliament and FMSs to, among others, spearhead the holding of a free, fair and credible election, the opposition has held demonstrations in the capital Mogadishu to force Farmaajo out of Villa Somalia. Even live bullets by forces loyal to Farmaajo have failed to break the demonstrators' spirit.

And, cashing in on the chaos, the Somalia-based Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Al-Shabaab has woken up from a lull and enhanced attacks, especially in Mogadishu. It could infiltrate the electoral process and install its supporters in Parliament. Media reports of assassinations of 'uncooperative' poll delegates abound. Although on paper it considers elections as 'apostate', it is a major stakeholder both as a gun for hire and in its bid to govern the country.

Fighting Al-Shabaab

Farmaajo has since redeployed the bulk of Somalia Police Force and Somalia National Army (SNA) from fighting Al-Shabaab to quelling the protests. But that will only embolden the terrorists -- as did the ill-timed move by then-US President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from Somalia. This is coupled with the drawdown of Ethiopian National Defense Force for deployment in an onslaught against the Tigray People's Liberation Front junta in the Tigray region.

Besides, in any conflict in Somalia, clan loyalty supersedes all other considerations. With the election stalemate having divided the country along clan lines, clansmen rallying behind their political figureheads is a recipe for chaos. Clan militias thwarted Farmaajo's attempt at partial polls in regions he considers loyal. In Galmudug, the state's president, Ahmed Abdi Kariye "Qor Qor", chickened out.

The Somalia situation has a ripple effect on the region. The surge in Al-Shabaab's terrorist attacks in northeastern Kenya, such as in Mandera, could be politically motivated due to the county's proximity to Gedo, in which Farmaajo has so much interest that he massively deployed SNA troops to dethrone Jubaland Security Forces. Kenya might also shoulder the burden of hosting more refugees from Somalia -- as has been the trend for many years.

The UN, AU and regional bodies like Intergovernmental Authority on Development should exert pressure on the belligerents to negotiate a resolution to the crisis and return Somalia to its path to recovery from the ruins of civil war and terrorism.

The author, a communications consultant, is a member of the Crime Journalists Association of Kenya.

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