Somalia's top leaders are trading blame after the collapse of the much-anticipated talks meant to provide certainty on elections.
The blame game ensued on Wednesday evening, dampening optimism that had been expressed earlier in the week, going into talks.
Information Minister Osman Dubbe admitted there had been no progress from the initial sessions and that leaders had fallen out. He criticised leaders of Jubbaland and Puntland states for what he called lack of flexibility on the agenda.
According to Dubbe, the leaders of the two states--Said Abdullahi Deni of Puntland and Ahmed Madobe of Jubbaland--disrespected the crucial meetings.
The two leaders reportedly disagreed on the wording of state institutions - the presidency, the executive and the legislative - saying the executive's term has expired and this should be specified in the documents.
"Puntland and Jubbaland also asked for the suspension of the heads of the security forces, despite Somalia being at a crucial security stage," Dubbe said in a pre-recorded video, stating that such demand damages the morale of the forces that industriously serve the country.
"Unfortunately, the leaders of Puntland and Jubbaland have become an obstruction against holding elections in the country."
The meeting was meant to discuss an agreement which would lead to elections.
Somalia should have held elections latest by February 8 this year. It missed the deadline after leaders failed to agree on the composition of electoral management teams, security and venues for votes. These issues have stuck out since September 17 last year when the same leaders agreed on an indirect election.
On Wednesday evening, Puntland and Jubbaland responded to the blame laid upon them by the Federal Government of Somalia. They rejected claims of sabotaging talks, instead, blaming President Mohamed Farmaajo of pushing his personal agenda.
Puntland Minister for Information Abdullahi Ali Hersi alias Tima'adde insisted that the blame by the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) was unsubstantiated and that the two states were not responsible for any failure.
"We are not aware of any failure to the talks. On the contrary, we knew that the president (President Farmaajo) adjourned the meeting so that the sides make consultations," said Hersi, expressing surprise at the statement by the FGS Information minister.
The meeting was expected to streamline the mechanisms to hold the parliamentary and presidential elections in accordance with the September 17, 2020 Agreement.
President Farmaajo summoned his key officials as well as federal state presidents from Somalia's five federal states for the crucial meeting. It was the fourth such time this year the President was summoning leaders. Previous meetings had ended at agenda setting.
The invited leaders included Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and Presidents of Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West and Jubbaland plus the Mayor of Mogadishu. They gathered at the 'Big Tent,' the venue inside the highly protected Aden Abdulle International Airport, from April 3.
Outside of the meeting, opposition groups accused the President of using the sittings as a smoke screen. They said he was planning to lobby the leaders for an extension of his term.
"It is becoming increasingly clear to the people of Somalia in general and the Union of Presidential Candidates in particular that the outgoing President Farmaajo is constantly degrading and violating the process of seeking peaceful and credible General Election," an opposition group of 15 aspirants, known as the Council of Presidential Candidates, said in a statement.
The group had earlier demanded inclusion in the discussions, arguing that Farmaajo's term had ended on February 8 and he should be treated as a normal aspirant.
"As expected, Farmaajo refused to include the following issues on the agenda: 1. Legitimacy of his mandate as well Parliament. 2. Security responsibility during elections. He's desperate for term extension because he does not have the confidence to win in a fair and free election," charged Abdishakur Abdirahman, leader of Wadajir Party.
"Farmaajo has relied on fake popularity, repression and propaganda to remain in power. He has weakened State institutions such as the Judiciary and the Legislator. They can't rein him in, neither can they resolve the electoral dispute or facilitate his peaceful exit from office.
Dubbe was on Wednesday evening facing accusations of pre-recording accusations against Puntland and Jubbaland, long before the meeting even collapsed.
He had, on Tuesday, told the Somalia National News Agency (SONNA) about his confidence that the talks were likely to end with 100 percent mutual understanding.
"The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) is determined to stimulate the ongoing talks with the Federal Member States (FMS) to result in 100 percent common understanding," said Minister Dubbe, a reference to the discussions on the implementation manners of the indirect electoral model agreed on September 17, last year.
Meanwhile, Somalia's international partners (SIPs,) that support the Horn of Africa country's state rebuilding expressed optimism that the talks will generate consensus, keeping in mind that the Holy fasting month of Ramadan is fast approaching.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the SIPs partly wrote, "As Somalis prepare to welcome the Holy Month of Ramadan, international partners express hope that the basic tenets of reflection, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation will usher in a successful summit of the Federal Government and Federal Member State leaders."
It added, "We urge FGS and FMS leaders to use this opportunity to resolve their differences and make the necessary compromises in order to ensure that credible, timely, and peaceful elections can be held without further delay to allow Somalia to move forward."
The joint statement was signed by multilateral agencies including the United Nations (UN), African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), European Union (EU), African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom), League of the Arab States (LAS), and a host of countries that assist the Somali people and their government.