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Political infighting threatens Somalia's government

NAIROBI, 13 January 2014 (IRIN) - As Somalia’s new prime minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, gets ready to announce his new cabinet, analysts warn that the fragile Somali administration could come unstuck if further conflicts hit the executive. Ahmed assumed office on 26 December following a no-confidence vote against his predecessor Abdi Farah Shirdon 'Saa'id' on 2 December. 

“The removal of the former PM [Prime Minister] Shirdon has, in fact, created a loss of credibility, because internal political crisis has been a norm for Somalia's transitional governments since the year 2000,” Abukar Sanei, the director of the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, a Somali think-tank, told IRIN by email. “The expectations of the people from this ‘permanent government’ was to avoid internal political clashes, and move the country forward in the peace-building and state-building processes.”

According to a briefing by the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS), the change in administration in Somalia is derailing the country and “another phase of infighting could lead to a collapse of this government.” 

Shirdon’s removal, added the HIPS briefing, had “dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the Federal Government of Somalia and disoriented it from the urgent task of state building.” Shirdon had been in government for just 13 months, the last of which were characterized by rifts with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. 

Executive infighting 

Infighting within Somalia’s executive has remained a perennial challenge.

“Since 2000, practically every pair of leaders appointed or elected has gone through similar challenges. At the end of each round, significant, crucial time was lost, institutions were damaged and the profound structural problem - the real impetus causing periodical disharmony - was never addressed,” noted Afyare Elmi, a professor at Qatar University, and Abukar Arman, a former Somalia ambassador to the US, in an opinion piece .

The expectations of the people from this ‘permanent government’ was to avoid internal political clashes, and move the country forward in the peace-building and state-building processes
In the last 13 years, Somalia has had four presidents and 10 prime ministers, with the frequent changes in the executive forcing “the already weak institutions [to] take a devastating and irrecoverable hit,” adds the opinion piece.

Indeed, Somalia’s parliament was due to discuss various bills, including some on anti-terrorism, federalism, foreign investment and judicial services, before Shirdon’s ouster. For now, Prime Minister Ahmed has asked parliament to hold off discussing and ratifying draft bills prepared by Shirdon’s administration, pending the appointment of a new cabinet. 

This situation could be exploited by terrorist organizations, such as the insurgent Al-Shabab militia. Corruption and inter-clan competition could also increase amid the risk of government work stalling, warns the HIPS briefing. 

Lopsided power-sharing 

Under Somalia’s provisional constitution, the president and the prime minister share power in a bid to maintain equity between the clans. But the exact role of the prime minister is not specified, leading to competition for control. In their opinion piece, analysts Elmi and Arman argue that this model leads to divisiveness and wrangling; they call for shifting to a presidential, rather than a parliamentary, model of governance. 

The president appoints the prime minister but cannot dismiss him. The president is also tasked with the implementation of all policies, while the cabinet is responsible for crafting these initiatives. 

“The presidency is perceived as usurping responsibilities beyond those stipulated in the Provisional Constitution and at the expense of the prime minister,” adds the HIPS briefing.

This interference has permeated high-level institutions. Just weeks before Shirdon’s removal, the Central Bank Governor Yussur Abrar resigned, after only seven weeks on the job, citing corruption and government meddling. Abrar was quoted saying that “the central bank has not been allowed to function free from interference, and as such cannot operate as a credible institution”.

But Nicholas Kay, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Somalia, is optimistic. On the transfer of power, Kay noted, "It was important this unprecedented piece of parliamentary business was managed in accordance with the provisional constitution and the rules of procedure of the parliament.”

Challenges remain

Whether Prime Minister Ahmed will fare better than his predecessor remains to be seen. “I understand Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed will consult widely in forming his new cabinet, and aim to establish a broadly inclusive government capable of delivering rule of law, good governance and public services,” Kay said

A lot of work lies ahead with elections planned in 2016. “With considerably less legitimacy and support, it is difficult to envisage the emergence of capable state institutions ushering Somalia into a new era of inclusive politics in the next three years. The government’s daunting challenges appear increasingly insurmountable,” warns the HIPS briefing. 

According to HIPS, it is too soon to assess Prime Minister Ahmed’s abilities, but the underlying problem of potential political gridlock remains. 

Compared to Shirdon, “the new prime minister is even weaker”, Cedric Barnes, the International Crisis Group (ICG) Horn of Africa project director told IRIN, noting that while Ahmed is very qualified, having spent the past two decades working for various institutions outside Somalia, he has no previous political experience. “He’s got quite a weak position within the federal government,” explained Barnes. 

aps/aw/rz

Theme (s): Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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