Friday, 05 November 2010

Somalia Approves New Premier After Weeks of Dispute

Written by  Hussein Moulid

On Sunday, October 31, Somali lawmakers unanimously voted to endorse the country's new Premier after weeks of political confusion when 297 lawmakers — out of the total 391 that held session in Mogadishu — raised their hands and agreed to endorse Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed as the new Prime Minister. Ninety-two rejected him, while two abstained.

The Transitional Federal Government has been plagued by disputes and power struggles since it was first assembled at the end of the Nairobi Conference, Kenya in 2004. Since the interim government was formed in 2004, it has had two Presidents and three Prime Ministers, who have all been powerless to form a functioning central administration during their time in office and who have disastrously failed to make any significant strides toward stabilizing anarchic, war-torn Somalia and ending its internal feuding and government fraud.

Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke stepped down as Prime Minister last month over a rift with the President. On October 14, President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed appointed a new Prime Minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmajo.

The newly appointed Premier, Farmajo, worked in the Somali Embassy in Washington from 1985 to 1988, has trained in conflict resolution and leadership skills at Erie Community College, and is a member of the State University of New York (SUNY) system. He has a master's degree in political science from SUNY-Buffalo.

The 48-year-old Farmajo was born in Mogadishu in 1962 and has held jobs in the United States, including municipal posts in the Buffalo District, but his appointment was not well received by many, chiefly Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, who openly disagreed with Amed over how the vote to confirm the newly named Prime Minister will be conducted.

The President and the Speaker disputed over whether the vote should be carried out in secret or openly. A statement released on October 24 from the Speaker's office said, "We should use what our constitution says. The vote of confidence for the new premier will be [be done] secretly according to article 43 in the new constitution."

"The President had done his duties for appointing the new Prime Minister, but we are saying to him not [to] intervene [in] the matters of the parliament, because this is for the lawmakers only. He should know that," Sharif Hassan added.

The President also issued a statement which said, "The 1960 constitution decreed the assembly should express confidence or no confidence in the prime minister in an open vote requiring a simple majority. Therefore, I call upon the Speaker of Parliament to uphold the law and to not obstruct lawmakers from discharging their solemn constitutional duties, especially at this critical time when we need a government that can stand to address the mammoth tasks facing it."

The Somali Supreme Court supported President Sharif's position, stressing to the Speaker that the lawmakers should endorse the new Prime Minister openly. According to the constitution, failure to conform to and apply the provisions of article 30(6), which categorically states that any motion contravening the Sharia Law, the Charter or the Constitution, and the other laws, shall be null and void. The motion requesting a secret vote contravenes article 82(2) of the 1960 Constitution.

Somalia's Speaker postponed a vote to endorse the newly appointed Prime Minister twice after the war-torn country's assembly descended into chaos. He then also postponed the session on October 27. But more than 200 pro-President lawmakers met in the Somali capital Mogadishu and announced that the parliament would hold its meeting despite the Speaker's statement, and they confirmed Farmajo's appointment.

The new rifts in the Somali government couldn't come at a worse time, because Islamic insurgents control much of the country and have been verging on taking over the nation's capital of Mogadishu, even though African Union troops are in place to bolster the current government.

But even if this rift is soon forgotten, an end to the infighting in the current government is unlikely: The internationally recognized interim government that was formed in 2004 was created on a "4.5" clan structure, meaning major government positions were split between the four main clans. The remaining 0.5 share was given to a grouping of smaller clans sometimes called the Fifth Clan.

"I don't support the 4.5 clan power-sharing system for the reason that it brings conflict and disagreement to the country like the way it does now. The Somali are one people," said former Somali lawmaker Colonel Abdullah Ismail.

Abdullah argues that the 4.5 system has had the effect of fracturing Somalia on clan lines by imposing a federal system. He says that system — historically a solution for uniting ethnically diverse countries like Ethiopia — is totally unsuited for Somalia, one of the most ethnically unified countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the past, Somalia's former dictator Siad Barre was accused by many Somalis of favoring members of his Marehan sub-clan and discriminating against others, often brutally.

During his 21-year rule, Barre manipulated clan loyalties and rivalries, favored members of his own clan, and undermined independent sources of authority. In what was to be a recurring pattern, following an April 1978 coup attempt led mainly by army officers from the Majerten clan, Barre's forces singled out Majerten civilians for reprisals. After the creation in 1981 of the Somali National Movement (SNM), a guerilla force that drew its support from the Isaaq clan, the government unleashed a reign of terror against Isaaq civilians, killing 50,000 to 60,000 between May 1988 and January 1990.

Fortunately, it has been reported, leaders of the Islamic insurgent group al-Shabaab are also feuding. In recent weeks, word has spread that there has been disagreement between two al-Shabaab leaders, Ahmed Abdi Godane and Sheikh Muktar Robow Ali, also known as Abu-Mansor, after they failed to agree on a financial issue. Godane wanted to give the head position in the financial department to one of his clan.

Abu-Mansor denied the allegation, but analysts say that denial was merely to calm down the boiling situation.

Abu-Mansor had previously participated in the Islamic Courts Union administration that ruled the capital Mogadishu and much of Somalia in 2006, until he was ousted late in the same year by a U.S.-backed Ethiopian military invasion.

Al-Shabaab, which means "the youth" in Arabic, began as part of the armed wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) when the courts rose to power in Mogadishu in 2006. The 2006 Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia routed the ICU and sent its leaders into exile, but a hard core of al-Shabaab fighters and commanders remained in the country to continue the fight.

The hardliners, who control large swaths of the country, want to rule Somalia with a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia Law.

Hussein Moulid is a Kenyan-born Somali freelance journalist, covering stories around East Africa and also the Horn of Africa countries, especially Somalia.

Photo of the vote for the the new Prime Minister, Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed: AP Images

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