SOMALIA: Crisis in Somalia – High noon in Mogadishu

imageThe confrontation at the top of the Somali government is moving into its third week with no sign of a resolution. The president is still waging a no holds barred assault to do a hatchet job on the political career of his one-time buddy, the prime minister.

The falling out of the two is all the more puzzling however. This PM was selected on the proviso that he will be the junior partner playing only a second fiddle, giving the president a free hand to run the mighty affairs of the state. Perhaps surprisingly he honoured his side of the bargain sticking dutifully to the agreed script even when decisions affecting his constituency were involved undermining his own personal credibility.

The Jubaland crisis was a case in point. The president was hell bent on frustrating the wishes of those who have been working for years, well before he appeared into the political scene, to establish a federal administration in line with the terms of the constitution. A whole year’s worth of government’s energy and resources were spent on killing this initiative without success. Today a federal state in southern Somalia is not only a reality but it has created a momentum of its own inspiring others to follow suit. And because of that there is now a paradigm shift in the discourse on what the shape of a Somali state would be; and it is unambiguously federal.

But it goes against the grain of natural justice for anybody to be punished for the bad deeds of others. The numerous failures of government, the missed opportunities and the communal conflicts in some regions can hardly be blamed on the PM. Even his compromise solution at the start of the crisis – to be given a probationary period of 3 months – to proof he is capable of discharging his duties given a fair chance, fell on deaf ears.

The president’s camp are therefore soldering on regardless with their campaign of ousting him for it has now become personal and no compromise is possible. The operation is multifaceted and led by different groups and conducted at various levels. Notably a maverick MP formerly a minister for constitutional affairs is spearheading an all-out assault. A towering figure from the Diaspora who notoriously adopted western lifestyle wholesale is working overtime drumming up support amongst law makers to curb the PM’s short political career. He is on the record expressed the views that can be summed up in a simple sound bite: “if the president says jump you only answer how high Mr. President”.

But despite this, the efforts to make a quick meal out of the PM’s future in government is not progressing as smoothly as expected, at least in the short term. There are some MPs who are fed up with one man riding rough shod over the agreed rule book, dominating everything in contravention of the established terms and determined to give him a run for his money. It is already clear that getting rid of sitting PM is never a quick a dirty affair. But even if saving the current PM is a lost cause some MPs still think it is worth making a stand at this point in time to avoid a trend becoming established where a head of state can hire and fire prime ministers at will.

One of the reasons why there is no movement so far is partly attributed to the inexperience of the presidential handy men cajoling and at times bullying MPs to support a parliamentary motion of no confidence on the government. These wet behind the ears young Turks from the Somali Diaspora see this whole episode as business scheme – a tactic which is becoming incompatible with the traditionally parochial style of dealing with matters of such magnitude.

MPs that would otherwise readily support the president’s cause are dismayed by the abrupt nature of these young upstarts giving them the choice: support us and you will be rewarded, or else; no preamble and no flattering pleasantries before a deal is concluded.

Perhaps the re-emergence of the arch plotter, the former speaker of parliament from semi-retirement is further sign of a faltering campaign. As the undisputed master of intrigue his magic touch is just what is needed to breathe life into the flagging operation. And there are already signs that things could be changing. But bringing in such a controversial character into the frame is a double edged sword. It is not clear for instance, whether he is coming to the aid of a friend in need or has ulterior motives; perhaps eying his old job now occupied by a not so charismatic dour civil servant.

Whatever happens we have now crossed a Rubicon and things will never be the same again. The president is diminishing in stature as the crisis drags on. The damage is already done. For the first time a globe-trotting president has missed one of the most prestigious gatherings of all time bringing together the great and the good in Africa & the Arab world.

Paradoxically, the premier now freed from the stifling neck hold of “the senior partner”, is acting as his own man, while he can, addressing weighty issues including the conflicts in the Shebelle regions. With no axe to grind he could even play the role of honest broker to defuse the communal tension in those regions.

Meanwhile the plotting goes on and in addition to the conniving at the top there are smaller sub plots by a cast of minor actors eying mouth-watering rewards when this crisis is finally laid to rest. But there are also others wondering whether they can pull off the hitherto undreamed of feat of humbling the big man himself. The sight of a leader long used to walking on water reduced to a mere ceremonial figure head just as the constitution requires would be a sorry spectacle indeed. With the atmosphere becoming increasingly toxic it is approaching high noon in Mogadishu and it is not clear how long it is going to last.

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