By MALKHADIR M MUHUMED
Special Correspondent, The EastAfrican
The Somalia government is facing fresh pressure from regional governments and local politicians to quickly roll out a slate of security and reconciliation reforms or face a “regime change” in the wake of the recent attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi by Al Shabaab.
Regional governments are concerned about Mogadishu’s lackadaisical approach to the fight against the Al Qaeda-linked militants, especially after it emerged that it had embraced Al Shabaab-linked warlords to scuttle a Kenyan-backed push to set up an administration in the south of the country, according to the latest UN report on Somalia.
Kenya and Somalia have in recent months been at loggerheads over how to manage border regions that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration treats as a major source of insecurity in his country.
On Tuesday, President Kenyatta said Kenya would not withdraw its troops, which are part of the African Mission in Somalia (Amisom), from the country, “until they bring order in their nation.” The announcement is likely to anger Somalis, who had praised their country’s June 30 letter to the African Union asking for the urgent deployment of “multinational force” in Kismayu. This call was interpreted by analysts as the first step towards ejecting Kenyan troops from the war-torn country.
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Regionally, Mogadishu’s ties with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) have soured after the former stymied the regional bloc’s push for the establishment of regional administrations in the country as provided for in the Constitution.
Regional countries — mainly Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and Ethiopia — have expressed their displeasure with the Mogadishu leadership, alleging that it is too cosy with Eritrea, the Horn region’s pariah state, said sources, adding that these countries are adopting a “wait and see” strategy to see how the Somali-driven reform efforts play out.
Somalia’s decades-old chaos has adversely affected the countries in the region, especially Kenya and Ethiopia, which host hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees on their soil. But the increasing threat by the Al Qaeda-linked militants, who have so far targeted both Kenya and Uganda, is setting off alarm bells across the region.
Now prominent Somali politicians, including former prime ministers, scores of lawmakers and former intelligence chiefs, are threatening to pursue a regime change in the country if President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s administration does not carry out genuine reforms, such as forming an inclusive government and encouraging federalism to help damp down rivalry among clans. The crux of their campaign is to give secular politicians more say in the running of this recovering Horn of Africa nation, now led by a president with an Islamist slant.
“There will soon be a political change or a real reform in Somalia,” said Ali Mohamed Gedi, a former prime minister who is a vocal critic of the president’s local and foreign policies.
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“The Mogadishu administration is a waste of space. It’s not what the Somali people bargained for.” Mr Gedi is at the forefront of ongoing campaigns to mobilise politicians for this cause. Being a prominent Hawiye politician, his support and role are necessary to deflect any criticism that the anti-regime clique is mainly composed of the Darod clan, a traditional rival of the president’s Hawiye clan, sources say.
The politicians’ agitation for change actually began several months before the September 21 assault on the Westgate shopping mall that killed at least 67 people. But the attack helped turn the focus once again to the need for an authoritative and strong Somali government that is capable of tackling militant threats inside the country, while at the same time co-operating more robustly with the regional security apparatus to help them thwart attacks in their home countries, said a Somali source. “In order to extend its limited authority, the Federal Government of Somalia has engaged in co-opting a number of Al Shabaab leaders, clan warlords and political agents,” said a recent UN report on Somalia.
Although Mogadishu has finally agreed to recognise and work with the pro-Kenya Jubba administration in the southern coastal city of Kismayu, many see this as a ruse to buy time before trying to sabotage an administration it once vehemently opposed the creation of.
Kenyan troops, who first invaded Somalia in 2011 to fight militants in their home country, are now a part of Amisom. But their presence is still being opposed by pro-establishment clans who charge that Nairobi is setting up an administration beholden to it, in clear disregard of Somalia’s national interests.
Just recently, Mohamed Hassan Haad, a prominent elder from the Hawiye clan in Somalia, called for the “real Somalis” to “wage jihad against Kenyan troops and kick them out of Kismayu and Somalia because they are a virus and brought with them problems that could have lasting affects.”
Mr Gedi, a former prime minister, commented that Haad and his ilk do not represent the Hawiye clan. He stressed that the current political problem in Somalia is the government itself led by President Mohamud, whom he accuses of antagonising neighbouring countries and of creating animosities among clans who had no hard feelings toward one another before the president’s team came to power.
Former and current politicians — some of whom spoke anonymously because deliberations are still underway — appear united in their opposition to the government’s current composition, which they claim to be non-inclusive. They also say government appointments are not inclusive and are done not on merit, but on one’s loyalty to the ideologies of the president’s Islam-inspired political party, the Peace and Development Party or PDP.
Locally, they say nepotism, corruption and injustices like illegal land-grabbing and dispossession of residents through spurious court decrees, are rife in government-controlled areas in the capital.
The politicians are particularly worried about the resurgence of militant attacks; Mogadishu, they say, has taken its eyes off the ball. In fact, security has worsened since Mohamud’s government came to power, especially in the capital where militant attacks have been on the rise in recent months; clan hostilities have also re-emerged in several regions, most notably in Middle Shabelle, Lower Shabelle and Jubba regions, where clan-on-clan warfare claimed the lives of hundreds of people in recent months.
Another Somali politician, who cannot be named for fear of appraisals, accused Mogadishu of surreptitiously pushing for the removal of the African Union peacekeepers in the country, in a bid to replace them with others from the Muslim and Arab countries. The move, he said, was aborted last August in a meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, which brought together Somalia and countries with forces in Somalia.
In private conversations, senior officials in the region refer to the president’s inner circle as “the radical team” because of their Islamic roots, two Somalis and a UN source said, disclosing that there is a belief among them that “no stability” can come to the region unless a secular administration takes power in Somalia. Asked about this, Gedi said: “They see what we see, but they can’t publicly talk about it.” He blasted Somalia’s current leader for using “religion as a tool to seize power.”
It is not unknown for regional countries wary of a strong Somalia, chiefly Kenya and Ethiopia, to work with Somali politicians who can serve their interests and help create a pliable federal administration too weak to pose a threat to their respective regions populated by Somalis.
To improve their odds, these politicians are creating a political party, and plans are afoot to win over lawmakers to help attempts to force reform or cast out the government.
The new opposition has already unnerved President Mohamud, who recently urged Somali politicians not to take their complaints to foreigners. Somali sources say President Mohamud phoned his Kenyan counterpart in July to plead with him to stop a dinner meeting organised by these politicians at a Nairobi hotel. Abdirahman Omar Osman, the spokesman for President Mohamud, dismissed these politicians as “spoilers” and “a bunch of losers” who want to turn the clock back to the warlord era.
“If they want change, they have to wait for the 2016 elections and prepare for them,” he said by phone from Mogadishu, adding that the government had made “huge strides” in security, reconciliation and judiciary and financial reforms.
“When it comes to national issues and the well-being of our country, we won’t hesitate to take the initiative and do our part,” Ali Khalif Galaydh, also a former prime minister, said in an interview, claiming that “there is a slim chance of Mohamud’s government reforming itself,” so, “we’re open to all political options, starting with calls for reform.”
Somali citizens and countries in the region have in recent months expressed disappointment at Mogadishu’s policies, especially after it balked at federating the country as required by the constitution. Mohamud’s administration denies opposing the federal system, but critics say the president has a lot to do with the national parliament’s tardiness in enacting crucial Bills on federalism. They say he is oblivious to the public’s distrust of centralised government.
“The government is indeed against the federal system that brought it into being” charged Mohamed Warsame Darwish, a former intelligence head.
The election of Mohamud, who just last month celebrated his first anniversary in power, has lifted the hopes of millions of Somalis desperate for law and order in this nation. But politicians now say they ve had enough of the deteriorating socio-political and security situation as well as the lack of serious reform and reconciliation efforts.
Save the country
“Everybody is alarmed by the government’s poor record on almost everything, a discontent that can eventually lead to the creation of a reform-minded team willing to save the country,” said Somali lawmaker Mohamed Abdi Mohamed Gandi.
Analysts say any talk of a serious regime change is premature, and that there are no obvious rifts to exploit among the president, the prime minister and parliamentary Speaker.
What Somalia needs now is not a new political crisis… but to support the government’s attempts to build inclusive institutions, boost national reconciliations and maintain its dialogue with regional administrations,” said Mohamed Husein Gaas, a Horn of Africa expert at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
The politicians shared with The EastAfrican a tentative course of action aimed at realising their clamour for change. Tasks are scheduled to be finalised early next year. They say more than 100 lawmakers are already sympathetic to the idea of reform or regime change.
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If everything happens as arranged, the new political party, whose name is yet to be disclosed, is expected to hold its first congress before the end of the year in Mogadishu.
The plot may seem a bit far-fetched, but it can materialize if politicians can take advantage of the government’s weakness and line up regional governments and lawmakers behind their political pitch.
“In my conversations with senior regional functionaries, it is clear that they’re looking for a drastic change,” said a Somali source with strong links with senior officials in the region.