Somalia’s President Mohamed Farmajo and his Prime Minister Hassan Khaire spent most of their adult lives abroad; the former as a diplomat who later attained American citizenship (which he claims to be renouncing) and the latter as a refugee in Norway who became an executive at Soma Oil.
They now face probably the biggest challenge of their lives: to ensure universal suffrage in the 2020 election.
Fighting Al-Shabaab, corruption and looking for financial stability, the call from many in the country in the past few days has been for the country to talk and remain united.
The programmes listed in the transition programme, the stakeholders argued, are at risk as politicians bicker on civil liberties.
It began 10 days ago when ex-President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said he could expel the federal government from Mogadishu if it continues to restrict his rights.
Ahmed, a former leader of the Islamic Courts Union — deemed the precursor to Al-Shabaab — was President of Somalia from 2009 to 2012.
As leader of Himilo Qaran party, he was recently chosen the presumptive head of the Forum for National Parties (FNP), a loose coalition of six outfits opposed to Farmajo’s administration.
With their movement restricted by the federal government, they protested and succeeded in having a meeting with the president on Wednesday.
“We have agreed on holding elections on time so that there is no unnecessary extension of the administration,” Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Farmajo’s predecessor and who is a key member of the FNP and leader of the Union for Peace and Development (UPD), said.
“We also agreed that there will be adherence to the constitution, protection of citizens’ rights and opening up of the political landscape. We do not want security to be politicised. We are united against Al-Shabaab.”
But disunity in Somalia transcends parties. A law that bans clan parties has not discouraged local rivalry. There is conflict between the federal and state governments as Al-Shabaab profits from the chaos.
“It’s good the leadership of the federal government and the Mogadishu-based opposition coalition agreed to tone down rhetoric,” Abdirashid Hashi, Director of Heritage Institute, a think-tank in Mogadishu, said.
“The government also needs to make peace with Puntland and Jubbaland. If it doesn’t do it now, it will in January.”
This week, the UN Secretary-General Special Representative to Somalia, James swan, was more categorical on the need for peace.
“Progress on the ambitious agenda for 2020 will require a high degree of political consensus,” Swan told the UN Security Council in New York on Thursday.
“This will entail dialogue and compromise between the central government and federal member states; between the executive and legislature; between current office holders and those out of power; and between elite leaders and elders, civil society organisations, women and youth groups who give voice to many Somalis.”
Unity calls, however, could mask the personal interests of Farmajo and Khaire.
The president is accused of seeking to weaken the federal system, whose fate will be determined once a new constitution is passed by June 2020.
He wants to seek re-election, becoming the first Somali President in four polls to retain the seat, if he does.
Khaire is accused of seeking to strengthen his business interests, particularly in oil and gas. As the supervisor of the government, he has been at the centre of Somalia’s nascent oil industry that is expected to auction oil blocks next month.
“They have failed and will be gone. States have problems with the federal government and al-Shabaab has resurged,” Abdalla Ibrahim, a Somali politician, said.
“They have a common goal. They want that debt relief to attract businesses because they know oil firms cannot do business with an indebted country. The companies will pay $100 million per block in advance for the 87 blocks. They certainly want to be there to get that cash,” he added referring to Khaire’s latest efforts to push for debt relief.
Khaire’s enthusiasts say he is the brains behind the rebuilding of Somalia.
“He is the cog that ties key institutions and improves priority areas,” Abdullahi Sh Nor, an academic, argued.
“There is a tight deadline, especially on the constitutional review, part of the transition programme, with specific outlines on roles of the central and the federal governments. This road map is under his management.”
The concern by FNP is that Farmajo has failed domestically, allowing Al-Shabaab to re-emerge, amid a worsening humanitarian situation and persistent road blocks in Mogadishu.