Somalia’s president on Thursday announced he was suspending the executive powers of his prime minister, the latest twist in a feud that has plunged the country into a deep political crisis.
The move by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is popularly known as Farmajo, came despite efforts by Somali politicians to defuse the escalating tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
He accused Roble — the man he appointed just a year ago — of violating the constitution and taking “reckless decisions which can pave the way for political and security instability”.
The two men have locked horns over top security appointments and dismissals in a dispute that has stoked fears for Somalia’s stability as it struggles to hold long-delayed elections and keep an Islamist insurgency at bay.
Farmajo said he was withdrawing Roble’s executive powers, particularly the ability to hire and fire officials, until the election process was completed.
He said his prime minister had failed to consult or collaborate with him and made decisions that were “not in line with the laws and constitution of the country”.
The power struggle became public last week when Roble sacked Somalia’s spy chief over his handling of a probe into the disappearance of a young intelligence agent.
Farmajo overruled the prime minister, appointing the dumped intelligence official as his national security adviser.
Ikran Tahlil, a 25-year-old officer with the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), was abducted near her Mogadishu home in June, and her employers concluded that she had been kidnapped and killed by Al-Shabaab jihadists.
The militants issued a denial, while Tahlil’s family accused NISA of murdering her.
‘Playing with fire’
The Farmajo-Roble row threatens to throw the already fragile electoral process into deeper peril, and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia last week urged them to stop bickering and focus on the polls.
Farmajo’s four-year mandate expired in February, but was extended by parliament in April, triggering deadly gun battles in Mogadishu, with some rivals viewing it as a flagrant power grab.
Roble cobbled together a new timetable for a vote, but the process has fallen behind, and last week he accused Farmajo of trying to reclaim “election and security responsibilities” from him.
On Sunday, Roble sought to reassure UN diplomats about the status of the vote, saying the country was “committed to hold the elections as planned”.
Elections in Somalia follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
The next phase is scheduled for October 1-November 25 with elections for the lower house of parliament, but voting has yet to take place in some states for the upper house as previously scheduled.
Analysts say the impasse has distracted from Somalia’s larger problems, most notably the violent Al-Shabaab insurgency.
The Al-Qaeda allies were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside and continue to stage deadly attacks.
“Somalia’s factions are playing with fire. All sides need to de-escalate,” the International Crisis Group said in a report issued earlier this week.
“International partners should publicly name spoilers, threaten sanctions if they do not change course and prepare targeted measures against those who continue destabilising behaviour,” it said.
“Both sides need to take a step back from the brink. Rather than constantly finding new issues over which to duel, they should instead focus on bringing the long-overdue elections to completion.”