Somalia’s opposition leaders say they no longer recognise President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed after his term expired without a political agreement on a path towards elections to replace him.
The Horn of Africa nation was supposed to hold indirect elections before February 8, but the deadline was missed as the central government and federal states failed to break a deadlock over how to proceed with a vote.
It now confronts a political crisis alongside a deadly rebellion, a locust invasion, and serious food shortages.
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A coalition of opposition candidates urged the president, better known by his nickname Farmaajo, to “respect the constitution” and ensure a peaceful transfer of power in the fragile country.
“Starting from 8th February 2021, the council of opposition candidates does not recognise Farmaajo as president,” they said in a statement. “The council will not accept any form of mandate extension through pressure.”
The group is allied against Farmaajo but comprises candidates running individually for his job, including two of Somalia’s former presidents.
They called for the creation of a transitional national council comprising the speakers of parliament, opposition figures, regional leaders, and civil society groups to steer the country through this period.
There was no immediate comment from the presidency.
‘Laughing out loud’
Hussein Sheikh Ali, Somalia’s former national security adviser and founder of the Mogadishu-based Hiraal think-tank, said that armed group al-Shabab had already taken advantage of the security vacuum to launch attacks in portions of central Somalia that had been relatively peaceful for about a decade.
“They are laughing out loud,” he said. “This is a failure by the president, Somalia’s political elite, and the international community. They didn’t have a plan B to move forward.”
On Sunday, 12 security agents were killed by a roadside bomb outside the town of Dhusamareb in central Somalia where political leaders were meeting to try to resolve disagreements over the presidential selection process. Al-Shabab also launched repeated mortar attacks on the town.
The attack came a week after four al-Shabab suicide attackers killed five people at a hotel in Mogadishu.
Some roads in Mogadishu, including the route to Parliament, were closed on Monday, witnesses said, after a tense evening in the capital.
“We could not sleep last night because so many gunshots were being fired by opposition supporters,” said one resident Abdullahi Ali.
On Sunday at midnight, the capital lit up with gunfire and drums as residents said they were celebrating the end of the president’s term.
“We are firing into the sky to say goodbye to the dictator Farmaajo, he has burned Somalia these four years,” said a soldier Aden Ali, using President Mohamed’s common nickname.
Farmaajo, who is running for a second term, has accused his rivals of reneging on an earlier agreement struck in September that laid out a timeline for a vote.
That deal would have seen indirect parliamentary and presidential elections held in late 2020 and early 2021.
But it fell apart as squabbles erupted over how to conduct the vote.
Jubbaland, one of the semi-autonomous regions at odds with Farmaajo, accused the president of rebuffing their attempts at compromise. Three days of talks between the parties collapsed on Friday without a deal.
The United Nations warned that Somalia risked entering uncharted territory should the government’s mandate expire without a consensus on the election process.
Last week, the government’s foreign backers – including the UN and the African Union – warned against any attempts at holding partial elections, or any process that did not have broad consensus.
Somalia plunged into chaos after the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre’s military government, leading to years of clan warfare followed by the rise of the armed group al-Shabab, which once controlled large parts of the country and capital.
This election was to follow a complex indirect system after hopes of hosting Somalia’s first one-person, one-vote ballot since 1969 were abandoned over security and political problems.
Under this system, which mirrors past elections, special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.