Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has suspended Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble’s power to hire and fire officials, the latest development in a destabilising feud that has plunged the country into fresh crisis.
The dispute between the two leaders marks an escalation of months of tension, threatening to throw an already fragile electoral process into deeper peril.
“The prime minister has violated the transitional constitution so his executive powers are withdrawn … especially his powers to remove and to appoint officials, until the election is completed,” the office of the president, popularly known as Farmaajo, said in a statement.
It added the suspension will last until the conclusion of elections later this year.
The statement said said Roble had failed to consult or collaborate with Farmaajo and made decisions that were “not in line with the laws and constitution of the country”.
Roble said he would not abide by the president’s order and accused him of twisting the constitutional provisions he cited to justify his interference with the powers of the prime minister’s office.
“The prime minister reminds the president to preserve the principles of the constitution of the separation of powers of the government’s institutions,” he said in a statement issued by his office.
Farmaajo’s four-year mandate expired in February, but was extended by parliament in April, triggering deadly gun battles in the capital Mogadishu, with some rivals viewing it as a flagrant power grab.
Roble cobbled together a new timetable for polls, but the process fell behind. Last week, he accused Farmaajo of trying to reclaim “election and security responsibilities” from him.
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 between October 1 and November 25.
The feud intensified last week when Roble sacked Somalia’s intelligence chief for his handling of a high-profile probe into the disappearance of a young agent.
Ikran Tahlil, a 25-year-old officer with the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), was abducted near her home in the capital, Mogadishu, in June, and her employers concluded that she had been kidnapped and killed by the al-Shabab armed group.
Al-Shabab, which has been fighting to overthrow Somalia’s internationally recognised government, issued a denial, while Tahlil’s family accused NISA of murdering her.
Farmaajo overruled the prime minister, appointing the dumped intelligence official as his national security adviser.
Roble, in turn, accused the president of “obstructing” the investigation and fired the security minister and replaced him with a Farmadjo critic.
The spat has raised the political temperature in Mogadishu, with a coalition of opposition presidential candidates on Friday saying it “supports the prime minister … and condemns the actions of the outgoing president”.
Analysts say the impasse has distracted from Somalia’s larger problems, most notably the fight against al-Shabab.
The al-Qaeda-linked group was driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside and continues 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 added.
“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.”