Duplicity and Disenchantment: The Collapse of the TFG
September 18, 2010 5 Comments
‘It is the President who is causing all this trouble surrounding the government and if this government collapses, it is he who is responsible!’
Mohamed Weheliye Waqaac, MP
For the last few weeks, and the last few days in particular, Mogadishu has been in mired in disarray. The curtains of confusion have been raised and the residents here were entertained to a remarkable show: a political tug of war between the Somali President and his Prime Minister! In a bitter dispute that is threatening to break up the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Somali President, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, called on lawmakers to pass a ‘vote of no-confidence’ regarding the Prime Minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, in order to bring about a ‘change’ that would propel the government in the ‘right direction.’ In turn the Prime Minister, who is vehemently opposed to the President, denounced the attempts by the president as ‘nonsensical,’ stating that there was no need for changing the existing structures of the government. Indeed, the banality of the political landscape in Mogadishu has received its much-awaited makeover with a squabble at the highest level.
Amid the upheaval, the members of the parliament, with a 296 out of 300 majority, passed a motion last Thursday calling on the government to appear before the Parliament for a vote of confidence on Saturday in order to stay functioning. The Prime Minister, who decried the decision of the parliament, must win up to 276 votes of confidence in order to retain his position, otherwise he leaves empty handed. In this whirligig of Somali politics, however, it appears that the session was cancelled today due to reasons not revealed to the media and when a group of angry MPs decided to stage their own parliamentary session, AMISOM forces have managed to disperse them by force.
Publicly, both the President and Prime Minister maintain that their dispute arises from the new Draft Constitution. The President has rejected the new constitution while the Prime Minister has openly endorsed all measures to put it in place as soon as possible. In Mogadishu, however, Sharif Ahmed hasn’t been getting on well with his top officials lately, as he’d already fired the country’s top military chief Gen. Mohamed Ghelle Kahiye for allegedly selling tons of weapons to Al-Shabaab, but the recent issue doesn’t appear to be weaved in a web of complexity, so why is it that the president wants to get rid of the Prime Minister so eagerly? In May this year also, the President tried to oust the Prime Minister, but had to back down due to lack of support from the parliament.
The political pundits here are arguing that the issue is in fact deeper than it appears to be on the surface; and though the bone of contention is thought to be the new draft constitution, an entirely different game is being played inside the halls of power.
‘The Hidden Story’
There are numerous speculations floating around the city as to the cause of the quarrel between the President and Prime Minister, but some oblique references by the lawmakers prompted some journalists and MPs into an investigation into the matter. According to this group of critics, Sharmarke, in one of his trips to the Middle East, signed a lucrative deal with a company in United Arab Emirates to oversee the building or refurbishment of Mogadishu’s airport and the seaport. The deal, worth millions of dollars, ensured that the Sharmake would receive several million dollars in advance. The Somali government, upon completion of the project, would then receive 30% of all revenue generated thereafter, while the company would walk away with the rest.
On discovering the plans of the Prime Minister, Sharif Ahmed, who would not receive a fragment of the price and who cannot legally stop the PM from signing such contracts for the ‘betterment’ of the Somali population, vowed to impede the implementation of Sharmarke’s plans. And the new draft constitution proved to be a blessing.
The President, whose efforts, though seemingly honest and indefatigable on the exterior are said to be marked by serious cases of corruption and impudence, appeared to be opposed to the new draft constitution, since the Prime Minister had already approved of it, and criticized the government for failing to achieve its objectives or even anything worthy of note.
An increasing number of critics in Mogadishu and abroad are also implicating the president in a conspiracy to extend his tenure in office. He can achieve this, they argue, if he successfully expels the Prime Minister, thereby putting an end to the strident calls for a new constitution. Tribal allegiances are also said to play an important role in the ongoing dispute, with the majority of the local Southern tribesmen, elders and MPs alike, seeking to overthrow the North Eastern or Puntland-born Prime Minister.
‘MPs for Sale’
But as the quarrel between the President and the Prime Minister gradually picks up momentum here in Mogadishu, the role of the lawmakers has also become increasingly lucrative. The 550 members of the Somali parliament, who remain deeply entangled in the squabble, usually tend to sway towards the highest bidder, further highlighting the corruption that still hampers the tottering government. A few months ago, for example, when Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aadan was named for the position of a Parliamentary Speaker, an unusual thing happened. A day before the voting for the new speaker was to take place, the names of the candidates were announced in a packed parliament hall. Upon hearing the name of Sharif Hassan, almost all of those present booed in unison. The jeering MPs, however, did not muddle this cunning candidate’s motivations and the following day, after a seemingly expensive cajoling, almost every MP voted in his favour. Later the word on the street was that the MPs ‘were a cheap bargain.’
‘Disputes usually arise from the government’s failure to achieve the required objective. As in previous governments, this government has miserably failed to achieve anything substantial. The President has failed to achieve anything and so did the Prime Minister; and when such failure comes into the prospect, then so does the blame!’
Cali Axmad Jaamac ‘Jengeli’, Minister of Education and Culture
The widening chasm of misunderstanding between the Somali President and Prime Minister has not only become an encumbrance to the failing government, but has also further heightened the overwhelming fears of the international community and the African Union force contributing countries in particular. In a report to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke of the growing security threat from Al-Shabab. The foreign envoys are worried that the growing rift is threatening to derail the efforts to fend off the powerful Islamic insurgency that is threatening to overthrow the government. AMISOM, IGAD and the UN have also issued a joint statement calling on the president and Prime Minister to maintain the present arrangement of things in the capital. Calling the political dispute as ‘unhelpful and potentially very damaging,’ the joint statement called on the Somali leadership to work for peace and establish an internal cohesion.
But it is the very lack of cohesion, however, among many of the highest ranking members of the government that has left even the African Union forces in Mogadishu quite alarmed. There are fears that these political skirmishes might lead to the total collapse of the government, thereby putting the lives of the AU troops in an even greater risk. With the rapid advance of the Islamists towards the Presidential palace and the majority of the government soldiers lacking the morale to continue fighting this endless war – particularly without any attractive incentives to impel the disgruntled soldiers to continue defending the deeply fragmented government – the AMISOM troops in Mogadishu are now faced with an even more burdensome task of defending the TFG from all sides. Not only are they busy trying to douse the flames of the fiasco that has swallowed up most of the government’s resources, the AMISOM troops are also watching out for an Al-Shabab infiltration. The Islamists, who view this political fallout as an opportunity to further denounce and even attempt to infiltrate the shaky foundations of the government, have almost everything to gain from the dispute, though they have been rather silent about it.
‘View of The Public’
With the top politicians continuously wrangling over trivial matters of governance, the Somali population here is questioning the efficiency of the political elites. Frustration had for long been brewing inside the weary public but with the never-ending, and almost theatrical, political battles and the government’s inability to settle their differences aside and establish some functioning institutions for the public, the increasingly disenchanted population view Somalia as a playground for foreign politics. On hearing the details of the dispute, Ali Mohamud, a 47 year-old English teacher from Xamar Weyne, could not conceal his despair:
‘I never had any faith or hope in this government to begin with, because we never voted for it in the first place and I believe that they are simply fulfilling the assignments given to them by the people who established them in D’Jibouti in 2009. This government has nothing to offer us; it is not for us.’
The deepening crevices that are beginning to appear on the surface now are only a testament to the widening gulf between the personal interests of the leading figures and the collective interests of the Somali population. Xabiibo Jaamac, 36, a Store owner from Madina district in Mogadishu questioned the government’s very ability to govern:
‘If the TFG cannot competently administer only the four districts it controls in Mogadishu, how can it govern all of Somalia? This is ridiculous!’
And as the escalating dispute between the President and PM continues to be an excrescence that is gradually becoming too hideous to hide, a lot of hot air is being released in order to ease the flatulence on both sides. But whether or not it is within the political purview of the president to reconcile with his Prime Minister for the good of the greater majority, the burning question remains: will these crevices yield under the cumbersome problems weighing down the TFG? Will they bring about the collapse of the shaky structures of the TFG?
In the view of many Mogadishans here, the answer, particularly with the latest disputes whittling away the prestige of the political arena to a kindergarten playground, seems to gravitate inevitably towards the affirmative. By blocking the parliamentary session to take place today, AMISOM may have successfully managed to delay the collapse of the TFG, but whether it will be able to sustain it further is highly questionable. Again, only time will tell…