The United Nations Security Council members on Tuesday rejected Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo’s extension of term, but endorsed efforts of the African Union to help parties resolve an electoral impasse.
Members of the UN’s most powerful body gathered for an informal sitting meant to help address the political crisis currently building in the country.
Last week, the Lower House of Parliament passed a motion to delay elections by two years, effectively extending President Farmaajo’s term. It angered donors and opposition groups.
“India called for the need for Federal Government and Federal states to resume dialogue and the need to implement the 17 September agreement and Baidoa declaration,” said Indian Permanent Representative to the UN, Mr TS Tirumurti.
“India feels the political impasse has emboldened Al-Shabaab and other terror groups. We welcome the role of the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development [Igad],” he said in a post.
The session was called by the United Kingdom, one of the most vocal critics of a recent extension of Farmaajo’s term by parliament. Under a format known as the Informal Interactive Dialogue [IID] where diplomats freely speak off the record with representatives of the countries affected, the 15-member Council allowed members to voice their concerns on Somalia. They all called for dialogue to end the impasse.
“The only viable option for Somalia is a resumption of dialogue based on the 17 September agreement. We call on Somali leaders to urgently make use of good offices of AU, Igad and UN,” said Norway, another member.
“Ireland calls on Somali leaders to urgently resume negotiations and hold inclusive and timely elections. AU leadership is essential. Peace and stability cannot be undermined for political gain,” added Ireland, which, like Norway and India are non-permanent members.
On Monday night, Somalia’s opposition caucus, the National Salvation Forum (NSF), wrote to the UN Security Council, seeking intervention and warning there are risks of the country descending into chaos.
“The NSF is determined to restore constitutional order and the rule of law to Somalia by peaceful means,” the group said in an open letter, asking the Council to subpoena Farmaajo back to negotiations on indirect elections.
“However, if the former President does not withdraw his claim to office and consent to a neutral, impartial and independent process of negotiations leading to election based on 17 September agreement of electoral model, we will have no choice but to explore all means at our disposal to save our country from a certain disaster.”
The Forum includes leaders of Puntland and Jubbaland, as well as more than a dozen presidential aspirants who include two ex-presidents and a former Prime Minister.
Rita Laranjinha, the Director European External Action Service at the EU, which is one of the key partners in Somalia’s security rebuilding, said only talks can resolve the stalemate.
“Dialogue should be resumed, prolonged uncertainty will further destabilise the country,” she told the session, as one of the invited stakeholders.
“The 17 September agreement must be respected. EU supports the African Union, Igad and UN efforts and remains engaged,” she said.
It was the second time this year that Somalia feature under this format. On Tuesday, Somali officials argued the impasse was an internal political matter. Like before, they argued that they welcomed support from outside, but as long as the process remains somali-led.
On Monday, Farmaajo flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with President Felix Tshisekedi, the current Chairman of the African Union. There, he said he invited the AU to help mediate a solution, but as long as there is no interference.
“I welcome the African Union to take a leading role in facilitating an election process in which every citizen elects their representatives through free and fair elections. All Somali stakeholders will actively participate in the dialogue on the future of our democracy.
“My government will welcome the role of the Au in facilitating a Somali-led, Somali-owned engagement that will lead to dialogue.”
During the meeting, President Tshisekedi, whose country also faces rising cases of insecurity by militia groups, said he was willing to render his support to “African solutions to African problems.”
“Advocating African solutions to African problems, the Head of State welcomed the approach of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to open up to the AU and to reach out to all Somali stakeholders for a just and lasting peace.”
Somalia officials said they want the African Union to play an active role, restricted to whipping parties to support an extension of two years after which elections should be held.
Farmaajo’s four-year term ended on 8th of February this year and an impasse overwhelmed all attempts to clear differences on how to hold elections.
Critics say Farmaajo’s first trip out of the country since his term ended was meant to seek continental legitimacy, while protecting his interest.
“Last week, the narrative was ‘no role for external actors in elections’. This week, the narrative is ‘African solutions for African problems’,” observed Abdi Aynte, a former Minister for Planning in Somalia and co-founder of the Heritage Institute in Mogadishu.
“Whatever keeps you in power is the narrative. The pendulum swings between weaponising sovereignty and selling it to the highest bidder.”
He may be borrowing a page from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s book. When he launched an operation against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Abiy argued last November that it was a “law enforcement” operation. With mounting global criticism and possible war crimes, Abiy rejected all bids to intervene, including from the African Union.
A delegation of former Presidents Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Joachim Chissano of Mozambique and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa, appointed by then African Union Chairman Cyril Ramaphosa met Mr Abiy to ask that dialogue be used instead of the military operation. Addis Ababa rejected the plea and refused a request to meet with TPLF chiefs now branded criminals.
However, as criticism mounted over human rights violations, Addis Ababa accepted an AU intervention through the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to conduct a joint investigation. The Commission, a quasi-judicial organ, however lacks any powers to compel member states to act. It is currently chaired by an Ethiopian, and the principle of investigation was proposed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed himself.
“’African solutions to African problems’ is either a term of deceit or a term of despair,” said Dr Rashid Abdi, a Kenyan researcher on the Horn of Africa.
Under Article 4(g) of the AU Constitutive Act, members are supposed not to interfere with each other’s internal affairs. But a subsequent clause grants powers to intervene if there is belief of potential crimes.
It calls for “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.”
The Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act later specified that an intervention can happen if there is a “a serious threat to legitimate order to restore peace and stability to the Member State of the Union upon the recommendation of the Peace and Security Council.”
How Farmaajo plays this could be crucial. But his critics argue he may use the AU only when it suits him.