EDITORIAL: Deni must not become an obstacle to rebuilding Somalia

FILE: The president of Puntland Said Abdullahi Deni

EDITORIAL: Puntland state President Said Abdullahi Deni is a very ambitious man. Last year, he tried to be President of Somalia. He failed. This year, he wants to retain his seat. In all these bids, he has carried along political baggage that could be detrimental to Somalia’s rebuilding.

But it is the choice of his methods that has angered many. Last week, he rebutted calls by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia and Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre to have a consensus first before holding elections. He called Barre a ‘clerk’ of the President in a bid meant to demean the head of the federal government.

So what is the tiff about? Deni has planned to go ahead with elections for municipal councils later this month in which nine political organisations will compete. The best four performing organisations will then be allowed to field presidential candidates when state elections come in January next year. All this could be a super plan had consultations have been taken or even considered. Instead, the Puntland leader pushed the plan down people’s throats and covered his eyes, ears and nose from every plea.

For starters, the planned elections have all bad signals written all over them. The local electoral commission TPEC says the election will follow the pattern of a pilot phase in the districts of Ufeyn, Qardho and Eyl which was marred by voter fraud. That means upcoming municipal polls slated for May 25 will be in the remaining 37 districts.

The disputed local council election led to clashes between two factions within security forces outside Garowe city on Monday night which caused deaths and wounds of soldiers [Read here].

The problem? The ruling KAAH party of Deni and 8, mostly allied, political organisations will be competing. Deni on Wednesday, May 9, 2023, accused the federal government of Somalia of being ‘anti-democracy.’ But is it democracy in Puntland if the elections smell like a coronation for him?

In Somalia, we have been building the habit of building consensus. Given our collapsed institutions, fragmented policy and sensitivities around our culture, Somalis have been learning how to avoid flashpoints, by dialogue. And those political leaders who tried to go against the grain have often paid the price.

Let’s begin with Deni himself. Ahead of federal presidential elections last year in May, the Puntland leader was among the opposition leaders who challenged then-President Mohamed Farmaajo of trying to prolong his stay or twist the plot to ensure he gets re-elected. But now the shoe is on the other foot and Deni feels he can copy Farmaajo’s rule book by twisting his arms.

Yet the people of Puntland, and Somalia, at large don’t like being taken for a ride. The rules that applied to Farmaajo must apply to Deni and there will be no excuse but for him to accept dialogue. That is unless he wants to be defined as the man who broke down the back of Somalia’s oldest federal, and most, stable state.

But Mr Deni has other sins in his basket. Soon after he lost the presidency to Mohamud and disagreed with the federal government on the choice of the Cabinet, Puntland was arm-twisted and even cut off links with the federal government. First, he stopped cooperating with the federal government, ostensibly until Somalia passes a permanent constitution. Anyone who has been on Somalia’s political story knows there are no definite timelines on that. And you can neither blame the federal government nor federal member states. It is a collective failure that also includes Deni.

Deni whose term ending in 7 months also refused to participate in the battle against al-Shabaab, as guided by the federal government. We know that the federal government without backup from its regional governments is weak. Deni can be accused of sabotaging his own country. In civilised polities, it is called treachery.

And he has lately sabotaged cooperation with Somalia’s donors. Last week, he stopped his ministers from travelling to Nairobi to discuss funding options with the World Bank. And he has largely cracked down on NGOs under the guise of not submitting returns. Some of these organisations were running donor-funded programmes, effectively cutting down those programmes.

Ahead of controversial elections in Puntland, Deni must remember that a country is bigger than personal ambition. This is why he must be stopped from derailing Somalia’s path to recovery. Allowing him to go ahead with this plan will amount to a civil coup, and we all know how past bids ended: Somalia suffered.


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