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Somalia: Logic behind limiting President’s executive power


EDITORIAL| The Somali Presidency may be the most unpredictable on the continent, as we saw last month when Hassan Sheikh Mohamud clinched control.

But why does the post carry so many limitations on what to do? The President in Somalia, for example, cannot appoint ministers nor choose ambassadors abroad.

In other words, what is the constitutional logic behind this idea to limit Somali Presidents to just one piece of executive power: Nominating and appointing a Prime Minister.

“After Allah the Almighty, all power is vested in the people and can only be exercised as per the Constitution and through the relevant institutions,” reads Article 1.2 of the provisional constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia.

Those relevant institutions include the presidency, the federal parliament, the judiciary, and other bodies created according to the law. It simply means the country cannot run on the whims of an individual.

Yet many Somalis may want to borrow from the American legal system, or even closer home, from Kenya or South Africa, seen as more progressive constitutions of our time.

But Somalia has a federal government, with a parliamentary system and not a presidential one. It borrows partly from Ethiopia, Italy, and Finland. This means the country has a form of government with a president as head of state without executive authority and a council of ministers led by a PM with executive authority, as stated in article 97.

Thus the head of the Somali federal government is the PM and not a president, as indicated in article 100 of the provisional constitution.

There is always a catch, though. Countries with government systems like Somalia must be run by those entrusted with the executive power and who must promise to stay within the law. According to the provisional constitution, every executive task like managing security, drought, economy, education, and health carries a heavy load of accountability to the Somali people.

Article 69c states that: “The house of the people has the constitutional power to summon the Prime Minister, members of the Council of Ministers and the Chairmen of the Independent Commissions and Offices…” to explain certain decisions or omissions due to their work.

In contrast, the president and his aides can’t be summoned and held accountable by the federal parliament, given they aren’t members of the executive authority. In return, they also aren’t allowed to be involved in executive activities. 

Additionally, all the constitutional powers and responsibilities of the president (as outlined in article 90 of the provisional constitution) are symbolic, except for the nomination of a PM, which Parliament must then approve.

The president has no constitutional power to reject the appointments of civil servants, ambassadors, or military generals approved by the Council of ministers. His constitutional role is to follow due process of the constitution and appoint them through decree after the approval council of ministers. 

Moreover, if the President is absent from the country or unable to fulfill his duties due to illness or any other reason, the Speaker of the House of the People will assume presidential duties. This has nothing to do with running the country, however, which is the constitutional responsibility of the council of ministers led by the PM. The only constitutional responsibility that the speaker assumes in this context is the role of the head of state, as the provisional constitution says, and not a substitute for the part of the council of ministers.


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