Subdued by SNA mutineers, Farmajo almost runs out of options


MOGADISHU, Somalia - Outgoing Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo may be forced to go back to the drawing board, following unfolding events in the capital Mogadishu, which is the epicenter of the country's radical politics.

Just after approving the term extension that was passed by Lower House, Farmajo has not been spared by torrents of tough politics, with most of his critics terming the two-year term extension as "unconstitutional and illegal". He is yet to back down.

In Mogadishu on Sunday, Somali National Army [SNA] troops loyal to some leading opposition leaders, ransacked the capital as they engaged troops loyal to the regime, in a fight that lasted for several hours, leading to waves of fear and anxiety.

During the scuffle, armed fighters with armored vehicles and machine guns were positioned in opposition strongholds and even blocked key roads to Mogadishu as they took over strategic positions in the capital.

"Both the Somali security forces and the pro-opposition fighters have taken positions along some key roads, there is civilian transport movement but, in some areas, they are not allowing anyone to move," witness Abdullahi Mire told AFP.

Such incidents are synonymous in Mogadishu given that Somalia has been battling with instability for the last three decades. Ideally speaking, the country I yet to have a stable government after the ouster of military ruler Siad Barre.

On Sunday night, sporadic gunfire rang out across the capital after fighting broke out between government forces and those allied to various opposition leaders.

The clashes -- mainly in the northern neighborhoods of Sanca and Marinayo and the busy KM4 crossroads in the center -- began after dozens of opposition supporters marched in protest against Farmajo's term extension.

There were no immediate reports of casualties. Tensions remained high on Monday, with some people trying to leave their homes in tense neighborhoods.

"People are starting to flee from Bermudo area where the pro-opposition fighters have taken positions last night, the situation is tense and there can be an armed confrontation anytime if the situation remains the same," Fadumo Ali, a resident of one of the tense neighborhoods told AFP.

"Some families have already left last night when the fighting broke out... we don't know how things will turn to be in the coming few hours but now it is calm and there is no fighting," said another resident, Faysal Hassan.

Opposition troops take control of Mogadishu

Even as calmness was witnessed on Monday in the capital, Farmajo may now have tough times in claiming authority given intense divisions in his own army, which he has been leading as Commander-in-Chief until his term expired on Feb 8.

Largely tribal, the army is fragile to an extent that there are several factions, including the majority who are now controlling larger parts of Mogadishu. The mutineers have opposed term extension, which now gives the crisis a new dimension.

Already, the pro-opposition forces have taken control of areas near Somalia's presidential palace in Mogadishu and military vehicles can be seen on the main streets, including Tarabunka, Abdikasim, Sayidka, parts of Makka Al-Mukarama, and Dabka on Monday morning.

Most people in Mogadishu did not go to work or report to various education centers, Monday morning in fear of fighting that could start at any time following last night's clashes. A number of streets looked deserted as the military and mutineers claimed control of various areas.

Several universities in Mogadishu closed following the outbreak of violence in parts of the city as a result of the ongoing electoral deadlock. The higher learning institutions had resumed their studies after a long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a press conference on Monday, Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble told reporters he was "disappointed with the violence aimed at destabilizing peace and stability in Mogadishu during the holy month of Ramadan".

He urged security forces to "fulfill their national commitment and protect the stability of the people in Mogadishu". The Prime Minister who has been holding a low profile throughout the impasse did not indicate when and where dialogue will take place.

Farmajo and his administration have reportedly failed to convince the troops to go back to their bases in Middle Shebelle, where they have been fighting Al-Shabaab militants. Experts say such a scenario will "erode gains made in the country".

So, what next?

With opposition troops now in control of sections of the capital, it's highly likely that President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo will now take calls for dialogue seriously. Initially, he had stood with term extension, adding that AU should broker dialogue that would lead to direct elections.

But his critics, among them former Presidents Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud along with former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and Abdirahman Abdishakur, Wadajir party leader insist that the country has no option but to discuss the full implementation of the September 17 pre-election pact. The same view is held by Puntland and Jubaland.

Notably, the crisis in Somalia has led to increasing dismay from the country's foreign backers, who have called on Farmajo to return to dialogue with leaders of the country's five federal states over the holding of elections.

"Highly concerned about the ongoing events in Mogadishu," European Union envoy Nicolas Berlanga said on Twitter Sunday.

"The general interest requests maximum restraint, preserve institutions that belong to all and dialogue. Violence is unacceptable. Those responsible will be held accountable."

The United Nations and the United Kingdom have also joined the mission to deliver Somalia from the current electoral impasse, with both condemning violence in Mogadishu and calling for the resumption of dialogue, a move that could further throw Farmajo out of equilibrium.

"Reports of violence in Mogadishu are deeply concerning. We call for calm and restraint - peaceful dialogue is in the best interests of Somalia," the UK said in a statement.

"UN in Somalia is deeply concerned about clashes occurring in Mogadishu. We urge calm and maximum restraint by all parties. Violence is not the solution to the current political stalemate. We urgently call on all parties to resume immediate dialogue," UNSOM added.

The violence is now likely to soften the approach of Villa Somalia, which has been largely accused of sabotaging talks, a claim which Farmajo's handlers have often denied. But then, the siege in the capital continues, with experts saying opposition teams have a slight advantage over Farmajo.


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