Ter­ror poses big­gest bar­rier to fair So­mali elec­tions

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY TONNY ONYULO

MO­GADISHU, SO­MA­LIA | Star­ing at trucks fes­tooned with cam­paign signs wind­ing their way through the streets of the cap­i­tal, Hawa Ma­hamoud was dis­ap­pointed that she would not have a chance to di­rectly vote for her can­di­date for pres­i­dent in Novem­ber.

“I don’t like the way we are go­ing to vote,” said the mother of five who owns a ho­tel busi­ness on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal. “We should be given the op­por­tu­nity to elect the pres­i­dent of our choice rather [than] us­ing par­lia­men­tar­i­ans to im­pose lead­ers on us.”

It’s hard enough try­ing to or­ga­nize a demo­cratic elec­tion in a coun­try wracked by poverty and a grind­ing guerrilla war with one of the world’s most vi­cious ter­ror­ist groups. Or­ga­niz­ing a vote that ac­cu­rately re­flects the will of the So­mali peo­ple is adding an ex­tra level of com­plex­ity to the task.

The elec­tions will not be a one-per­son, one-vote af­fair. Au­thor­i­ties have ruled out di­rect polling be­cause of se­cu­rity con­cerns about al-Shabab, the al Qaeda-al­lied Is­lamist mil­i­tant group that con­trols much of south­ern So­ma­lia and has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Kenya.

Say­ing they want to ex­pose the il­le­git­i­macy of So­ma­lia’s fledg­ling gov­ern­ment, al-Shabab lead­ers have threat­ened to kill can­di­dates and campaigners and at­tack polling sites in a bid to dis­rupt the vot­ing.

“I see this as a golden op­por­tu­nity for al-Shabab to show­case its might,” said Na­zlin Umar Ra­jput, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and chair­woman of the Na­tional Mus­lim Coun­cil of Kenya. “So­ma­lia does not have the ca­pac­ity to hold free and fair elec­tions. I don’t fore­see a peace­ful elec­tion. So­ma­lia is very un­sta­ble. So­ma­lia is still in civil war.”

The So­mali gov­ern­ment hopes to in­tro­duce uni­ver­sal di­rect suf­frage by 2020, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions As­sis­tance Mis­sion in So­ma­lia. In the mean­time, the coun­try em­ploys an East African ver­sion of in­di­rect democ­racy that lasts from late Oc­to­ber through mid-Novem­ber.

First, 135 tra­di­tional clan el­ders ap­point elec­toral col­leges. The col­leges tap more than 14,000 del­e­gates, who then elect mem­bers of par­lia­ment via se­cret bal­lot. Re­gional leg­is­la­tures also elect a se­nate. Some seats are re­served for women and youths.

“I think there are a lot of peo­ple who think they are deeply dis­ad­van­taged by this elec­tion, and they would be right,” Michael Keat­ing, the spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the U.N. sec­re­tary-gen­eral in So­ma­lia, told the in­ter­na­tional af­fairs jour­nal For­eign Pol­icy last month. He said, though, that the con­vo­luted sys­tem rep­re­sents a step for­ward for the coun­try.

The el­ders’ ap­point­ments and pres­i­den­tial bal­lot were sched­uled for Au­gust, but of­fi­cials post­poned them be­cause of ad­min­is­tra­tive mishaps and fears of an al-Shabab strike. Now, So­mali of­fi­cials say, the del­e­gates will choose a pres­i­dent on Nov. 30.

The elec­toral sys­tem was out­lined in So­ma­lia’s 2012 con­sti­tu­tion. Ms. Mo­hamoud, 38, said the process is fail­ing. “This coun­try has suf­fered a lot be­cause of bad lead­er­ship,” she said. “Our lead­ers have failed to tackle cor­rup­tion and ter­ror­ism. This is be­cause we are not given the chance to elect the leader of our choice.”

But the flawed sys­tem might be the best prac­ti­cal op­tion as long as So­ma­lis liv­ing un­der al-Shabab can’t vote, said Ms. Ra­jput. “Al-Shabab al­ready con­trols south So­ma­lia and sev­eral towns,” she said. “Are th­ese re­gions go­ing to be in­cor­po­rated into the na­tional elec­tions grid or not? And how? So it is im­pos­si­ble to even re­motely con­tem­plate a free and fair elec­tion.” Step­ping up the ter­ror cam­paign In one mea­sure of the shadow ter­ror­ism has cast over the vote, al-Shabab ji­hadis have in­creased their at­tacks on civil­ian and mil­i­tary tar­gets as the el­ders pre­pare to an­nounce their picks. On Oct. 1, the mil­i­tants det­o­nated a car packed with ex­plo­sives near a prison op­er­ated by the coun­try’s in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity agency. Four died, and five were in­jured, ac­cord­ing to a So­mali gov­ern­ment state­ment.

Last month, al-Shabab took credit for a car bomb that killed a So­mali gen­eral and four of his guards. In Au­gust, a truck bomb blew up out­side the So­mali pres­i­den­tial palace and a pop­u­lar ho­tel in Mo­gadishu, killing at least 15, au­thor­i­ties said. Ear­lier that month, a pair of sui­cide car bomb­ings struck a gov­ern­ment build­ing, killing 23 peo­ple.

The mis­sion or­ga­nized by the African Union in So­ma­lia has vowed to help the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions suc­ceed. With back­ing from the United Na­tions, the African Union has sta­tioned around 22,000 troops and po­lice in the coun­try to in­tim­i­date alShabab and pre­vent at­tacks.

“Suc­cess­ful elec­toral pro­cesses will not only be a vic­tory for So­ma­lia but also the pan-African body and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity,” said Fran­cisco Madeira, spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the chair­per­son of the African Union Com­mis­sion for So­ma­lia.

De­spite the in­di­rect na­ture of the vote, many So­ma­lis are still cam­paign­ing vig­or­ously to drum up sup­port for can­di­dates among tribal el­ders and del­e­gates. Camps of sup­port­ers have put up newly de­signed cam­paign bill­boards through­out Mo­gadishu, Kis­mayo and other cities.

Pres­i­dent Has­san Sheikh Mo­hamud, a one­time univer­sity pro­fes­sor first elected in Septem­ber 2012, is run­ning for re-elec­tion. His prime min­is­ter, Omar Ab­di­rashid Ali Shar­marke, is also in­ter­ested in the job.

The pres­i­dent’s aides deny charges that se­cu­rity forces have ha­rassed op­po­si­tion can­di­dates, say­ing Mr. Mo­hamud’s ri­vals are rais­ing such con­cerns to un­der­cut the le­git­i­macy of the re­sult. Mr. Shar­marke told For­eign Pol­icy that the com­plex vot­ing pat­tern re­flects the pop­u­lar will in So­ma­lia the way that the Iowa cau­cuses re­flect po­lit­i­cal sen­ti­ment in the U.S.

“We don’t have the pri­maries. Ev­ery­body doesn’t vote,” he said. “It’s just a cau­cus re­flect­ing the larger so­ci­ety that is vot­ing.”

So­ma­lis are fol­low­ing the race’s twists and turns.

“It’s a very com­pet­i­tive elec­tion, but I know the pres­i­dent will win,” said Has­san Abubakar, 28, a Mo­hamud sup­porter. “We are happy and be­hind him. He has been go­ing around to cam­paign, and a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple sup­ports him.”

Al­though Mr. Mo­hamud has per­suaded the U.S., Bri­tain, China and other coun­tries to open em­bassies in Mo­gadishu — a ma­jor break­through con­sid­er­ing the law­less­ness in the cap­i­tal in the 1990s — crit­ics charge that he has failed to tackle cor­rup­tion. In 2013, law­mak­ers al­most im­peached him over a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­volv­ing the repa­tri­a­tion of over­seas So­mali state as­sets frozen at the out­set of the civil war in 1991.

Mr. Shar­marke is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the pres­i­dent’s fail­ures, promis­ing the coun­try that he will fight cor­rup­tion and ter­ror­ism if elected. He also plans to em­power So­mali women and chil­dren by em­pha­siz­ing ed­u­ca­tion and loans for women to run their own en­ter­prises.

“We need a leader who can fight cor­rup­tion and cre­ate em­ploy­ment for the youths,” said Hus­sein Adan, a teacher and Shar­marke sup­porter in the cap­i­tal. “This coun­try wants a leader who can end ter­ror­ism and pro­mote ed­u­ca­tion to all So­ma­lis.”

Hote­lier Mo­hamud be­lieved that a pop­u­lar vote would rep­re­sent the will of peo­ple and re­turn peace to the coun­try by giv­ing con­ser­va­tive Mus­lims who sup­port al-Shabab an op­por­tu­nity to ex­press them­selves other than through the ji­hadis.

“If we want a peace­ful coun­try, then we should have a pop­u­lar vote,” she said. “The leader will rep­re­sent the will of the peo­ple, and you will never see ter­ror­ists in this coun­try.”


A car bomb­ing in So­ma­lia this month is a warn­ing from the al-Shabab ter­ror­ist group, which threat­ens to dis­rupt pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

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