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Somalia's old rivals reunite in debate on constitution

Wednesday March 27, 2024

Former Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo (C) with his predecessors Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (R) and current President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud (L). PHOTO | FILEE | NMG

Former Somali presidents Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed are showing rare unity as the country debates how to write its new constitution.

On Saturday, they converged in Garowe town, the capital of Puntland, one of the Somalia’s Federal Member States.

The two former leaders held meetings with Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni and other politicians including legislators from the bicameral parliament in Mogadishu.

The move was significant especially since they were on opposing sides during the 2022 presidential election in Somalia.

In fact, they hadn’t agreed on anything since 2017 when Farmaajo became president.

After the meeting, Farmaajo and Ahmed issued a nine-point statement on Sunday, expressing firm opposition to current Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

They blame his administration of initiating changes to the provisional constitution without consulting.

Since February 12, the bicameral federal parliament has been debating the first four chapters of the provisional constitution to amend sections in line with inputs submitted by the government.

The two ex-presidents, however, see a faulty process being used in reviewing the constitution that could lead to fragmentation of the national unity.

The two leaders’ statement emphasised the importance of keeping national unity and government integrity.

They claim that some kind of manipulation is being used by the administration to push the legislative to amend the constitution using input from a select group of politicians.

“We urge the lawmakers to stand united and resist making unlawful changes to the constitution,” the statement outlined, insisting that a constitution is a social contract.

Further, the former presidents poured scorn on Mohamud for not honouring an earlier agreement predestined to solve the tensions between the federal government and Puntland.

Deni who had skipped several meetings of the National Consultative Council (NCC), a gathering of the leaders of the two levels of Somalia’s government, argued President Mohamud manipulating the legal review for personal achievement.

The NCC had been a caucus to discuss a proper working relationship between the federal government and federal member states: Jubbaland, Puntland, Hirshabelle South West and Galmudug. It was including the Mayor of Mogadishu.

In May 2023, an NCC summit which Deni skipped, approved a series of measures as input into the constitution.

They included abolishing the post of prime minister and instead Somalia having presidential arrangement led by a president and vice-president.

Another point reached by the NCC, which did not please Puntland, the two former presidents and many other politicians, is the proposal for Somalia to have only two political parties.

Former president Ahmed repeatedly insisted that the two-party system is contrary to the multiparty system enshrined in the provisional constitution.

“Two-party system is not the same as multiparty democracy that the initiators of the constitution chose,” he said in a recorded video message last week.

Farmaajo and Ahmed saw security as the most pressing issue for Somalia, especially in the face of feared terrorists.

They argue that that a more valuable work is to take care of the forces, arm them adequately and ensure that the country becomes more secure.

“Instead of venturing into changing the constitution, it is rather beneficial to focus on the country’s security,” the statement further stated.

“We urge the current administration to embrace the path to empowering the armed forces and liberate the country (from the menace of terrorism),” it added, recalling that it took years to build the army.

They warned that will continue on the right path to minimise the divisiveness and instead forge more unity.

“Continuing to mess up with the constitution will only result in more divisions,” they added.

The two former presidents’ position fully converges with a statement made by Abdirahman Abdishakur, an MP who became the president’s first Special Envoy for Drought and Climate Change in 2022.

“All the president wants is to create a situation where the country is constitutionally paralysed that there will be no election, hence, a continuation of his tenure via indirect extension,” he argued.

Ahmed was transitional president from 2009 to 2012 while Farmaajo is predecessor of Mohamud after the May 2022 elections.


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