NAIROBI, Kenya – The president of Somalia on Monday suspended the country’s prime minister and naval commander, a sharp escalation into a political dispute that threatens to further destabilize the troubled nation on the Horn of Africa.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has suspended Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble over allegations of corruption and abuse of public land. Mr Mohamed’s office had previously accused Mr Roble of “a serious threat to the electoral process” and carrying out activities that were contrary to his mandate.
Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, the prime minister’s spokesman, accused Mr Mohamed of “trying to take over the prime minister’s office by force of arms” and called the movements “unconstitutional”.
Mr Roble refused to accept the order, and international observers expressed concern that the dispute would injure yet another cycle of violence in a nation through decades of fighting.
The summer political impasse blew up in open violence in the streets in April, after Mr Mohamed signed a law extending his term of office by two years. Opponents of Mr Mohamed, a former US citizen and bureaucrat, along with his Western allies condemned the movement, with many Somalis worried that it could reverse the modest democratic gains the country has achieved after decades of civil war.
The showdown eventually prompted Mr Mohamed to ask Parliament to cancel the extension and to ask Mr Roble to help organize the delayed elections.
But that process has not been smooth, with legislative elections dealing with delays, irregularities and multiple allegations of corruption of candidates and observers. So far, only 26 of the 275 lawmakers have been elected to the lower house of parliament, with 53 of 54 seats in the upper house filled.
Somalia’s electoral process is extremely complex, with traditional elders electing special delegates to select legislators, who then elect the country’s president. Mr Mohamed has said he wants to move to a more traditional one-man process, with one vote, but his critics say he is driven by a desire to retain power.
Despite the announcement of the suspension, the prime minister said in a statement posted on Twitter that Mr. Roble was in his office and performed “his constitutionally required daily duties as usual.”
While the Somali constitution gives the president the power to appoint a prime minister, he has the power to dismiss the prime minister and his cabinet or to cast a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Abdirahman Yusuf Omar, a deputy information minister loyal to the prime minister, called the president’s decision an “indirect coup.”
Writing on Facebook, Mr Omar said that the deployment of security forces around the office of the Prime Minister would not prevent Mr Roble from carrying out his duties.
The political battle comes because more than 90 percent of the country is facing drought conditions, according to the United Nations, with nearly four million people at risk of acute food security.
Somalia is also facing growing threats from the terrorist group Shabab, the negative economic consequences of Covid-19, and clashes between rival forces in various parts of the country that have displaced dozens of dead and thousands from their homes.
On Monday, residents of Mogadishu said there was a heavy presence of troops in the streets, with many worried that the political feud could become bloody again.
Abdimalik Abdullahi, an independent analyst in Mogadishu, said the latest suspension “spiraled Somalia into another rocky political crisis.”
The international community, Mr Abdullahi said, must “put pressure on Somalia’s political actors to abide by existing election agreements, give strict notice to spoilers with possible consequences and support the Prime Minister to deliver his mandate on the management of the election process. “
On Sunday, the United States, Britain and other Western countries said they were concerned about the delay in the election and urged political leaders to attend a Monday meeting attended by the Prime Minister to resolve disputes and the election process. accelerate.
But prior to the meeting, President Mohamed’s office on Sunday accused the prime minister of “posing a serious threat to the election process” and of carrying out activities that were contrary to his mandate.
The Prime Minister is also in charge of an investigation into accusations of corruption.
The commander of the Somali navy, Brigadier General Abdihamid Mohamed Dirir, recently accused top officials, including Mr Roble, of plotting to seize public land belonging to the Coast Guard at Mogadishu port.
In a statement issued by the presidency, Mr Mohamed accused Mr Roble of not only misappropriating the land he owns, but also exerting pressure on the defense minister “which is leading to manipulation” of the investigation.
Pending the conclusion of the inquiry, “the duty and powers of the Prime Minister will continue,” Mr Mohamed said.
The president also slammed General Dirir, saying the move was crucial to completing the investigation against the prime minister.
As political unrest escalated on Monday, British Ambassador to Somalia Kate Foster encouraged leaders “to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions in Mogadishu.”
The U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu responded with a similar message.
“We strongly urge the leaders of Somalia to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions in Mogadishu, to refrain from provocative actions and to prevent violence,” the embassy said in a statement. statement posted on Twitter.