Somali President Farmaajo Attempts a Silent Coup

While the world was in shock over the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the American election results, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo was engaged in his own silent coup to ensure a return to power after his term ends in February 2021. In fact, the similarities between the Somali president and his American counterpart are startling: Both came to power as outsiders that promised to change the status quo, both are Republicans from New York state, and both assumed power around the same time. Their governance styles, characterized by hubris, dysfunction, and highly confrontational methods, are almost identical as well.

More importantly, both leaders exist in the same orbit and have personal connections to controversial figures like Roger Stone and Michael Caputo. In a bid to get closer to the Trump administration, the Somali president has used both Stone and Caputo as lobbyists in Washington. Shortly after he assumed power, he was even given a MAGA hat by the U.S. ambassador to Somalia, which went viral on both social media and traditional media. Farmaajo’s autocratic bent and his obsession with upending Somalia’s federal framework and overturning the nascent democracy have faced considerable scrutiny, but his ongoing efforts to rig his way back to power have the potential to spark a civil war and undo almost two decades of incremental and painful struggle to reconstitute the Somali state, which collapsed after the defeat of the regime of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre by rebel groups in 1991.

 

On Jan. 9, Farmaajo and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble met with the presidents of the Federal Member States (FMS) that backed the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) to pressure them to accept plans to hold unilateral elections. The leaders of the three FMS were originally put in place by the government to influence the upcoming federal elections. Due to Somalia’s complicated and opaque electoral system, FMS presidents wield substantial powers in ensuring their preferred candidates prevail. The leaders of the pro-FGS FMS, like the governor of the Banadir region that hosts the capital, Mogadishu, are former warlords with controversial backgrounds. 

The prime minister announced that the FGS and their FMS allies would go ahead with a partial election for state and federal parliamentarians without the participation of Somalia’s other two states, Jubaland and Puntland, before Feb. 8. This would give Farmaajo a majority over the opposition alliance, resulting in an illegitimate election that would likely either trigger a violent backlash to topple his government like Siad Barre or lead to the creation of two parallel governments. The latter would be a repeat of the failed Bush-era dual-track policy later adopted by the Obama administration whereby the United States dealt with Somalia’s central government and sub-states simultaneously.