A rift inside Somalia’s troubled government intensified on Wednesday as the president and prime minister traded accusations of abuse of power, plunging the country deeper into a political crisis.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble have publicly feuded in recent days over key national security appointments, exposing fresh divisions in an administration that is behind on elections and threatened by an Islamist insurgency.
Roble on Wednesday accused the president, better known as Farmajo, of obstructing a closely-watched inquiry into the disappearance of a young intelligence agent, as the issue mushrooms into a power struggle between their respective offices.
“That is a dangerous existential threat to the country’s governance system,” said Roble, who described a pattern of interference in the investigative remit of Somalia’s justice agencies.
Roble angered the president by firing the head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) over his handling of the high-profile disappearance case this week, and putting another man in charge.
Farmajo said the sacking was “illegal and unconstitutional” and overruled his prime minister, naming another appointee to the top job, and appointing the dumped intelligence chief as his national security adviser.
– Tense capital –
The public spat has raised the political temperature in Mogadishu, where military units close to Farmajo’s office were seen stationed outside NISA headquarters.
“The situation is tense, and many in the agency are confused now. Some senior officials seem to have taken sides,” one NISA officer told AFP in condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, journalists at state-run media outlets reported being instructed not to broadcast messages from Farmajo, whose four-year mandate expired in February before fresh elections were held.
“We have been told by the minister to stop reporting on matters from the president’s office related to the political conflict,” a staffer at the Ministry of Information told AFP on condition of anonymity.
A Swedish-trained civil engineer and political neophyte, Roble was appointed prime minister by Farmajo in September last year after his predecessor was ousted in a no-confidence vote by parliament.
But the two men have frequently clashed in recent months, with the row threatening to throw an already fragile electoral process into deeper peril.
The international community has encouraged both leaders to focus on the elections, which are already months behind schedule.
“We urge Somali leaders to de-escalate the political confrontation surrounding this investigation and, in particular, avoid any actions that could lead to violence,” read a statement Tuesday issued by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia.
– Election impasse –
Farmajo’s mandate was extended by parliament in April, setting off deadly gun battles in the streets of Mogadishu.
Roble was appointed to ease the political tensions and deliver elections, and a new timetable to a vote was cobbled together.
But the process fell behind, and Roble has accused Farmajo of trying to reclaim “election and security responsibilities” from him.
Elections in Somalia follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
The next phase is scheduled between October 1 and November 25.
Analysts say the election impasse has distracted from Somalia’s larger problems, most notably a violent insurgency being waged by Al-Shabaab.
The Al-Qaeda allies were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside, and the capability to stage deadly attacks.
Last week, NISA said the intelligence officer abducted near her home in June was killed by the militants.
But the insurgents promptly — and unusually — denied any role in the disappearance of 25-year-old Ikran Tahlil, whose family has accused NISA of murdering her.