Somalia: System of a down

Until deeper political and constitutional conflicts are settled, appointing new officials may well be a futile exercise.

Somali government soldier
Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, the newly appointed prime minister for Somalia, faces structural political conflicts [AFP]

On Thursday October 14, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the president of Somalia, appointed Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” as his new prime minister. Mohamed, a Somali-American and a member of the Somali diaspora, is a relative unknown in the Somalian political scene. Systemically, institutional divergence prevents Somalia from establishing a strong system of national governance. 

The appointment came after the September 21 resignation of former prime minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke – a result of a ongoing feud between himself and the president. That ended a bitter power struggle between the divided executive institutions of the presidency and the office of the prime minister. 

Appointing Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is new, young and professional, is in and of itself a step in the right direction. However, a revolving door of personnel changes fails to address the cause of toxicity that has restrained political development in Somalia. 

In fact, the main source of the conflict is rooted within the Somalia’s poorly designed semi-parliamentary system – particularly, the transitional charter, which is currently in use.

To justify this assertion a brief background is necessary.

Deja vu governments

There have been three transitional governments in Somalia since August 2000.

The first transitional parliament elected president Abdiqasim Salad Hassan, who appointed prime minister Ali Khalif Galaydh in October 2000. Although President Hassan and Prime Minister Galaydh were experienced politicians and former cabinet colleagues in President Siyad Barre’s military government, they could not work together.

In the end, Prime Minister Galaydh lost the confidence of the parliament and President Abdiqasim appointed Hassan Abshir Farah as a prime minister in November 2001. Again, another conflict broke up between president Abdiqasim Salad Hassan and  Hassan Abshir Farah which eventually caused the collapse of the transitional government in 2002.

In 2002-2004, the international community sponsored a conference in Nairobi, Kenya, in which the parliament elected Abdullahi Yusuf as a president. President Yusuf appointed Ali Mohamed Gedi as his prime minister in November 2004. An open conflict has erupted between president Yusuf and prime minister Gedi and finally the premier Gedi was forced to resign.

President Yusuf appointed Nur Hassan Hussein as a prime minister in November 2007 to replace Ali Gedi. Within a very short period of time, President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Nur Hussein fought again. This time, the international community sided with the prime minister and President Yusuf was forced to quit.

Yet again, Djibouti hosted another conference in which parliamentarians elected president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to lead a unity government. President Ahmed appointed Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke as the prime minister in February 2009. It became apparent after one year that both parties were unable to strike up a working relationship leading to the resignation of the prime minister. 


Albert Einstein characterized insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The problem between the two executive institutions in Somalia has persisted. Yet, the same prescriptions continue to be repeated.

Besides a lack of disciplined political parties and an unhelpful political culture, two systemic issues stand out. Firstly, the existence of a charter obligation, article 11, which demands that the government should implement federalism in Somalia within a specified time. If it fails to do so, it will automatically fall. Such obligation cannot be fulfilled in the current context for many reasons, and it has been used against some of the prime ministers.

Secondly, the current charter has amended the 1960 constitution which spelled out the powers of the president and the prime minister. For instance, the president’s power to dismiss the prime minister has been removed and now parliament has the power to evoke a call of no confidence in the prime minster.

Moreover, in Somalia, the parliament elects the president. This complicates matters as all three presidents since 2000 have acted as though they lead a presidential system. On the other hand, although the speaker of Somalia’s parliament has procedural powers, these powers inadvertently became substantive.

The speaker can simply frustrate the executive institutions. It can easily be observed that the speaker participates in the formation of the government and sometimes the appointment of the prime minister – a practice that is not present in other parliamentary systems.

Given this practice, I believe that Sharmarke’s resignation and the appointment of Mohamed will not end the political feud between Somali institutions. As long as the current system is in place, conflict between the Transitional Federal Institutions will continue to emerge, in a number of ways, all of which will retard the ability to govern.

The ‘change’ mantra

For president Sharif’s call for change, as his rhetoric goes, provides him with an opportunity to strike up a better relationship between the two institutions, as Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed carries little negative political baggage. However, the relationship will be put under the spotlight when the new prime minister selects his cabinet. 

In Somalia producing a cohesive political body is easier said than done. The mess on the ground and the complex political realities will undoubtedly complicate proceedings, irrespective of new beginnings. In the end, a compromise that resists any substantive changes is likely to come out.

As the history of transitional governments suggest, the power struggle that has paralyzed Somalia’s semi-parliamentary system may re-appear again. The charter and the constitution cannot manage political conflicts effectively – instead they create unnecessary conflicts.

Therefore, if another conflict is to be averted or managed successfully, time has come when peace builders (Somalis and non-Somalis) should seriously think about addressing the root cause of the problem – reforming the political system as well as re-writing the country’s charter.

Dr Afyare Abdi Elmi is an assistant professor of International Affairs at Qatar University and the author of Understanding the Somalia Conflagration.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.