Against all sensible advice, the Federal Government of Somalia muscled in on a local election to shove aside an Islamist conservative candidate. It scored a tactical victory but created significant additional risk for the country already wracked by conflict and divided along regional and clan lines.
Rashid Abdi, Project Director, Horn of Africa
On 19 December, local lawmakers in Somalia’s restive South West state elected Abdiasis Mohammed “Laftagareen” president in a controversial poll that is certain to sow new instability. Laftagareen, former head of the National Intelligence and Security Agency, would not have won without the Federal Government of Somalia’s manipulations. Mogadishu tilted the balance in his favour by arresting his popular Salafi opponent, Mukhtar Robow “Abu Mansur”, a former leader in the Al-Shabaab insurgency, and deploying Ethiopian troops in key towns to suppress dissent at the outcome.
The risks of Mogadishu’s intervention are manifold. By detaining Robow and imposing Laftagareen, the Federal Government is alienating a huge clan constituency: both men belong to the Rahanweyn, one of Somalia’s four main clans, but Robow comes from the biggest and most influential sub-clan. In drawing in Ethiopia to enforce its writ, the Federal Government is inflaming anti-Ethiopian sentiments. Many Rahanweyn, a clan which Addis Ababa has long courted, will likely now resent how brazenly Ethiopia has interfered in Somali politics. With Robow’s arrest, it signals to other insurgent leaders that giving up their struggle can land them in jail.
Most important, Mogadishu is squandering an opportunity to build local models of power sharing with Islamist conservatives like Robow, who have the potential to moderate Salafi thinking about politics as well as undercut support for the Al-Shabaab insurgency.