Somalia: Democracy In Puntland

By: Da’ud Omar

Left: Abdirahman Mohamed Farole poses for a photograph after being elected for a four year term as president of Somalia’s semi-autonomous northeastern region of Puntland, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009

The year 2009 started with hope for improvement in Puntland. There was a new President, an active media and the prospect of oil and gas finds.

On the down side there was an increasing pirate activity along the coasts of Puntland and the threat of Al Shabaab and Al Qa’ada lurking in the background.

The piracy was to change from action against the illegal fishing in Puntland waters to the hijacking and demands for ransom of innocent vessels and crews. So we began to see the growth of a criminal activity that was to make some very rich but not helping the people of Puntland. One centre of this criminal activity was Eyl the home of the new President. The leaders of the pirate groups feeling so secure from prosecution that they built houses for themselves in the capital Garowe, whilst moving freely within the country! In fact at one stage President Farole was even considering making the head of a major pirate/criminal group the head of the Puntland Coast Guard!!

Then along came funding from the UAE and the birth of the controversial Puntland Maritime Police Force. It cannot be denied that the PMPF did have an effect on curtailing pirate/criminal activity along the Puntland coast and assisting the local population. But unfortunately it was also to become known as the Presidents private army. A simple search on the internet will expose the concerns not only at the Somali level but also within the UN and the US Government.

Although the funding was withdrawn the PMPF still continued to operate. The occasional positive action as reported by Garowe Online, the government media outlet. But also it was to be seen more as the Presidents private army used to control any democratic opposition to his government.

Currently the Puntland Government is seeking other investors to fund the PMPF, but it would seem the ‘terms and conditions’ set by the President are not seen to be workable.

Initially the problem of the Al Shabaab and Al Quada was overshadowed by the problems further south in what was known as the TFG. As the Somali forces supported in strength by the African Union, not to mention Ethiopia, began to win against both terrorist groups they started to move north. By moving into Puntland and joining together they also looked to destabilise the region further. By hiding in the mountainous areas in the north they shortened their supply lines to the Yemen they gave themselves a base to attack any government in both Puntland and Somaliland. Both Puntland and Somaliland have a common enemy. Which by working together they can overcome, being divide against such terrorist activity they leave themselves open to the fracturing of Somalia even further.

The Somali media in general has suffered greatly in having its members murdered throughout the country in their efforts to inform both the world and broader members of the Somali community as to what is happening within their country. Although both Al Shabaab and Al Quada have claimed some of these murders as their actions, others are listed as unknown. A journalist job in Somalia in seeking the truth creates enemies from various groups. Apart from the likes of terrorist organisations there are the criminals and corrupt officials in both business and government. All people who do not wish their activities exposed to those they are stealing from. Not only have we seen the murder of journalist but also arrest and imprisonment without trial. Also the closing of radio stations within the country of those who speak out against the government.

The potential for both oil and gas is looking good this to benefit the people of Federal Somalia in general and Puntland in particular. The wealth generated in all areas to benefit the population in general for the long term, not in the pockets of a few. But to ensure the success of such development needs a stable country to attract international investment.

Currently the present government of Puntland is seen as creating instability.

Within the four year period that President Farole was voted into power certain things were expected. Democracy within Puntland was to progress. There was to be a national registration of those eligible to vote. A national referendum to be organised regarding the drafted constitution aimed at multi-party elections for the end of the four year term.

Instead no national registration of voters was done, no national referendum was organised regarding the drafted constitution for Puntland. In fact nothing was done towards the next elections due at the end of 2012 aimed at the next President being in place in January of 2013. In all nothing was done within the first three years, then President Farole decided on a few changes.

Instead of a national referendum a convention was held as it was decided that there was no time left prior to the due elections to hold any national referendum on the drafted constitution! So 482 delegates selected by President Farole then passed a constitution which strangely enough also gave a further year in power to President Farole. At the same time there was a cabinet reshuffle in which several ministers were sacked. Some may see this as a move by President Farole of removing anyone who disagreed with him.

A new Information Minister was brought in. A close friend of the president’s son, Mohamed Abdirahman Farole, who in fact is noted as the owner and controller of the government’s media outlet, Garowe Online.

On 8th September 2012 there was a press release by the Puntland State of Somalia, via Garowe Online. In it Puntland was referring to the elections in the TFG and warning against any manipulation, stating;

“Therefore, Puntland warns strongly against electing politicians who have been tested and failed in the past to fulfil entrusted national tasks, in favour of personal gains and a record of inciting community hostilities and leading to further national fragmentation”.

Currently in Puntland we are seeing the closure of none government influenced radio stations within the country. Local journalist being arrested and attacked. Political opposition trying to be silenced and any attempt at multi-party elections being tampered with.

Horseed Online has been closed and we have seen the arrest of its journalist.

President Faroles son Mohamed even proposed the arrest of the presidential candidate and opposition leader General Adbullahi Said Samater.

President Farole announced the formation of a political party consisting of all his government. Effectively creating a one party state. Interestingly calling his party Horseed after the media station he closed for reporting things he did not like!!

President Farole has also stated that other political parties are forbidden unless allowed by his government. Rather makes you question the integrity of any party allowed under the present circumstances?

Recently President Farole has been visiting various locations within Puntland. According to the Government Media, Garowe Online being met by supportive crowds of local people. Then again if you close down other media organisations then you can control that only news favourable to the government is reported.

But even at times other reports will emerge and then you have to ‘sanitise’ such reporting!

Such an event happened in Qardo on 23rd November this year. As reported by Garowe Online.

(BOSSASO, Somalia Nov. 24, 2012 (Garowe Online) – The security minister in Somalia’s Puntland government has blamed unnamed ‘political elements’ for Friday’s protest in Qardo, provincial capital of Puntland’s Karkar region, Garowe Online reports.

Gen. Khalif Issa Mudan, the Puntland security minister, told the BBC Somali section on Saturday that the protest was staged by young children.

“It was a group of children throwing stones and burning a tire. There was no actual message behind the small protest, but some media is claiming the protest was opposition to [Puntland] President [Abdirahman Mohamed] Farole. The situation is very calm as usual in Qardo,” said Minister Mudan.

Continuing, Minister Mudan said: “The children simply protested, but some political elements are organizing this behind the scenes,” adding that “former Puntland officials who lost their positions” organized the protest.

He explained that a boy and a girl were wounded “when a single bullet went through their legs and both are receiving medical treatment”.

Asked whether Puntland police had tear gas or other riot control materials, Minister Mudan unequivocally answered no, while stressing that “the police fired bullets in the air to disperse youth throwing stones”.)

Independant reports are rather differerent in their view.

They speak of President Farole visiting Gardo with a military escort of around 200 soldiers and 17 heavy armed ‘technicals’ under the command of a nephew of the President. They were met by the inhabitants protesting against the Presidents declared intention to extend his period of office without the consent from the majority of the people of Puntland. They carried posters and shouted against the dictatorial decision to deny both parliamentary elections and presidential elections for 8TH January next year.

Acting on orders the escorting soldiers fired into the crowd resulting in around a dozen people being hit by bullets. Among which three students sustaining serious injuries being rushed to hospitals in Bossaso and Galkayo.

One thing that both reports have in common is that the soldiers opened fire. In fact as reported by General Khalif Issa Mudan, the Puntland security minister, “the police fired bullets in the air to disperse youth throwing stones”. He explained that a boy and a girl were wounded “when a single bullet went through their legs and both are receiving medical treatment”.

So perhaps somebody can explain how bullets fired in the air, supposedly over the heads of the people, managed to hit a boy and a girl with a single bullet going through the leg of each one??

At least there are no reports of an anti Farole donkey being shot!

To summarise as to the backward direction of Puntland.

We have a people being denied elections under a multi party format that was to have been in-place by the end of this year. Instead we now have a one party state controlled by President Farole.

We have seen the demise of a truly free press with the closure of none government controlled media.

Although President Farole is on record of saying it is better to talk then become involved in fighting, we have seen the use of the PMPF as a private army to enforce his rule within Puntland.

The situation between Puntland and Somaliland would benefit more by talking rather than the current public attitude from both sides. One aspect of any incidents with Somaliland is that it distracts from the internal problems within Puntland.

The civil unrest within Puntland generated by the current manipulation at the instigation of President Farole is also benefiting the Al Shebaab / Al Quada terrorist group. Giving them a more fertile ground in which to expand and become stronger.

All this makes Puntland become more unstable and as such ensures that international investment will not be looking to put money into a situation where they cannot be secure in their investment.

By: Da’ud Omar