By: Mohamed Abdiqafar Haji Hussein
Upon assuming office as President of Somalia last year, Hassan Sheikh declared his desire to achieve peace within the country and with the international community. However, it quickly became apparent that his manner of managing government affairs would not lead to a peaceful Somalia. Specifically, he focused his administration on his party, neglecting the presidential candidates who had helped him secure victory. This situation was compounded by the conflict that arose between President Said Abdullahi Deni and President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, with some accusing the latter of reneging on the deal made during the presidential election and others attributing it to constitutional differences.
The conflict between the two presidents escalated after President Hassan spoke from the Villa Somalia Masjid, where he predicted that Puntland might cease to exist after 24 days if President Deni did not heed the people’s desire. He also suggested that after 24 years of Puntland’s existence, it would not be fair for that to happen. President Hassan attempted to drive a wedge between the people of Puntland and their government by asserting that the leadership was the issue, not the people themselves. He warned President Deni that his plan to extend his rule would not succeed.
Many Puntlanders perceived President Hassan’s speech as interference in their internal affairs, while supporters of President Deni viewed it as a threat. President Hassan implied that he possessed knowledge that was unknown to most Puntlanders. There is a constitutional dispute between President Deni and the opposition, who alleged that he sought to extend his rule. However, President Deni did not publicly address these accusations. It would have been appropriate for him to clarify his position, but instead, Puntlanders were left unaware of his intentions. There was no other known issue standing in the way of upcoming election.
However, the impasse between the two presidents necessitated the intervention of Prime Minister Hamza Ali Barre, who had an ideal opportunity to resolve the conflict. There was no known animosity between him and the President of Puntland. As the executive of the Somali government, it was in his interests for Puntland to be on the discussion table. The prime minister himself recognized the importance of Puntland. Even if President Deni refused to engage with him, the Prime Minister could have leveraged other channels, including traditional elders, to reach out to President Deni. By listening to Puntland’s concerns and seeking a feasible solution, he could have played a pivotal role in resolving the crisis.
Instead, the prime minister held a similar view to that of President Hassan regarding the Puntland issue. Two days after President Hassan’s speech, the prime minister repeated his sentiments, stating that the Puntland people did not deserve their leaders and that the Somali government would not allow one sole individual to destroy Puntland. He also mentioned that Puntland did not participate in the last two meetings that should have addressed Somali debt relief, and said that if the relief effort failed, it would be Puntland state’s responsibility, not his government’s. However, this rhetoric only inflamed the situation and did not facilitate any progress towards resolving the issue.
The Prime Minister’s primary objective should be to ensure that Puntland makes progress in its upcoming election and that Somalia’s five billion dollar debt is relieved. However, his statements only pushed Puntland further into a corner, negatively affecting the prospects of Somali debt relief, an initiative that he had previously deemed crucial for the development of both Puntland and the rest of Somalia. Additionally, if anything happens to the upcoming election, the President and Prime Minister would be held responsible.
Given the current situation between the parties, the first step in finding a solution would be to cease communicating via social media. The Somali people expected the federal government to move forward from the point at which it assumed power. Therefore, the federal government should engage the Puntland state through means that do not involve interference in its internal affairs. Puntlanders should be allowed to solve their internal issues without external influence. Rather than engaging in finger-pointing, the federal state should also address Puntland’s concerns that the government’s actions are not based on the federal constitution.
To resolve its conflict with Puntland and to achieve peace and stability in Somalia, it is essential for the federal government to engage in meaningful dialogue with Puntland. The Prime Minister’s recent remarks have only added to the already complex situation and stalled any progress towards resolving the issue. It is time for all parties involved to prioritize peace and stability in Somalia.
By: Mohamed Abdiqafar Haji Hussein