Prosperity Party’s problems in Somali region expose the incumbent’s weaknessesThe slick media show, the rolling out of an all-encompassing new ideology, the unfussy extending of its own term. These trappings of efficient leadership might convince casual observers that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is running a tight ship, despite the country’s multiple challenges.
However, the storm gathering from the east, the endless political crisis in Somali region, one of the largest and most complex federal states under Prosperity Party (PP) control, may well expose the incumbent’s deep internal fissures.
That political crisis in Jigjiga spells trouble, if it’s not occurring already after protests last week, for the harmony of PP. This is indicated by the tensions within the Somali branch of the party. It is displayed by how acting president Mustafa explains the turbulence and increasing resistance to his rule from broad sections of Somali society, from parts of the regional PP leadership, and rebelling parliamentarians who have made accusations of corruption, maladministration, and increasing authoritarian tendencies.
What also spells trouble is how Mustafa tries to build critical alliances within PP by exploiting ideological fault lines that are also more or less ethnic. His right-wing Ethiopianist cheerleaders are disseminating conspiracy theories that Mustafa is being undermined by an unholy coalition of TPLF remnants and Oromo extremists angry that he is not towing the ethno-nationalist line.
But we all know that Mustafa, as well as other Somali PP leaders, were against, or at least implied they were against, PP before they were for it. As with other EPRDF-era regional elites, the Somalis seem to have gone along with PP merely as they had little other option.
The latest bizarre defense for Mustafa’s role in the never-ending crisis in the region came from the man himself while speaking to the national broadcaster on 29 May. He said those unhappy with his leadership are Somalis and others working in cahoots with Al Shabaab to instigate ethnic and religious violence in Somali urban centers. “Their goal is to pin the security breakdown on us so that they create a rift between us and the federal government”.
Such outlandish claims should ring alarm bells.
The dominoes that are currently at play started to fall two months ago when Abdi-Adil Hassen, the regional security chief and a PP executive member, was dismissed without due process following an alleged Asaminew-like coup attempt against Mustafa. Ensuing tensions just stopped short of a serious security escalation. Mustafa’s administration has yet to initiate an investigation into this incident that may have national security implications.
Just two weeks later, another rupture occurred between Mustafa and Abdi Mohamed ‘Ugaaska’, the regional council speaker, over whether to hold a council meeting that was three months behind schedule. In the lead up to his resignation, ‘Ugaaska’ is reported to have resisted Mustafa’s demand that he step down, accusing the president of meddling in internal council affairs, while inside sources said Mustafa insisted the order came from Addis.
On the same day the speaker’s resignation was announced on state television, Mustafa appointed him head of the Mining and Energy Bureau—perhaps to secure his cooperation—without the approval of his resignation by the council he was serving. Even during Abdi Iley’s time, when disregard for the rule of law and separation of powers was the norm, at least the autocrat was good at following the script. But the shady moves observed now certainly do not sit easily with Abiy and Mustafa’s promised transparent law-abiding pluralistic approach.
Roughly, a month later, the tussle between the regional council and Mustafa came to a violent standoff when on 21 May more than 100 lawmakers walked out on a session alleging “intimidation and disregard for council rules and the constitutional clauses that regulate powers of the council and the executive branch”. The administration attempted to strip the immunity of 12 members, detaining five of them while the other seven fled to Addis Ababa.
The rebelling lawmakers still contend these and other decisions don’t hold water since the quorum was not met, given that the majority of them stormed out of the session. On 22 May, the Minister for Women, Youth, and Children’s Affairs, Filsan Abdulahi, reacted to the assault on lawmakers who walked out due to what they called the “administration’s stonewalling of a list of agendas they tabled for discussion including a vote of confidence on president Mustafa.” In her statement, she urged “the Somali regional government to abandon its reprehensible and regrettable actions, especially the intimidation, maltreatment, and arresting of lawmakers and journalists” calling it “wholly unacceptable, and a blatant disregard for the rule of law.”
Filsan was not the first to speak out.
It was only a few weeks prior that 16 members of the Somali contingent in the PP central committee wrote a complaint letter to the party secretariat criticizing the president and other regional leaders. The latest twist of this saga was when Ahmeddeq Qabyo, a senior member of Mustafa’s cabinet and Prosperity Party’s Central Committee, called for immediate federal intervention, to salvage the so-called change in the region.
Not surprisingly, after his scathing public criticism of the Mustafa administration in a widely shared Facebook statement, not only did he lose his job, but he is being sought for arrest, according to a media often relatively supportive of the administration, SRAJ News. However, that is not the end of the story. There is still a stand-off between the current acting council speaker, Fardowsa Deyr, and Mustafa, as she apparently expects her position to be made permanent.
Underpinning all this is Mustafa’s bet that he can exploit the Amhara-Oromo rift by aligning himself with the Amhara wing of PP. The acting president’s public statements, as well as his ‘Ethiopianist’ media boosters, tend to support him, whether because of his now-famous saying that he prefers “geographic federalism”, his staunch advocacy for ‘Ethiopian unity’, or his speech in Bahir Dar that he is against the prevailing political narration that depicts the Amhara as privileged.
The most significant selling point for PP to take over Somali region by replacing the Somali Democratic Party (SDP), however, was to achieve elusive political stability. Former regional vice president Aden Farah’s election as House of Federation speaker will not help, as he was one of the few shrewd and stable arbitrators in Garabcase statehouse, although the failure to deliver order has not got due national attention—yet.
Abiy, PP, the media, and everybody else may be tempted to look at the constitutional crisis, the situation with Tigray, or the federalist forces that are gaining momentum elsewhere, but all disregard the current political situation in the Somali region at their own peril. If the current trajectory continues, it will only be a matter of time that the streets of Jigjiga, Gode and Kebridahar are hit by bigger protests than we have seen in the past few days, or perhaps the first infighting within PP will be over the fate of Mustafa himself. Arat Kilo is by no means insulated from the squabbling at Garabcase statehouse.
All this comes at a time when the region, and country at large, faces the daunting challenge of containing COVID-19. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed Somali the least prepared region. Three months later, the region admitted it is not prepared to tackle the pandemic when it asked for urgent federal assistance. Unfortunately, the endless political drama in Jigjiga is distracting attention from the pressing need to address a pandemic that risks exacting a devastating toll.
It also jeopardizes the region’s shaky transition initiated by Mustafa’s appointment to the regional presidency in 2018, an appointment engineered by Abiy. The federal government should give the Somali people and their concerns the due attention they deserve by holding Mustafa and other PP leadership accountable for their recent erratic leadership. Either that, or the Somali people may well hold them accountable for their dereliction of duty.
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This is the author’s viewpoint. However, Ethiopia Insight will correct clear factual errors.
Editor: William Davison
Main photo: Protests in Jigjiga on 11 June 2020; social media
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