Somali Elections: The HirShabelle Conundrum

By Hassan M. Abukar

The Somali federal government, the leaders of the federal member states, and the federal parliament have agreed to hold indirect elections in 2020/2021 instead of following the one-person-one vote principle. The coming elections will resemble the 2016, in which a confluence of tribal chieftains, money, foreign influences, and federal government meddling were integral.

HirShabelle state is already experiencing a tense political struggle, with old political agreements among clans being challenged and new alliances being formed. The situation there is becoming the stomping ground of a power struggle between President Mohamed Farmajo and his rival, former president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.

Old Politics, New Realities

When the new state of HirShabelle was founded four years ago, clan leaders adopted a power-sharing agreement. The Xawadle clan was given the presidency, the Abgaal clan was given the vice presidency and capital, and the Gaaljecel clan was given the speaker of the state legislator. The arrangement proved to be a patchwork and not a solid framework that pleased the competing clans. The agreement initially worked even though serious grievances persisted. Now that the country is preparing for federal and state elections, old wounds are reopening and attempts are being made to rectify perceived injustices or unfairness.

Ali Guudlaawe, a presidential candidate for HirShabelle

Ali Abdullahi Hussein “Guudlaawe” (Abgaal) has been the vice president of HirShabelle and is now a candidate for the state presidency. His candidacy is supported by President Mohamed Farmajo and Fahad Yasin, the director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). When Goodlaawe landed in Jowhar two weeks ago, he declared that any individual or group with grievances should come to Jowhar, the state capital, to talk over their problems. His candidacy is seen as an obvious challenge to the Xawadle clan’s dominance over the presidency.

Guudlaawe’s candidacy unnerved politicians like Ali Abdullahi Osoble, the former president of HirShabelle, who sees it as the marginalization of the Xawadle and the reneging on a gentleman’s agreement between clan elders. Osoble threatened the formation of a different HirShabelle state administration based in Beledweyne. Challenging the Xawadle presidency, Osoble said, was akin to questioning the Majerteen leadership in Puntland and the Habar Gidir in Galmudug. “Imagine a Dhulbahante president in Puntland and a Majerteen speaker,” he exclaimed.

Farmajo’s strategy in supporting Guudlaawe is an attempt to stave off two of his leading rivals, former presidents Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who are Abgaal. Guudlaawe, if elected, will be in a position to help in the selection of federal parliamentarians from HirShabelle, who in turn will select the president of the country. Former president Sheikh Sharif is scheduled to visit Jowhar and is expected to vigorously challenge any attempts to install Guudlaawe in the state presidency. Ironically, the two belong to the same Harti Abgaal subclan. Guudlaawe is a former aide to the late former warlord and mayor of Mogadishu Mohamed Dheere. Shaikh Sharif has recently returned from the United Arab Emirates and his supporters say that he is not financially strapped as was rumored several months ago. There were fears that the former president was not in a position to challenge Farmajo in the presidential elections.

Ali Osoble, the former president of HirShabelle

Farmajo’s strategy to support Guudlaawe is a recipe for Xawadle alienation and the possible disintegration of HirShabelle. The Xawadle feel that they are being denied the power of the presidency and their leaders have declared that they might walk out of the state government. The environment in Beledweyne is ripe for nurturing such a grievance. Their critics maintain that the presidency should not be reserved for specific clan.

Security Concerns

There is little development taking place in HirShabelle because there are areas under the control of Al-Shabaab. The presence of this militant group adds more complexity to what was already a tortured, long-shot process of state building. Although Jowhar is 90 km north of Mogadishu, one has to fly there because of the insecurity of the road that connects the two cities. Only a week ago, some government officials were flying between Balcad, a city 54 km away, and Jowhar. In essence, the HirShabelle administration is only in charge of cities that are surrounded by the radical Islamic group.

On October 28, the local chieftains selected 90 officials to serve as state legislators. The selection of the remaining nine members of the assembly will come next. The speed at which the new legislature was selected was astonishing. There are reports that the federal government was instrumental in airlifting both the chieftains and future legislators from Mogadishu. The Xawadle leaders are grumbling that they had not been consulted about the formation of the new legislature. It is not clear how effective the new legislature will be. The last legislature was weak and rarely met because many of the legislators spent most of their time in Mogadishu. Osman Barre, speaker of the legislature, did not set foot in Jowhar for six months. Moreover, 66 of the 99 lawmakers were members of the state council of ministers.

HirShabelle is a microcosm of the broader failure of state building in the country. It is a region in which clan politics is acute, and flimsy views of governance reign supreme. It suffers from a lack of development, the marginalization of women, and being stuck with politicians who keep on failing. Moreover, there is clear and present danger from the Al-Shabaab radical group. It is a region that the federal government sees as merely as a battlefield for election manipulation. It will take another four years before the leaders of the federal government pay any attention.

Hassan M. Abukar
Hassan M. Abukar is a writer, a contributor to Wardheernews, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at:

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