In defying the recently signed "Kampala Accord" and refusing to step down, Somali Prime Minister Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed is riding an unprecedented wave of popular support in the war-torn country.
During the past week, thousands of Somalis have taken to the streets around the country, risking arrest by government forces to protest the recently-signed Kampala Accord.
The accord - mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on June 9 - was meant to break the political deadlock between President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden and establish a road map for national elections as well as a new constitution.
But on Somalia’s streets, protesters are condemning a key provision of the deal cut by the two political rivals in Kampala: the resignation of Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
According to Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, the resignation of the prime minister was a key component in bringing the speaker of parliament to the table.
“This is a prime minister who was brought in by largely [President] Sharif and [Speaker] Sharif Hassan, was skeptical from the beginning, and found that the cabinet was largely drawn up without his input, and so there was no way in which he could have gotten the support of parliament for many of their programs without parliamentary support. So there was a feeling that unless you had a new prime minister who enjoys the support of the speaker, then you would not see this stability within the TFG,” noted Abdi.
Mohamed has served as Somalia’s prime minister for a little more than seven months, but in that time he has received praise from local and international observers for his straightforward approach and his desire to rise above Somalia’s clan-based politics. Upon taking office, he trimmed down the Somali cabinet from 39 members to 18, appointing mainly technocrats and eschewing the clan-balancing formula used in previous administrations.
Abdi says it is no surprise the prime minister has seen such a show of support from Somalia’s people. “This is a prime minister that probably has surprised many. He has achieved a few things. We have to be modest about these things in Somalia. He has not achieved a lot, but he has been much more energetic and much more proactive, I think, than the last prime minister,” he said.
Since 2007, Somalia’s U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government has been battling al-Qaida-linked Islamist insurgent’s al-Shabab for control of southern and central Somalia. The militant group has captured much of the region, including large parts of the capital, Mogadishu. But during the tenure of the current prime minister, the TFG has managed a small but significant rollback of Shabab forces in the Gedo and Dobley regions.
Government troops, supported by the African Union peacekeeping force AMISOM, have also closed in on Mogadishu’s Bakara Market, seen as al-Shabab’s stronghold in the city. Mohamed has also focused on improving the quality of life in Mogadishu.
According to Senior Advisor Abdirahman Omar Osman, the prime minister’s emphasis on issues such as road repair, reopening public schools and the regular payment of soldiers and civil servants has given him unprecedented support among Somalia’s people.
“This is a historic moment in Mogadishu and around the world. People are supporting government. The first time that we have seen, people are happy with the current prime minister, he is the most popular in this history, time,” stated Osman.
The prime minister initially offered his resignation in order to help break the deadlock between President Ahmed and Speaker Aden, but the outpouring of public support has changed his position since returning from Kampala.
With the people on his side, it appears Mohamed is seeking to remain in office until the expiration of the government’s mandate next August.
“He believes the right way is through the institutions and the (Kampala) accord to be presented to the parliament - the parliament to debate and discuss it. He also wants the parliament to consider the public concern and the public outcry,” Osman said. “Our hope is that the parliament will consider all those points and debate it and will allow all institutions to continue their work for the next 12 months.”
Somalia’s Council of Ministers has expressed its support for the prime minister, but Mohamed’s move could come at a cost. Should the Somali parliament approve his request to stay, it may derail international attempts to reconcile Speaker Aden with the president and move the country towards the fulfillment of its international mandate.
But the parliament may have no choice. Somalia’s police are already being condemned for their crackdown on protesters, who are determined to march in support of Prime Minister Mohamed.
The Kampala Accord was envisioned as a deal to move the Somali government out of its transitional state and into a period of legitimate and functional democracy. It has been 20 years since the last functioning government administered Somalia, and if the deal falls through, it may be many more years until the next.