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Somali Prime Minister, President at Odds Over Expulsion of AU Envoy

FILE - Head of the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia Francisco Madeira poses for a photo as he speaks to AFP at AU headquaters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 26, 2018.
FILE - Head of the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia Francisco Madeira poses for a photo as he speaks to AFP at AU headquaters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 26, 2018.

Somalia's top leaders are at odds again after Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble ordered the expulsion of an African Union envoy heard criticizing the head of government on leaked audio files. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has called the expulsion an illegal action.

Analysts say the latest stand-off between the leaders could further destabilize Somalia as long-delayed elections are wrapping up.

The announcement by Roble that the African Union’s top official in Somalia, Ambassador Francisco Madeira, was no longer welcome in the country amount to yet another dispute between the prime minister and the president.

Roble accused Madeira of engaging in acts that are incompatible with his status.
But in a sharp rejoinder, the presidency dismissed Roble’s order as an illegitimate and reckless decision, noting it had not received any complaints against the AU official.

Roble’s decision was linked to leaked audio files in which the AU envoy is purportedly heard accusing the prime minister of ganging up with the opposition to prevent the re-election of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo.

In the leaked audio, the ambassador also says the prime minister and opposition leaders used the death of a former member of parliament Amina Mohamed, who was killed in a car bomb explosion, for political ends against Farmaajo.

Samira Gaid, executive director of the Hiraal Institute, a Mogadishu-based security research group, said that regardless of how the power struggle turns out, Madeira’s days in Somalia are numbered.

“It is a very ugly state of affairs at the moment. This nastiness is not normal for the diplomatic circles," she said. "I don't think we hear this kind of language when we think about diplomats and how they engage. I think the two, the letters from the office of the president and the previous one from the office of the prime minister aside, I don't expect the AU to maintain Ambassador Madeira in Somalia following these revelations, seeing as he's lost the confidence of the prime minister and a huge section of Somalia society."

Critics of the prime minister’s move say the decision to declare Madeira persona non grata was uncalled for and against regular procedure.

“What Roble is now doing and the opposition is uncalled for and totally unacceptable," said professor Abdiwahab Abdisamad, chairman of the Institute for Horn of Africa Strategic Studies."The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in fact, they refused even, you know, to comment on the issue, because the right process is, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, if you have any complaints, any malpractice, they must forward the whole issue to the head of state and the head of state has to endorse it.”

Coming in the wake of increased attacks by militant group al-Shabab targeting Somalia’s ongoing elections, the removal of Madeira and a fresh fallout between the president and prime minister could worsen the security situation in the country.

Only two weeks ago, more than 50 people were killed in al-Shabab attacks in Mogadishu and the central Somali town of Beletweyne.

If expelled, Madeira would be the third senior foreign diplomat to be thrown out of Somalia in recent years. Last November, Madeira’s deputy, Simon Mulongo, was shown the door, while then-U.N. envoy Nicholas Haysom was expelled barely three months into his job in January 2019.