It has now been almost a year since ’s presidency ended, although he still claims caretaker authority until Somalia holds elections. The problem is that both prior to the end of his term and over the last year, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo has done everything in his power to delay and scuttle elections in order to remain president.
The crisis caused by his ambition came to a head shortly before New Year when Farmaajo sought to derail Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble’s efforts to organize elections. On December 27, 2021, Farmaajo announced that he “decided to suspend Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and stop his powers since he was linked with corruption.” The corruption charge appears baseless but, by trying to suspend the prime minister, Farmaajo would set the election process—once again—back months. Farmaajo’s real problem with Roble appears to be that the prime minister would not allow Farmaajo to continue with widespread vote-buying and election rigging. That Somaliland managed to hold one-man, one-vote elections on a shoestring budget but Somalia cannot do the same among just a few hundred elders after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the international community highlights Farmaajo insincerity and delaying tactics.
The prime minister and his cabinet responded by labeling as a coup attempt Farmaajo’s extra-constitutional attempts to suspend the government. Farmaajo in turn activated his personal guard and surrounded the Villa Somalia, the country’s equivalent of the White House. In effect, Farmaajo now seeks to transform the military that U.S. and the international community funded and trained to stabilize Somalia and fight terrorism into his own personal militia. While many analysts and former officials increasingly call on Farmaajo to depart, the reality is that this lets Farmaajo both escape accountability for his actions and enjoy the fruits of a fortune siphoned offshore.
The legal issues at stake are serious. There is a strong case that Farmaajo commits treason. Somalia’s penal code allows capital punishment for crimes against the security of the Somalia state, article two of the law makes the use of weapons against the state a capital crime, and Article 4 penalizes conspiracy with foreign forces. A consideration of Farmaajo’s actions suggests he is guilty of each of these capital crimes. At issue not only is Farmaajo’s December 27 coup attempt.
He has repeatedly subordinated Somalia’s interests to those of Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki. In 2017, Farmaajo detained and then illegally extradited Col.Abdikarim Sheikh Muse “Qalbi-dhagax” to Ethiopia outside any legal process. The case drew outcry across Somalia, but Farmaajo or his lieutenants apparently accepted bribes to ensure an outcome in Ethiopia’s favor.
This was not the only case of Farmaajo’s deliberate betrayal of Somali law and interests for foreign favor. This transfer of Somali recruits to Eritrea, ostensibly for training, shows this explicitly. Their subsequent transfer to Ethiopia, forced to fight on behalf of Abiy’s civil war, suggests that, at a minimum, Farmaajo engaged in human trafficking for profit or diplomatic favor, even if somehow his actions did not directly betray Somali sovereignty. That he transferred Somalia’s young sons in secrecy and outside any legal procedure, however, suggests the betrayal of sovereignty was both real and deliberate. Somali mothers still seek an answer to their sons’ fates.
Legally, Farmaajo’s attempt at a cover-up was as bad if not worse. In June 2021, Ikran Tahlil Farah, a young Somali civil servant working in the National Intelligence and Security Agency disappeared after allegedly discovering the reality behind the illegal transfer of Somali conscripts to Eritrea. Forces answering to Farmaajo and his then-intelligence chief Fahad Yasin subsequently murdered her to ensure silence. Farmaajo subsequently refused, rejected, and sought to sabotage any independent investigation that might incriminate him or Yasin.
The list goes on. While Farmaajo now uses U.S.-trained forces to protect him as he squats in the Villa Somalia, he has repeatedly misused security forces for his own personal ambition. This was the case, for example, when he used elite forces to sideline political competitors in Galmudug and Jubaland. In recent months, he has attacked Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama, the most successful indigenous group fighting the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab, in order to sideline competition.
The vapid and formulaic statements UN Representative James Swan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken issue will not resolve conflict or bring peace to Somalia; if anything, their weakness only encourages Farmaajo to greater obstinacy.
Real resolution to the conflict with come with a Somali solution conducted under Somali law. The case against Farmaajo is about as overwhelming as was the Iraqi case against Saddam Hussein. Somalia’s Ministry of Justice should file charges of murder, conspiracy, and treason against Farmaajo posthaste. Farmaajo can either defend himself or forfeit the opportunity. Court proceedings should be public. Should the court find him guilty of any of the charges, Farmaajo should face the prescribed penalty under Somali law: Death by firing squad. At issue is not simply the crimes of one man, but rather the ability of all Somalis to move forward with their national rebuilding efforts and peaceful elections so that the next generation of Somalis might have a better life and opportunities than the last.
Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and co-editor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).