Somalia’s president accused Djibouti on Friday of unlawfully detaining his national security adviser, a key player in the spiralling feud in Mogadishu’s top leadership that threatens to hurl the country into fresh crisis.
The row escalated Thursday when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, popularly known as Farmajo, suspended the executive powers of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble — a move swiftly rejected by the premier as “unlawful”.
The pair have clashed over high-profile appointments this month, including that of national security adviser Fahad Yasin, with their spat now threatening to imperil repeatedly delayed elections and distract from efforts to confront a long-running Islamist insurgency.
A close friend of the president, Yasin was caught in the crosshairs of a new controversy Friday when Farmajo’s office accused Djibouti of unlawfully detaining him and other Somali officials at the country’s main international airport.
“We ask the Djiboutian government to ease… their trip, while it will be fully responsible for any threat to their personal safety. We are very much disappointed with the blunt intervention,” a statement released by Farmajo’s office said.
But Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf denied the allegations, tweeting: “There are fake news released in social media trying to create confusion and drag Djibouti into Somalia(‘s) internal challenges and crisis.”
He said a Turkish Airlines flight to Mogadishu did not take off from Djibouti due to what the company described as “technical problems”, adding that one of the pilots was not authorised to land in the Somali capital, which meant all passengers would have to return to Istanbul.
He however did not mention Yasin, who was due to attend a national security conference in Mogadishu on Saturday, and it was unclear whether he was on that flight.
“We will continue to stand by our brothers and sisters in Somalia but never interfere in their internal affairs,” he said.
– Risk of ‘instability’ –
The cross-border row erupted hours after the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states urged Roble and Farmajo to resolve their differences through mediation.
“The current conflict… does not serve the public interest, leads to insecurity and political instability,” the leaders of Jubaland, Southwest, Galmudug, Hirshabele and Puntland said in a statement.
The pair’s bitter power struggle became public last week when Roble sacked Yasin, then Somalia’s spy chief, over his handling of a high-profile probe into the disappearance of a young intelligence agent.
Farmajo overruled the premier, appointing Yasin as his national security adviser, and on Thursday announced that he was withdrawing Roble’s powers, particularly the ability to hire and fire officials, until the election process was completed.
He accused Roble of violating the constitution and taking “reckless decisions which can pave the way for political and security instability”.
Roble in turn charged that Farmajo was seeking to sabotage the government’s functioning.
He also instructed Somali “security forces not to intermingle with the politics.”
– Election impasse –
Somalia has been struggling to hold elections for months.
Farmajo’s four-year mandate expired in February, but was extended by parliament in April, triggering deadly gun battles in Mogadishu, with some rivals viewing it as a flagrant power grab.
Roble cobbled together a new timetable for elections, but the process has fallen behind, and on Thursday he accused Farmajo of trying to derail it.
Elections in Somalia follow a complex indirect model, whereby state legislatures and clan delegates pick lawmakers for the national parliament, who in turn choose the president.
The next phase is scheduled for October 1-November 25 with elections for the lower house of parliament, but voting has yet to take place in some states for the upper house as previously scheduled.
Analysts say the impasse has distracted from Somalia’s larger problems, notably the Al-Shabaab insurgency.
The Al-Qaeda allies were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside and continue to stage deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere.
“Somalia’s factions are playing with fire. All sides need to de-escalate,” the International Crisis Group said in a report issued earlier this week.