Somalia swears in politicians after contentious elections

The legislators will elect speakers and deputies for both parliamentary chambers before they sit to pick a new president

Somali politicians place their hands on copies of the Quran during the swearing-in ceremony on Thursday. AP
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Somalia's newly elected politicians were sworn in after a long-delayed voting process marred by a power struggle between the country's president and the prime minister.

The formation of Somalia's 11th parliament is the next step on the road towards selecting a new president for the nation, a process that is more than a year behind schedule.

Of the 275 parliamentarians, 250 took their oaths of office on Thursday alongside 40 out of 54 senators at the African Union military base in the capital, Mogadishu.

Dozens more are yet to be selected and sworn in.

The legislators will then elect speakers and deputies for both parliamentary chambers before they sit to choose a new president.

The rivalry between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known as Farmajo, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has continually delayed the elections and stoked fears of further instability in Somalia, which is also battling a decade-long insurgency and the threat of famine.

Elections had been scheduled for a year ago but were delayed when Mr Mohamed tried to extend his four-year term by two years, a move that was thwarted by parliament.

“We have faced challenges and endured attempts to stop us from reaching this day, but I am very happy that I am witnessing this occasion today,” Mr Roble said at the ceremony.

“I congratulate the new legislators who I hope will help the country overcome the current difficult situations.”

The president also issued a statement on Twitter hailing the “historic” oaths.

The process of choosing legislators, who are picked by clan elders rather than through a direct election, was riven with threats and bloodshed, including the killing of a young female candidate, Amina Mohamed, who was a vocal critic of the government.

The date for selecting a new president has yet to be set but a new government must be in place by May 17 if Somalia is to continue receiving budget support from the International Monetary Fund, the lender said in February.

The incumbent president's term expired in February 2021 and his efforts to remain in power by decree were fiercely opposed, triggering armed clashes in Mogadishu.

Under pressure from the international community, Mr Mohamed appointed Mr Roble to negotiate a way towards concluding elections in a timely manner.

International partners — including the UN, the AU mission in Somalia, the EU and a host of foreign governments — issued a joint statement welcoming Thursday's swearing-in.

“We look forward to rapid completion of the remaining stages of the electoral process, notably election of the parliamentary leadership and then the president,” they said.

Violence and famine ensue

Somalia is in the grip of a brutal insurgency led by Al Shabab, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda.

Tens of thousands face famine after years of failed rains and rising food prices caused in part by the Russia-Ukraine war.

At the end of March, the UN Security Council voted unanimously for a new peacekeeping force for Somalia, where Al Shabab has been seeking to overthrow the fragile government for more than a decade.

UN agencies also said this week that millions of people in Somalia were at risk of famine, with 40 per cent of the population, or six million people, now facing extreme levels of food insecurity.

Adam Abdelmoula, the UN humanitarian and resident co-ordinator, said in a video briefing for UN reporters in New York that severe drought has compounded humanitarian needs, and six million people “need food assistance immediately”.

The UN asked for $1.5 billion to meet humanitarian needs in Somalia in 2022, but Mr Abdelmoula said that “we have received just 4.4 per cent”.

At a nearby clinic, “we saw malnourished children with their equally malnourished mothers”, as well as 400 newly arrived displaced people seeking food, water and shelter, he said.

“Any dollar spent right now will help save more lives now,” Mr Abdelmoula said.

Agencies have contributed to this report.

Updated: April 15, 2022, 6:56 AM