MOGADISHU, Somalia – Every month, Abdow Omar, who runs a flour and sugar import business, receives a call from Somali militant group Al Shabab reminding him that it’s time to pay their taxes – or else it will. risk losing your business, or even your life.
After more than 16 years, the Shabab, a terrorist group with links to Al Qaeda, now firmly controls much of Somalia – extorting money, going to trials, forcing the recruitment of minors into its forces and carry out suicide bombings.
The country is set to have its next leader on Sunday in an election that has been delayed by nearly two years. No fewer than 38 candidates, including one woman, have registered to run for and overthrow the incumbent president. But many residents, observe the infighting and paralysis of the governmentis raising the question of whether a new administration will make any difference.
“While the government is busy with itself, we are suffering the consequences,” Mr. Omar said. “Shabab is like a mafia group. You must obey them or close your business. There is no freedom. “
Somalia, a country of 16 million people strategically located in the Horn of Africa, has suffered from decades of civil war, poor governance and terrorism. Its central government has been supported by United Nations peacekeepers and Western aid, including billions of dollars in humanitarian aid and security assistance from the United States, has sought to keep the country from becoming a safe haven for international terrorism.
Currently, inflation is escalating and food prices are rising sharply due to severe drought and loss of wheat imports from Ukraine.
This country does not have a one-man, one-vote system. Instead, more than 325 lawmakers, who are chosen by representatives of the clan, will choose the next president.
Al Shabab exploited political instability, and sharp divisions among the security forcesarrive develop its tentacles. In the weeks and months before the vote, the group murdered civilians, including at beach restaurants, launched a massive attack on an African Union base – killing at least 10 peacekeepers from Burundi – and sent suicide bombers to jump on government officials’ vehicles.
In interviews with more than two dozen Somali citizens, lawmakers, analysts, diplomats and aid workers ahead of Sunday’s vote, many expressed concern about the political situation. Deteriorating humanitarian and security concerns have reversed several years of stability the country enjoyed after Al Shabab was ousted. out of the capital in 2011.
“These are five lost years, years where we lost our sense of security,” said Hussein Sheikh-Ali, a former national security adviser to President Mohamed and president of the Hiraal Institute, a research center in Mogadishu. cohesion of the country.
Observers say that protracted political battles, especially during elections, have weakened the government’s ability to deliver vital services. Critic and opposition figures have accused President Mohamed of trying to cling to power at all costs, putting pressure on the election commission, installing leaders in regional countries who will help tampering with the election and trying to fill parliament with his own supporters. Last year, when I sign the law extended his rule by two years, Fighting broke out in the capitalthe street, forcing him to change direction.
As the election of lawmakers gets underway, observers say it is rife with corruption and irregularities.
Abdi Ismail Samatar, a first-time senator and professor at the University of Minnesota who studies democracy in Africa, said the election could rank as the “worst” in history. Somalia.
Mr Samatar said: “I don’t think I can imagine how bad and self-serving it was. While no one tried to bribe him, he said, “I see people being given money in an election for the right to speak right in front of me in the hallway.”
Larry E. André, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Somalia, said that the majority of seats were chosen by regional leaders, “for sale” or “by auction,” and the messy election pushed country to “the edge of the abyss.”
US imposes visa sanctions in both February and Steps are about Somali officials and others accused of sabotaging parliamentary elections. The final parliamentary vote ended at the end of April, creating new speakers and deputy speakers mainly affiliated with groups opposed to President Mohamed.
Due to the indirect nature of the vote, presidential candidates in Mogadishu do not shake people’s hands or campaign on the streets. Instead, they are meeting with legislators and clan elders in lavish hotels and complexes guarded by dozens of soldiers and blast walls. Some aspirants have placed election billboards along major roads in the capital, promising good governance, justice and peace.
But very few people in this coastal city believe they will make good on their commitments.
“Everybody was wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase, and promised to be as sweet as honey,” said Jamila Adan, a political science student at City University. “But we don’t trust them.”
Her friend, Anisa Abdullahi, a business professional, agrees, saying that people running for office are unable to identify the daily hardships faced by ordinary Somalis. She said that security forces often blocked roads without warning to create safe corridors for politicians, making it impossible for her and many others to go to class, do business or visit relatives.
“They never made the people feel like the government came from the people and had to serve the people,” she said.
Some Somalis have now turned to Shabab to receive services that would normally be provided by an active state. Many in Mogadishu regularly travel to areas dozens of miles north of the city to hear their cases in mobile courts run by Shabab.
One of them is Ali Ahmed, a businessman from a minority tribe whose family home in Mogadishu has been occupied for many years by members of a powerful tribe. After presenting his case to a court run by Shabab, two weeks later the court ruled that the occupants should leave his home – and they did.
“It’s sad but no one has come to the government to get justice,” he said. “Even government judges will secretly advise you to go to Al Shabab.”
Some officials acknowledged the government’s shortcomings. Al Shabab has been able to expand its tax base because “elected officials are too busy with politics instead of doing policy work,” said an unnamed government official because they were not authorized to speak. with media.
The election comes as parts of Somalia face their worst drought in four decades. About 6 million people, or about 40% of the population, are facing extremely severe food shortages, according to the World Food Programwith nearly 760,000 people relocate.
Many of those affected by the drought live in Shabab-controlled areas of south-central Somalia, where aid agencies cannot reach them, crops fail and the Shabab people demand taxes. their livestock, according to interviews with officials and displaced residents. UN estimate that nearly 900,000 people reside in inaccessible areas administered by Al Shabab.
To find food and water, families walk hundreds of miles, sometimes walking to cities and towns such as Mogadishu and Doolow in the southern Gedo region. Some parents said they buried their child along the way while others left a frail child behind to save others.
Mohammed Ali Hussein, the deputy governor of Gedo, said the lack of security had prevented officials from rescuing people in Shabab-dominated areas even after family members had identified the main location. corpse.
Afiare Abdi Elmi, executive director of the Heritage Policy Research Institute in Mogadishu, said dealing with the threat from the Shabab will be one of the first challenges facing Somalia’s next government.
But the next leader, he said, also needs to come up with a new constitution, reform the economy, deal with climate change, open dialogue with the breakaway Somaliland region and unite a nation polarization.
“Governance in Somalia has become too confrontational over the past few years. It’s like pulling a tooth,” said Mr. Elmi. “Everybody is now ready for a new dawn.”