Somali prime minister announces resignation; Islamic insurgency mounts
Special to USAfricaonline.com
Mogadishu (AFP) – Somalia’s prime minister resigned on Tuesday after a weeks-long power struggle with the country’s president, leaving the government in limbo as it battles to fend off a fierce Islamist insurgency.
The long-brewing feud between the two principals resulted in Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke’s exit before a fully-fledged political crisis could blow up but left the western-backed administration rudderless.
“I resigned as the prime minister of the transitional federal government of Somalia after being unable to work with the president,” Sharmarke told lawmakers in Mogadishu.
“I did it for the interest of the nation at this critical moment,” he said, referring to the daily fighting pitting Al Qaeda-inspired insurgents against government troops backed by an African force.
The president, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, was expected to pick one of three deputy prime ministers to fill in while he considers a long-term successor to Sharmarke and seeks parliamentary approval.
He praised Sharmarke for his gracious stepdown.
“I think the prime minister for his considerate decision to resign… It is a decision I can describe as historic, one in which disagreement led to agreement,” Sharif said.
Somalia’s parliament had already tried to oust Sharmarke in May but the premier declared the vote unconstitutional and refused to resign.
Speaking to reporters in Mogadishu on Sunday, Sharmarke had acknowledged the crisis with his rival but at that point played down his chances of being sacked or facing a vote no-confidence.
“It’s not a secret that me and the president do not see eye to eye. We had a bit of a political storm,” he said, adding that he and Sharif had clashed on “different issues” of leadership.
Sharif has blamed Sharmarke and his government for failing to root out the Shebab, an extremist militia which controls most of the country and has been closing in on the Western-backed administration’s Mogadishu quarters.
While funding has been erratic for the transitional government’s fledgling army, many observers argue Sharif himself has under-performed on the security front and has failed to rally broad popular support for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
Another contentious issue is the constitution which is meant to replace an interim charter when the mandate of the transitional federal institutions expires next year.
The president reportedly wants it to be submitted to a popular referendum but Sharmarke argues the security situation does not allow for a credible ballot and says the document should be scrutinised by parliament.
“It’s really unfortunate to have such a situation at that particular time,” Sharmarke admitted, in reference to ongoing efforts led by the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to scale up its operations against the Shebab.
The row between Sharif and Sharmarke confirmed an all-too-familiar pattern of bitter rivalry between the administration’s top three officials.
In accordance with the country’s transitional federal charter, the president, the prime minister and the speaker of parliament each have to belong to one of Somalia’s three main clan groupings.
Sharmarke was endorsed as prime minister in February 2009, replacing Nur Hassan Hussein “Adde”, who had his own disputes with former president Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.
Yusuf was also involved in bitter political feuds with Adde’s predecessor Mohamed Ali Gedi, who was forced to resign in 2007.
Sharmarke, 50, makes a sharp contrast with Sharif. The portly Sharmarke prefers Western suits and wears black-rimmed glasses while Sharif, a former geography teacher and cleric, is rarely seen without his prayer cap.
The son of former Somali president Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke who was assassinated in 1969, the outgoing premier holds Canadian citizenship and a masters degree in political economy.
His pairing with Sharif had been seen abroad as Somalia’s best chance in years, Sharif being tasked with defusing the Islamist insurgency and Sharmarke with running the government and wooing the large Somali diaspora.