Somalia’s Catholic bishop Giorgio Bertin is urging the country’s leaders to prioritise the interests of the people, as politicians wrangle over presidential elections that were due earlier this year, and their supporters engage in armed clashes.
Last week, clashes in the capital Mogadishu forced nearly 100,000 people to flee their homes. The development forced President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed (aka Farmaajo) to reverse an attempt to extend his term by two years. His five- year term ended in February.
“Put the interest of the Somali people before your own personal, or regional, or tribal interests. All will gain...,” Bertin, the apostolic administrator of Mogadishu, told the leaders.
Local and international pressure against Farmaajo’s extension had increased, as the police and the military split along tribal lines, and fears mounted of a full-blown conflict.
The crisis heightened in April, when the lower house of parliament extended Farmaajo’s term but the senate rejected the move. Senior military and police officers had joined the opposition and ordered their forces to take up positions to fight in the capital.
The politicians are in dispute over an elections blueprint known as the September 17 agreement. The pact, between the federal government and the leaders of Somalia’s five federal states and the governor of Mogadishu, calls for the election of federal legislators through indirect elections. These lawmakers would then elect the president. However, the house nullified the agreement on 12 April, in a move that would have allowed Farmaajo two more years in power. Under pressure from the states, and to the relief of foreign diplomats, Farmaajo last week said he was restoring the September 17 process, thereby reversing the two-year extension.
For his part, Bertin expressed hope that the country would calm down, saying he had “seen worse” in Somalia, which has not had stable government since 1991 when the late dictator Mohammed Siad Barre, was overthrown. “What is important is to remember that leaders are at the service of their people, not the contrary,” he told The Tablet.
Somalia is almost all Muslim except for a small Christians community who pray and worship at underground churches. The Catholic Church is engaged in Somalia through Caritas Somalia, which has provided food, flood and famine relief, run educational programmes and is helping respond to the coronavirus pandemic.