EDITORIAL | The outgoing Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is facing the biggest test so far on Friday when opposition leaders plan a massive peaceful protest against their government and against delayed elections.
Prior to the planned event in the capital, however, there have been procedures that show the government’s unwillingness to maintain dissenting or dissenting views.
When the opposition leadership of presidential candidates, known as the Council of Presidential Candidates, first announced the meeting earlier this week, the government responded curiously by banning public gatherings citing Covid-19 cases. Late Thursday evening, it was reported that the ‘militia’ was attacking government forces, causing a collision and bloodshed.
Well, there should be no question of controlling the emergence of Covid-19 cases, especially in this time of “Vaccine Apartheid” where Africa in general and Somalia in particular are still queuing for doses. As of Thursday evening, 130 countries around the world were still unsure when they could start vaccinating their people against Covid-19. So it makes sense for the government to encourage sanitation and other security measures.
But this was not just a health problem. The timing covered everything with politics. Prohibiting public gatherings without providing alternative means of doing so can simply mean that the message of criticism is also directed at the mouthpiece. Fortunately, Somalia is a civilized society and its laws protect the rights of all the public.
We claim that the federal government in Somalia allows the protests to continue if the participants can all wear masks and disinfect. The world should not stop and absolutely, Somalia should not shut down its programs just because Covid-19 cases have come, but we can give the public a greater duty by giving them the freedom to pay and the duty to clean up. In any case, the incidence of infection had increased since the beginning of February, which would have informed the authorities about tougher decisions earlier.
Opposition leaders led by former Presidents Sheikh Sharif and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud have claimed that they were attacked on Thursday night while staying in Mogadishu. We believe that their statement gives a serious look. Instead of Information Minister Osman Dubbe simply dismissing the events as militia attacks on government forces, the federal government will do better to ensure the safety of all peaceful protesters on Friday. Or it may be associated with attempted murder. In some civilized democracies, the security of all the president’s hopes is paramount, and no authority dares to risk the security of personnel involved in a presidential contest.
There may be many weaknesses in the Somali government today, but it will become weaker if it chooses the path to suppress dissent. Democracies are based on stronger diversity and Somalia should resist the call to join autocracies around the world where the opposite view is seen as subversion.
Of course, the government retains the obligation to keep all Somalis safe and it will be seen on Friday how this will be implemented. There are scenarios for authorities to choose from: They can choose to crush protests, keep the streets calm but invite an increasing sense of disapproval. Or they can allow peaceful protests, protect them and ask them to maintain public health guidelines.
To do the former further risks the government’s legitimacy at this moment where delayed elections have raised the temperature. The latter, on the other hand, can be a safe ventilation valve that allows people to go home without incident. The protests will surely be another test of the Farmaajo presidency.