As bizarre as it might sound, al Shabaab militants seem to now find a short cut to legally take over reins of power secretly through the ballot, with help from clan chiefs rather than with the violence often associated with them.
As if wanting to prove its influence, the militants recently summoned elders involved in the 2016 election to go and repent.
Those elders who heeded the call for fear of reprisals were literally held hostage for 20 days in secret locations around the country. The meeting became an al Shabaab civic engagement plan, plotting a silent takeover of power.
“They gave us clothes and money and even promised to pay us $300 every month on one condition which is that we do what they order us to do. They told us the country is being taken over by infidels and that we have to salvage it. We are still waiting for their order,” a clan chief who did not wish to be named said.
Considering there are three parliamentary elections coming up in Galmudug and South West State in September and October and of course the countrywide presidential and parliamentary elections in 2020.
The latest revelation makes many people wonder the influence the militants can have on the elections, if indeed the elders, just like before, are involved.
Subject to change, under Somali’s current electoral system, elders choose MPs, who in turn elect the president. In previous election models, the clans directly nominated the MPs. We can never dismiss the influence of elders in Somalia politics.
Some of the elders who took part in the ‘al Shabaab civic education’ say the militants plan to use force and persuasion to convince the elders to nominate their own to parliament in 2020.
The only way these elders will be rendered invaluable is if Somalia succeeds in organising a one-person-one-vote election.
However, that depends on several factors, including the adoption of the interim charter, the liberation of areas still controlled by al Shabaab and preparing the country for the vote. Recent events such as the Jubaland elections show cracks in national unity, which are likely to be used by the militants to further their agenda.
One year before the next election, al Shabaab continues to destabilise peace at will. Just recently, they claimed responsibility for a suicide attack inside the office of the late Mogadishu mayor Eng Abdirahman Omar Osman “Yarisow”, who died from the attack.
Such sad incidents make people wonder how Somalia plans to secure its next election. As a benefactor, am sure al Shabaab will do everything in its power to disrupt the election, playing dirty politics of bribing, threatening officials as it often does or even going out to kill their targets to silence their critics just to clear the way for their candidates of choice.
It is highly likely that come next year, the status quo will remain, making it almost impossible for national elections to be conducted. Al Shabaab is now likely preparing itself for a scenario where the elders will be needed for the nomination of clan delegates who elect MPs.
Al Shabaab must have realised the value of these elders, no wonder they treated them so well and fed them like kings. However, little or much they spend on their upkeep is an investment they are likely to demand something in return.
“They gave us first-class treatment. They used to feed us like kings. They made us renew our Islamic vows as if we were non-Muslims before meeting them. They bought us clothes, shoes and head turbans. They paid us $200 each when we were leaving and promised to give us a $300 salary every month,” the elder added.
As much as we loathe them, the question now seems to be how many al Shabaab MPs they will get and not if because they have already proved their ingenuity and strategic thinking. Time and again they are ahead of us in implementing their evil plots.
Following the cold-blooded murder of Yarisow, President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo reportedly admitted the possibility of al Shabaab moles in government and ordered security agencies to flush them out. Some of those elders who heeded the al Shabaab invite have reportedly been arrested in some parts of the country.
My biggest worry is the level of corruption in Somalia elections. Recent news of the increased al Shabaab revenue from their extortion rackets shows the group has lots of cash and could easily buy off parliamentary seats.
This is why the Somalia National Independence Election Commission and the government need to quickly develop strategies curtailing al Shabaab members or even sympathizers from becoming MPs, or worse, president. Let us hope not.
The writer is a Somalia expert and former war correspondent
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