Somalia’s capital on the brink of war as tension escalates

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Despite the restoration of calmness in Mogadishu, Somalia’s opposition fighters have continued to hold huge sections of the capital, even as the international community is striving to have rival groups on negotiating table.

The team is against President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s decision to extend his mandate contrary to the laid down provisions, something which has triggered internal opposition and external pressure, with a number of stakeholders calling for dialogue.

“Both the Somali security forces and the pro-opposition fighters have taken positions along some key roads,” witness Abdullahi Mire told AFP, noting that their people have since died.

Somalia has not had any stable government since 1991 after the unceremonious ouster of military ruler Siad Barre, who had been at the helm from 1969. All transitional governments in Somalia have been facing resistance.

The political clashes on the streets of Mogadishu mark a dangerous new phase in a dispute triggered by the failure to hold planned elections in February. This happens despite the country having Al-Shabaab as one of the most existential threats to peaceful coexistence.

Three people — two police officers and one opposition fighter — were killed in the clashes, police said Monday. Tensions remained high with soldiers supporting the opposition vowing to remove the president by force.

“Former president Farmajo is a dictator. … He wants to stay in power with force, we are against that, we will continue fighting until he leaves,” said military commander Abdulkadkir Mohamed Warsame, who backs former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire, and was running against Farmajo for the presidency.

Warsame, who said the opposition was in control of the northern Hawle Wadag district, said “now we want to take over the presidency. … We will not stop our fighting, we can stop only when we die.”

Omar Mahmood, a security analyst, told AFP that fighting has sharpened clan divisions in the capital and set the stage for more violence along those lines. The country’s politics are hugely clan-based thus the endless fight for power.

“Any sort of miscalculation could happen. … It just takes one trigger-happy soldier to fire on the other side, and that’s going to erupt those dynamics,” the senior analyst for International Crisis Group (ICG) told AFP.

The opposition teams want Farmajo to go back to the negotiation table for a constructive dialogue, with some calling for the implementation of the September 17 pre-election deal. It’s not clear how long opposition soldiers will continue controlling sections of the capital.

Already, the US has issued a travel advisory to Somalia over the latest violence besides calling for tolerance from either side of the political divide. The State Department warned that it would issue sanctions against those holding the country back.