Anger in Somalia after prime minister resigns

AP News
Posted: Jun 21, 2011 9:37 AM
Anger in Somalia after prime minister resigns

Angry Somali citizens and agitated members of parliament said Tuesday they fear the recent forced resignation of the country's Somali-American prime minister will allow government corruption to rise again, bringing back a time when soldiers went unpaid for months.

More than 150 lawmakers called for an urgent session of parliament to discuss a recent U.N.-backed deal between Somalia's president and speaker of parliament that called for the resignation of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed as prime minister. Mohamed initially resisted leaving office after an outcry of support from Somalis, but he quit last weekend.

Mohamed was seen by many Somalis as the rare honest politician in Mogadishu's toxic political pool, where leaders often put their interests ahead of citizens'. One of his signature accomplishments was ensuring that Somali soldiers and government workers received their paychecks regularly, a step that greatly boosted his credibility.

During Mohamed's seven months in office, the government has also wrested large swaths of territory from al-Qaida-linked militants. The government once controlled only a couple square miles (kilometers) of Mogadishu. But officials say pro-Somali troops now control half the city after a major offensive launched against al-Shabab this year.

Mohamed's ouster, sealed in a June 9 deal, came as a compromise between the country's bickering President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden. The two also agreed this month to extend the government's term by a year and postpone elections until next year.

But many Somalis see Mohamed's resignation as a step backward toward corruption.

"Now the government's money will go to individual pockets, to leaders who are not ashamed of anything, to the same men who laid the country to waste 20 years ago," Bakistan Mohamed Ali said, adding that she is afraid she may lose her $150-a-month job as a cleaner at the office of the prime minister.

The mother of six said her life has changed dramatically over the past six months. Three of her children have attended a free government-run school the former prime minister was responsible for opening. Her son joined the army after being encouraged by the government's renewed seriousness to care for its soldiers, and brings home about $150 a month.

Mohamed "was like a rain after a long, drawn-out drought," said Ali. "It's been the best life I have seen for 20 years."

Sadaat Mohamed Nur, the director of the department of planning and training at the Women's Ministry, said he received only two months of salary in 2009 and five months in 2010, but since Mohamed took office last fall, he has received regular pay.

"I'm worried because the corruption can rear its head again," the 32-year-old said, adding that he put his plans to get married this year on hold "because I don't know what will happen next month."

Mohamed Abdi Yusuf, a lawmaker who is opposed to the Uganda deal, said many lawmakers are trying to scrap the deal, because "it subjected the country to trusteeship."

Lawmakers are particularly angry with articles that ask the parliament to endorse the new Cabinet within 14 days. More than 150 legislators signed a letter sent to the speaker calling for a session focused on the political deal.

They also oppose an article that asks the parliament not to subject the government to votes of no confidence, and another demanding that neighboring countries, with the participation of the U.N. and African Union, oversee and monitor the government's compliance with the deal.

Lawmakers asked the speaker to convene an urgent session to discuss the deal. Abdirashid Sheik Said said the agreement signed in Uganda is "utterly against the sovereignty of the Somali nation. It takes away the parliament's right to make laws."

"We will object it until we throw it away. And the lawmakers are united in their opposition to the deal," he said.

Mohamed Abdulqadir Mohamud, who works for a local organization called Aragti Relief and Development, said the deal was an affront to Mohamed's government, which cleaned up government institutions and started to deliver services.

"Now the problem is we don't know who will replace him. Will he be able to continue his achievements? Will he unravel them? We have to wait and see," he said.