Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo has cemented his nationalistic credentials by renouncing his American citizenship as the electioneering race heats up.
On Thursday, President Farmaajo, who had acquired his US citizenship by naturalisation after serving as a Somali diplomat there, said with that decision behind him, he can now focus on his work.
“I am proud to serve my people and always believe in their potential to rebuild this nation. I am neither discouraged by our past, nor daunted by the enormity of the task ahead,” he said.
The Provisional Federal Constitution allows Somalis to retain their citizenship status, even when they become nationals of other countries.
Additionally, dual nationality status does not prevent them from becoming president. Three past Somali presidents had foreign passports.
Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh, who commentates on Horn of Africa issues, says the president move was a step in the right direction.
“It will boost his campaign and earn him political lifeline,” he argued, referring to the upcoming elections in 2020. No Somali president in this transition period has managed to be voted back into power.
Though both US and Somali laws allow dual nationality, Americans are critical of dual nationals holding political positions abroad and would be reluctant to accord diplomatic protocol should they visit.
According to the US Immigration and Nationality Act, foreigners seeking to be citizens by naturalisation must renounce any nobility or political titles they hold in foreign countries.
According to Section 337, they also renounce “all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the petitioner was before a subject or citizen.”
Some observers say this may have been the reason President Farmaajo has failed to travel to the US for the annual UN General Assembly meetings since he took power.
“He could not travel to the US on a diplomatic passport, and if he travelled on an ordinary American passport, he couldn’t easily secure clearance to the conference halls,” Saed Faadi, a Somali governance expert and former government official, told The EastAfrican.
Being president of Somalia meant he still held allegiance to the country, despite prohibition from US laws that granted him the second nationality, argued Faad who said President Farmaajo would have a divided opinion if, say the US declared war on Somalia.
Back home, though, President Farmaajo is facing a bigger battle in the federal states, some of which have either suspended ties with Mogadishu over alleged meddling or criticised him for sponsoring opponents against sitting federal state leader.
The disputes have stalled constitutional review talks, key to holding a one-man-one vote election planned for 2020.
In Jubbaland, which will hold local elections on August 24, President Farmaajo has been at loggerheads with incumbent federal President Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, on the composition of the key elders’ council and rules for candidates that placed exorbitant fees on contestants.
Abdirazak Mohamed, a former security minister and current MP in the federal parliament, thinks the president has been interfering.
“When it comes to state elections in the federal system, it is always the state that has the sole responsibility of administering its elections,” he argued.
“The Federal government of Somalia is trying to sway the election in Jubbaland in favour of its own candidate in a blatant violation of our Constitution.”
The tug-of-war over the nature of electoral processes have roped in Al Shabaab militants who are also demanding a stake in controlling who votes.
Two weeks ago, the Al-Qaeda-linked group ordered all the elders and delegates that choose the members of Somalia’s federal legislative (the lower and the upper chamber — Senate) and the state councils to register themselves with Al Shabaab within 45 days.
The directive rivals that of mainstream authorities that routinely register the elders who in turn vote for MPs that elect the president.
“The political squabbles between the federal government and the federal state governments creates a vacuum that Al Shabaab exploits to attack and kill government officials and civilians,” Abdirazak Mohamed observed.