As Somalia’s long-drawn parliamentary elections head for the home stretch, and the country gears up for presidential polls in the near future, the race for the top seat is rapidly heating up.
Among the most significant recent developments is the entry into the contest by Said Abdullahi Deni, the leader of the semi-autonomous regional state of Puntland, and a strong critic of the incumbent Mohammed Abdullahi Farmaajo.
Deni is considered among the front-runners in the duel that also includes former presidents and prime ministers.
His March 19 official announcement of his candidacy generated significant public discussions despite strong speculation for months that he was eyeing the highest seat in the land to replace one of his biggest political opponents in recent years.
This is the second time the leader of Somalia’s oldest federal member state is running for president.
Deni will be looking to stage an upset against Farmaajo just as he unseated the former President of Puntland Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gas during the January 2019 regional elections.
The Puntland leader has been vocal on the need for a united front against President Farmaajo, urging presidential candidates to work together to achieve their common goals of changing leadership in Villa Somalia, the presidential palace.
“We should be united against the incumbent since the country cannot move forward if he is re-elected. We need a future of peace, national reconciliation, and socioeconomic development which we cannot achieve under the Farmaajo regime,” Deni said.
Here are five points you may need to know about Deni:
Road to political life: Mr. Deni started his career as an educator before becoming a successful businessman in the private sector, and later moved into politics where he became a federal Member of Parliament and Minister for Planning between 2014 and 2018.
He will be counting on his experience in both the Federal and regional governments and the private sector as key selling points. Federalism: Since he came to office in 2019, Deni has been at the forefront of defending the country’s federal system against perceived attempts by President Farmaajo to dilute the power of federal Member states and reconstitute centralised form of government that ruled Somalia before the state collapse in the early 1990s. He has galvanized different political and cultural actors in the country to push back against Farmaajo.
“We want to ensure that Somalia’s political system contributes effectively to rebuilding the country. We don’t want to go back to past mistakes that led to the collapse of the state. We need to guard the federal political system which was created through agreements to ensure peace and continued development of the country,” Deni said.
Democracy in Puntland: After being elected President, Deni promised to transition Puntland into a democracy. Last year the regional state held a direct election in 3 districts, Eyl, Qardho, and Ufeyn in which more than 28,000 people voted. This was the first time such a milestone was achieved since the regional state was founded in 1998.
In comparison, commitments by the successive federal governments in Somalia to realize universal suffrage are yet to be fulfilled, even on a pilot basis. After failing to deliver on his promise of introducing direct elections to the troubled country, President Farmaajo attempted a 2-year term extension which caused political turmoil and violence in the capital, Mogadishu.
Recently, the United States imposed travel sanctions on senior officials in the Farmaajo government, which has also had strained relations with its East African neighbours as well as key partners in the Arab League such as the United Arab Emirates.
Over the last year, Farmaajo has been embroiled in a tug-of-war with his prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, which further stalled the national election process.
Self-reliance in Puntland: As President of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, Deni oversaw the building or upgrading of public infrastructures such as roads, highways, schools, government buildings, and ports using funds mobilized within Puntland. This has helped to rein in public debt.
Leadership: President Deni invested in reforming security forces in Puntland to combat the Al Shabab and ISIS groups in the region’s territory. Puntland has managed to bring many militants to justice, especially in the restive Mudug region, resulting in reduced levels of terrorism in the state