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Former al-Shabab Deputy, Mukhtar Robow’s candidacy: A test to the Somali government’s engagement with al-Shabab defectors

by Sharif Hagi
Sunday, November 04, 2018

On October 4, Mukhtar Robow Ali, former Al-Shabab (AS) deputy and spokesperson declared his candidacy for South West State (SWS) of Somalia presidency.  The Federal Government of Somali (FGS) disallowed his intent to run in the election that is scheduled for November 17, 2018. This leaves Robow in limbo; he is not integrated in the political processes neither he is trialed for his involvement with AS. As a result, his defection from AS through negotiation with the FGS and his intent to be part of the democratic process poses a test to the FGS’s political engagement with moderate and AS defectors.

On his announcement day, Robow declared that he is running for South West State (SWS) presidency. Robow stated that his intent to run is a response to series of requests he received from the people. Speaking to a crowd of supporters gathered at Shaati-Gaduud International Airport in Baidoa, Robow specified that elders, intellectuals, law-makers and civil society groups asked him to address the devastating insecurity and injustices. In his five-minute speech, with a sense of humour and respect to his fellow candidates, Robow confidently stated that he is here to content through the ballot.

Since then, his campaign speeches are focused on two key areas; addressing the current insecurity; and fairness in the public services. He strategically identified these two areas for many reasons. To mention a few, people view that insecurity and lack of accountability as the major short-falls of the current administration. Secondly, peace and stability under any administration in Somalia has always been a key indicator of effectiveness in the leadership. Thirdly, peace and fairness in the public service are regarded as measure of a good governance -particularly in Somalia- in the eyes of the international community. As a result, his campaign message persistently promised a peaceful SWS that extends beyond areas currently controlled by AMISOM and re-instituting fairness in the public system resonated with people.

On October 5, FGS released a statement disallowing Robow’s candidacy. The FGS claimed that international travel restrictions still confine Robow, inhibiting his ability to discharge his obligations as a president. Many observers argue that the statement from the Ministry of Security did help Robow to galvanize supporters who view the FGS statement as interference to clear the path for a candidate backed by the FGS.

The FGS’s position of political engagement with current and former AS defectors is yet unclear. On one hand, the FGS’s letter is denying Robow to be part of the democratic process; something that the FGS could capitalize as part of its efforts to stabilize the country. On the other hand, the FGS and its allays are supportive of Robow’s armed forces who are in fight with AS in Bakool region. Robow’s fighters are in armed confrontation with AS. In fact, in recent confrontations, Robow lost number fighters including his son Abdulahi Mukhtar Robow. The FGS’s strategy of Robow’s conundrum is unclear, intentional or accidental; an ally for the FGS against AS or an enemy that should not be permitted access to a public office. 

Prior to the announcement of his intent to run, he had series of meetings with President Mohamed Abdulahi (Farmajo), he lived with the head of National Indigence and Security, and he had series of public and meetings with the Speaker of the Parliament. Furthermore, Robow met with a number of AMISOM political offices, embassies of the countries that contributed to the AMISOM troops and the United Nations (UN) political offices in Mogadishu. In most of these meetings, Robow argues that he clearly communicated his intent to run for the presidency. In a recent interview with the Voice of America (VOA), Mr. Rashid Abdulahi, former FGS Defence Minister argued that the government entered into negotiation with Robow on a number of conditions and FGS seem to have failed adhering to the principles of the negotiation. In light with that, the FGS’s failure to live up to the negotiation principles could risk any future political engagement with AS defectors as well as moderate AS members.

As stands now, on November 17, Robow is vying for the presidency of SWS through a democratic process. His message to bring stability, eliminate the corruption, and bring fairness in the public institutions is appealing to people who seem to be thirsty for a peaceful region with a fair system. Contrary, the FGS is trying to use any attempt to stop Robow enter into contesting knowing that likelihood of a defeat for the FGS’s politically and financially backed candidate. The unwillingness of the FGS to integrate Robow and his supporters in the democratic system could mean a lost opportunity and the beginning of a failure to engage former AS defectors and expel moderate AS members. Robow’s situation is a test for the approach that the FGS is using to the political engagement with former AS defectors, if political engagement includes in FGS’s strategies to defeat AS and bring stability.

Sharif Haji
Edmonton, Canada
Twitter: @sharifHaji

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