US slaps more visa bans on Somali leaders over delayed elections

By ABDULKADIR KHALIF

Washington on Thursday exerted more pressure on Somali leaders to complete elections on time with a new sanctions regime, banning a number of them from setting foot on US soil.

Somalia has sorely delayed completing parliamentary elections, critical because it is legislators who later elect the country’s president. This has seen incumbent President Mohamed Farmaajo overstay in office for more than a year.

Read: Somalia extends elections deadline, again

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the additional visa restrictions for individuals considered undermining the democratic process in Somalia.

As is tradition on visa applications, the names of the leaders were not released, but it is presumed they are close allies of senior government officials seen to have blocked free and fair elections or even stopped it from happening.

Somalia had set February 25 as the deadline to have completed the election of 275 Lower House MPs. It was extended, by the National Consultative Council (NCC) chaired by Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, to March 15 after some of the region states failed to complete the vote.

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NCC includes presidents of the five federal states, namely from Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle, South West and Jubbaland, plus the Mayor of Mogadishu.

So far, 40 Lower House seats remain vacant as the March 15 deadline expired.  

“Following the government of Somalia’s failure to meet another self-established deadline of March 15 for the completion of its parliamentary electoral process, the United States is expanding the number of Somali individuals’ subject to visa restrictions,” Mr Blinked said in a statement.

One of the strongest supporters of Somalia’s state rebuilding, the US has been warning against derailment since Somalia’s elections began in September last year.

It said it would restrict the issuance of visas for those believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Somalia.

Earlier this week, the US Ambassador to Somalia Larry André told local media that more people would be sanctioned if the election deadline lapsed.

He expressed disappointment over the failure of Jubbaland, Hirshabelle and Puntland states to complete elections.

“If the next NCC deadline (March 15) is not respected, then we will again take note, and names will be added to the list of those restricted from travelling to the United States,” he said.

Somalia targets to swear-in MPs on April 14. Should that happen, the presidential election will follow soon after.

In the indirect poll model, the 275-member Lower House and the 54 senators hold a joint session to elect the president.

“We look forward to meeting #Somalia’s new Members of Parliament after they are sworn-in on April 14 at a time convenient to them,” the US Embassy tweeted.

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