US effects visa ban on Somali officials impeding elections


The US government has started cracking down on spoilers of Somalia’s transition project, who are seen as impeding the completion of the much-delayed elections.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken banned an unspecified number of senior government officials thought to be behind the delays in elections initially set to end by February 8 last year.

Now Washington, whose new ambassador to Somalia presented his credentials this week, says completing the elections will be the surest way of ending instability as they will provide the needed legitimacy to continue rebuilding institutions. 

The visa ban came exactly a year after the term of President Mohamed Farmaajo expired, though he remains in office because no election has been held.

“Today, on the one-year anniversary of the expiration of the Somali president’s term in office, I am announcing the implementation of a policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that restricts the issuance of visas to current or former Somali officials or other individuals,” said Mr Blinken.

Those officials, he said, “are believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Somalia, including through violence against protesters, unjust arrests or intimidation of journalists and opposition members, and manipulation of the electoral process. 

“Immediate family members of such persons may also be subject to these restrictions.”
The US had been warning spoilers ever since polls began formally in September last year. Somalia elected the 54 members of the Senate and gave itself until February 25 to complete elections for the Lower House of 275 legislators. 

The two houses sit in a joint session to elect a president, part of the indirect election arrangement designed for the country to beat security and other challenges.
“The best path toward sustainable peace in Somalia is through the rapid conclusion of credible elections,” Blinken added, demanding urgency in completing the process. 
“The United States has repeatedly expressed concern over the delays and procedural irregularities in Somalia’s electoral process and the broader implications of those irregularities for the country’s democracy and stability.”

The identity of those banned was not revealed as US government officials not to publicly discuss individual visa rejections. 

But Blinken said it will specifically apply to individuals “who have played a role in procedural irregularities that have undermined the electoral process, who have failed to follow through with their obligations to implement timely and transparent elections, and who have targeted journalists and opposition party members with harassment, intimidation, arrest, and violence”.

On Monday, the new US ambassador to Somalia, Larry André, presented his credentials to President Farmaajo.

The envoy pledged his commitments to strengthening ties and cooperation between the two nations, saying he was committed to enhancing the interests of both peoples.