Reports emerging from Mogadishu say that the Ethiopian representative in Somalia, Gabre Heard, known as ‘General Gabre,’ has been ‘dumbstruck’ and ‘angry’ with Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo‘s surprise victory in Somalia’s presidential election.
According to sources who did not wish to be named, General Gabre has been making menacing phone calls to Somali members of parliament demanding to know why they didn’t vote for Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Although widely despised by Somalis for his perceived corruption and clannishness, Mohamud was nevertheless Addis Ababa’s favored candidate in the race and Ethiopia used every available avenue of influence to guarantee his re-election. In addition to facilitating the payment of bribes to MPs, Ethiopia also summoned leaders of several Somali federal states under its influence to Mogadishu to lobby MPs from their region to vote for Mohamud. General Gabre spearheaded these efforts.
On Wednesday night Mohamud faced a landslide defeat to Farmaajo, who was considered the candidate of ‘change’ who rejected foreign interference in Somali affairs and corruption, and mass public celebrations erupted all across Somalia including in the capital Mogadishu where celebratory gunfire was heard throughout the night as tens thousands of jubilant citizens poured out into the streets. The celebrations in Mogadishu, a largely Hawiye city, were a pointed rebuke of a recent controversial report released by a think-tank affiliated with the Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs which claimed that a Darood politician could not become president in Mogadishu. Farmaajo comes from the Mareexan sub-clan of the Darood-clan family.
On the night of the election, when it became clear that his candidate would lose, General Gabre left the election venue in an angry haste. Photos of his face, which appeared shocked and forlorn, went viral on Somali social media. Many Somalis called upon the newly elected president to expel General Gabre for his political interference in Somali affairs.
General Gabre has been involved in Somali politics since 2007, when he entered the country as the head of the invading Ethiopian army which sought to drive out the Islamic Court’s Union. He is accused of being complicit in war crimes during the invasion, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilian population centers in Mogadishu. Since Ethiopia’s defeat of the ICU, General Gabre has remained inside the country as Addis Ababa’s point man for Somali affairs. Many Somalis are dismayed with the substantial political influence General Gabre has accumulated since he entered the country. He allegedly has an office inside Villa Somalia and regularly dictated policies to the two previous presidents of the Somali federal government. Somalis accuse General Gabre of encouraging the division of their country into weak, clan-based federal states that can be easily controlled by Addis Ababa, which is disliked by Somalis for its previous violent annexation of the Somali Ogaden region. Somalis believe that Ethiopia does not want the emergence of a stable Somali government which may challenge its hegemonic role in the Horn of Africa, and instead prefers a chaotic and fragmented country led by weak and corrupt political elites under its control.
Somalis hope that Farmaajo‘s election marks the beginning of the end for Gabre’s tenure in Somalia as well as Ethiopia’s domination of their politics.