Election observers in Somalia say corruption is running rampant ahead of Wednesday's presidential election, with candidates giving gifts and large sums of cash to lawmakers to secure their votes.
Twenty-three candidates are challenging incumbent Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is seeking a second four-year term as leader of the Horn of Africa nation. The president will be elected by members of the parliament, who were elected last year.
Warning from official
Speaking to reporters Monday, the chairman of an independent anti-corruption committee threatened to expose those who are offering and accepting bribes.
“We know what is going on in the city and we want to make sure that things happen in a transparent and legal way,” said Abdi Ismail Samatar.
“There is no way we can immediately prevent if a lawmaker makes deals under the table, but we make sure that the voting process is free and fair, and later if we find out any corruption and bribery involvement, we will make it public,” he said.
The committee, which has no policing authority, was established by parliament to oversee the election and report any malpractices and irregularities.
Election moved to airport
The election has been delayed several times, and organizers decided last week to change the venue after 18 candidates expressed concerns about security at the original location, the Mogadishu police academy. The candidates spoke out after the commander of the police reportedly endorsed President Mohamud for re-election.
Now, members of the upper and lower houses of parliament will gather inside the heavily-fortified Aden Abdulle International Airport.
But few expect the change in venue to cause a change in tactics.
Heikal Kenneded, a Somali scholar and writer who lives in Virginia, said he saw election players exchanging cash during a trip to Mogadishu last week, though he would not specify who was involved in the deal.
“I definitely saw with my own eyes the vicious political corruption and wheeling and dealing of corrupted officials among the current candidates,” he told VOA's Somali service Monday.
Government jobs have a price
Political insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said candidates have begun reimbursing would-be supporters for their expenses, including airfare, hotel bills and meals. In addition, officials say bribes of between $1,000 and $10,000 have been paid.
According to a member of parliament, one candidate has spent $1.3 million in an effort to get elected.
Candidates are also offering positions in the government. “The major candidates have already began striking political deals with lawmakers to corrupt them, vote for them,” one lawmaker told VOA.
“The influential and prominent lawmakers have already secured offers of a future role in the coming administration in exchange for votes if their card wins,” another lawmaker said.
Fadumo Dayib was planning to become the first woman in Somalia's male-dominated political culture to make a run for president. But after an active social media campaign, she did not register for the contest, citing a high level of corruption.
“I am not running because of the shocking level of corruption, and I don't want to be part of something that is illegitimate,” Dayib said in a brief message posted on her social media platforms.
Somalia has a longstanding reputation for corruption and weak government. No government has been able to assert much authority outside Mogadishu since the regime of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre fell in 1991.
The situation has worsened periodic food shortages caused by drought, enabled militant group al-Shabab to seize chunks of territory and for several years, allowed pirates to freely hijack ships off the Somali coast for ransom.
Al-Shabab carries out periodic suicide bombings in Mogadishu, mainly aimed at the hotels where lawmakers, diplomats and businessmen tend to meet. So security has been stepped up in most parts of the city, and VOA reporters say government forces are patrolling the streets to prevent possible attacks.
People walk along a street with the campaign billboard of Somalia's Presidential candidate Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, Feb. 6, 2017.
Streets to be shut down during election
The current mayor of Mogadishu, Hussein Yusuf Jimale, said most of the city's public and vehicular movements will shut down during the election.
“For two days, all the streets of the city will be shut down, starting from 6 p.m. Monday, all public transportation in the city will be suspended, schools will be shut down, and we ask people to remain in their houses,” Yusuf told reporters on Sunday.
Residents said security forces were deployed overnight in all streets leading to the airport from the rest of the city.
Two days of debates
Ahead of the vote, parliament is holding presidential debates on Monday and Tuesday, in which candidates are touting their plans to improve security, fight terrorism and implement good governance.
Among the president's main challengers are his prime minister, Omar Abdurashid Ali Sharmarke; former president Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed; and former prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi, a dual U.S.-Somali national better known as Farmajo. Other candidates include former ministers, former Mogadishu mayor, businessmen, and civil society activists.
In a speech to lawmakers Thursday, Mohamud vowed to rebuild the army to take over the security of the country within two years, and to prepare for elections by popular vote in 2020.