NAIROBI The United Nations and the European Union have warned that a dispute between Somalia's president and prime minister could inflame tensions and undermine the country's recovery from more than two decades of conflict.
Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, an economist who has been running the cabinet since December 2013, fell out with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud last month over the composition of the new cabinet.
A similar row between Mohamud and the previous prime minister paralyzed the government for months last year, leading to the eventual ouster of the then-prime minister by lawmakers.
The United Nations, the EU and other major donors worry another prolonged power vacuum would interrupt efforts to rebuild state institutions and defeat al Qaeda-linked militants who control parts of the Horn of Africa country.
Nicholas Kay, U.N. special representative for Somalia, said late on Sunday he was "deeply concerned" over the political tensions between the two men and warned that the dispute could undermine progress ahead of planned elections in 2016.
"This (row) is already having an impact on the functioning of the federal institutions and Somalia's state and peace building goals," the EU's Somalia envoy, Michele Cervone D'Urso, and the bloc's Horn of Africa Special Representative, Alexander Rondos, added in a joint statement.
"We therefore urge all to desist immediately from actions that will only damage the country as it seeks to unify itself in peace and prosperity," D'Urso and Rondos added.
The frequent quarrelling between Somalia's presidents and prime ministers is down to a complex constitution, designed to encourage power-sharing, which forces an elected president to handpick a prime minister from a rival clan and then hand over vast powers to that unelected post.
Prime Minister Ahmed said the president and himself understand the donors' concerns and added that the progress made in rebuilding Somalia over the past year should not be interrupted.
"I assure you that the President and I are in constant discussions working together on behalf of the Somali people," Ahmed told Reuters in an e-mailed statement.
But in an apparent rebuff to EU and U.N. statements calling for the two men to work together, Mohamud on Monday called for the international community to show "respect for Somalia’s right to self-determination".
Mohamud also added that "lack of performance, at any level, will not be accepted" within the government.
Somalia is attempting to rebuild itself after two decades of civil war and lawlessness triggered by the overthrow of president Siad Barre in 1991. The fragile government is being backed by international aid aimed at preventing it from becoming a haven for al Qaeda-style militants in east Africa.
The tensions between Ahmed and Mohamud flared up last month when the prime minister re-shuffled the cabinet and the president issued a statement saying Ahmed had not consulted him on the changes and declared them null and void.
Ahmed's predecessor, former prime minister Abdi Farah Shirdon, was ousted by lawmakers last year when he also fell out with Mohamud over the make-up of Somalia's cabinet. The president said Shirdon was sacked because of poor performance.
If Mohamud asks for Ahmed to resign and the prime minister refuses, members of parliament (MPs) can force him out through a 'no confidence' vote.
U.N. envoy Kay said he had heard allegations some MPs had been offered bribes to influence their vote if there was a motion against Ahmed -- without saying who had made the allegations or who was offering the bribes.
"I am concerned about allegations of some MPs being asked to exchange votes for cash in the context of a potential ‘no confidence’ motion, which is a disservice to Somalia's progress towards accountability and transparency," added Kay in his statement.
"Somalia and Somalis deserve better."
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)