Somalia stands at a critical juncture. The hopes raised in 2017 when President Mohammed Abdullahi “Farmajo” won the election – that he could unite the nation to confront its myriad challenges – have dimmed as infighting between the federal government and its member states increases. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda franchise Al-Shabaab continues to carry out attacks in both cities and the countryside; external actors compete for influence; and both clan conflict and food insecurity persist. With federal elections approaching again in 2020 and 2021, Crisis Group aims to help the government tackle insecurity and improve governance, and the federal member states address subnational disputes. We also work to mitigate risks attending the pending drawdown of AMISOM, the African Union’s peacekeeping mission.
The Al-Shabaab insurgency is in attack mode as elections draw near in Somalia. To stop the militants from disrupting the vote, federal and regional authorities should bolster security measures around polling stations and prepare impartial means of resolving disputes that may arise over the outcome.
Electoral disputes delayed Dec legislative polls and threatened to derail Feb presidential election; tensions rose with Kenya. Federal electoral commission – whose members opposition considers to be loyalists of President Farmajo – 5 Dec appointed chairperson, prompting opposition bloc of 14 presidential candidates to appoint parallel electoral body. Opposition protests 15 Dec resulted in clashes with security forces, reportedly leaving several injured in capital Mogadishu. After missing 10 Dec deadline for conclusion of federal parliament’s upper house election – due to Jubaland and Puntland’s refusal to appoint regional electoral commissions – federal electoral commission 23 Dec postponed upper house poll to late Dec-early Jan and said selection of delegates tasked with electing lower house would begin 7 Jan; opposition bloc of presidential candidates same day rejected new timetable; federal electoral commission 29 Dec again postponed upper house poll early to mid-Jan. Mandate of federal parliament expired 27 Dec. Somalia 15 Dec cut diplomatic ties with Kenya for “constantly interfering” in its internal affairs; move coincided with Somaliland President Bihi’s visit to Kenya during which he and Kenyan President Kenyatta announced that Kenya would open consulate in Somaliland’s capital and that Somaliland would upgrade its liaison office in Kenya by March. In subsequent days, both Somalia and Kenya reportedly deployed troops to their shared border. Mogadishu 19 Dec accused Kenya of hosting and arming Somali militia to launch cross-border attacks and said it would take “all necessary steps” to protect its “territorial integrity”. Farmajo and Kenyatta 20 Dec met during summit of regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); Mogadishu reportedly asked IGAD to establish commission to look into its complaints, including arming of Somali militia. Djibouti 25 Dec deployed fact-finding mission to assess situation at Somalia-Kenya border. In Hirshabelle state, clan militia opposed to last month’s state presidential election outcome 4 Dec clashed with federal govt forces in Hiraan regional capital Beledweyne, leaving at least two injured. Al-Shabaab continued to launch deadly attacks. Notably, Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 18 Dec killed 21, mostly civilians, in Mudug region’s capital Galkayo. U.S. 4 Dec announced it would “reposition” most of its troops in Somalia to neighbouring countries by early 2021.
Somalia’s elections are fast approaching but the proper arrangements for monitoring and dispute resolution are not in place. To give authorities time to make procedural reforms, and thus lower the odds of turmoil, politicians should seek consensus behind a delay of one to three months.
Firefights have broken out between federal Somali soldiers and troops from the Jubaland region. A heightened confrontation could embolden Al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency. The African Union should press Ethiopia and Kenya, which back Mogadishu and Kismayo, respectively, to coax the two sides into negotiations.
The coronavirus pandemic could pose a huge challenge to Somalia. To manage the crisis, the federal government should reach out to and coordinate with political rivals. It should avoid a unilateral postponement of elections due in November, which could trigger a violent backlash.
Somalia and Somaliland have been at odds since the latter’s 1991 declaration of independence, which the former rejects. The dispute has cooled after heating up in 2018, but lingering tensions could threaten regional stability. To restart dialogue, the two sides should meet for technical talks.
Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Islamist insurgency, is diminished but still potent. One understudied source of its resilience is the support of women, active and passive, despite the movement’s stringent gender ideology. Understanding the range of women’s relationships to Al-Shabaab is critical to countering the group going forward.
[The U.S. war in Somalia appears to be] on autopilot [and] people need to pay attention.
Somalia has become a chessboard in the power game between Qatar and Turkey on the one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies on the other.
Somalia has been caught in the middle of an effort [by some Gulf countries] to try to expand influence, commercial and military, along the coast.
Somalia’s federal system has reistered progress. The picture overall is not hopeles. But, if [the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM)] pulls out in a hasty manner, all that will be lost.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints from Somalis saying ‘There’s a huge Western navy on our shores - why can’t those people come to help us?'
Online Event to discuss International Crisis Group's briefing "Staving off Violence around Somalia’s Elections", in which we argue that Somalia’s stakeholders and its international partners should make the indirect election another step toward democratisation.
Somalia is headed into an electoral season that promises to be heated. If not carefully managed, politicking could spiral into violence. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to press for implementation of consensus-based electoral model, provide technical assistance, and keep up assistance to the Somali security sector and the African Union’s peacekeeping mission (AMISOM).
Originally published in Daily Nation
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this episode, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Somalia Omar Mahmood joins host Alan Boswell to discuss worrying trends in Somali politics, Al-Shabaab's continued violence, and the need for a consensus agreement over the electoral process.