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 African Union has been taking a larger role of late in addressing questions of peace and security on the continent. Our annual survey identifies eight situations where the organisation’s timely intercession could help resolve, mitigate or ward off conflict.
Clashes between federal troops and Jubaland state forces including on Kenyan soil raised Somalia-Kenya tensions before leaders took steps to de-escalate; security forces continued to fight Al-Shabaab, which launched attacks on several officials in Puntland in north. In Jubaland state’s Gedo region in south, standoff between federal govt troops and Jubaland forces continued and fighting erupted again 2 March in Bula Hawa town near Kenyan border reportedly leaving at least eleven civilians and combatants dead. Fighting spilled over into Kenya’s Mandera town prompting Nairobi to accuse Somalia of violating its sovereignty. President Farmajo 8 March agreed to meet Kenyan President Kenyatta at regional summit in bid to lower tensions, but Kenya 13 March postponed summit to focus on COVID-19. In south and centre, Al-Shabaab attacks in March left at least 22 security force members dead in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabbele, Lower Juba, Hiraan, Bay and Gedo regions, while Al-Shabaab roadside bombing 25 March left five civilians dead in Lower Juba, and in Middle Juba, Al-Shabaab 31 March executed six civilians accused of spying. In capital Mogadishu, militants 1 and 18 March launched mortars at UN compound; Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 25 March left at least four dead. Meanwhile, security forces 5 March killed eight Al-Shabaab militants in Hiraan; 16 March took back Janaale town in Lower Shabelle from Al-Shabaab militants, number of casualties unknown; 21-29 March killed at least 37 militants in Lower Juba and Lower Shabelle. In Puntland state in north, Al-Shabaab militants 17-29 March reportedly killed three local officials. Local politicians and traditional elders 15-17 March convened in Puntland capital Garowe to assess acrimonious relationship between Puntland and federal govt. Puntland President Deni 17 March called for dialogue between federal govt and member states. Coalition of six opposition parties, Forum for National Parties, 5 March formed unified party headed by former President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
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.
Al-Shabaab remains focused on recapturing power in Somalia, but it continues to plot attacks in Kenya and Tanzania – and perhaps in Uganda as well. To counter the movement, East African states should eschew heavy-handed crackdowns and work instead to reduce its appeal to potential recruits.
A dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the contested areas of Sool and Sanaag risks escalating into open war. The UN, supported by states with influence on the two sides, should renew diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire and press both to enter negotiations.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.
In 2018, the African Union (AU) and its new Assembly Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the chance to push ahead with much-needed institutional reforms. But the AU must not lose focus on dire conflicts and defusing potential electoral violence.
[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?'
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
Against all sensible advice, the Federal Government of Somalia muscled in on a local election to shove aside an Islamist conservative candidate. It scored a tactical victory but created significant additional risk for the country already wracked by conflict and divided along regional and clan lines.