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.
Tensions are running high following the Somali parliament’s decision to extend the incumbent president’s mandate by two years. External partners should urgently convene – and mediate – talks among the country’s bitterly divided elites, to prevent its worst political crisis in years from escalating.
Electoral process remained stalled, and Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in capital Mogadishu, demonstrating potential to disrupt electoral proceedings. Following constitutional expiration of President Farmajo’s mandate and deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces in Feb, third round of talks between PM Roble and opposition bloc of 15 presidential candidates on organisation of parliamentary and presidential elections broke down 4 March, after bloc insisted on being part of national consultative council (NCC) talks on elections. NCC talks involving federal govt and member states 22-23 March concluded without meaningful progress as presidents of Puntland and Jubaland states did not attend, reportedly over security concerns. Govt faced mounting international pressure to hold election. Notably, UN Security Council 12 March unanimously urged govt to organise elections “without delay”, 31 March reiterated call; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 19 March expressed “deep concern” at electoral impasse and called on political leadership to “immediately” organise elections. Parliament Speaker Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman 27 March called off same day parliamentary session after opposition MPs reportedly disrupted session over allegations that Abdirahman and pro-govt MPs were planning to pass term extension for Farmajo. Former Jubaland state Security Minister Abdirashid Janan, who escaped in 2020 from jail in Mogadishu, 24 March surrendered to federal govt. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in Mogadishu. Notably, Al-Shabaab suicide bombing 5 March killed over 20 and roadside bomb targeting local govt official 29 March killed at least five civilians; first mortar attacks in Mogadishu since mid-2020 9 and 25 March targeted airport compound that houses African Union mission (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu, killing at least two civilians. In Puntland state in north, Al-Shabaab 5 March raided Bosaso central prison, breaking out hundreds of prisoners; at least seven soldiers reportedly killed. In Lower Shabelle region in south, army 27 March killed 11 Al-Shabaab militants, including senior commander known as Ismail Jiis, in Bula Haji village. UN Security Council 12 March renewed AMISOM mandate until 31 Dec. International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings on maritime border row between Somalia and Kenya 15 March started without Kenya after latter 11 March pulled out citing ICJ’s “bias” and refusal to delay hearing.
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.
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?'
As tensions between the federal government and semi-autonomous federal member states escalate, Somalia's February elections are expected to be intensely contested. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to press for fair, transparent and inclusive elections, and to encourage whatever administration takes power after the vote to improve cooperation with federal member states.
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).
Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.