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.
Al-Shabaab continued to attack security forces and civilians, tensions mounted in Galmudug as rival camps appointed parallel parliaments, and in coming weeks militia fighting could erupt in Jubaland state in south. In capital Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab killed at least six people 8-11 Jan. In Lower Juba, Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions in south, clashes between Al-Shabaab and security forces and Al-Shabaab attacks 7-25 Jan left at least sixteen soldiers and civilians dead, and some 80 militants. U.S. airstrikes 3-27 Jan left nine Al-Shabaab militants dead. In Bosaso, on Puntland’s coast in north, security forces 6 Jan killed four suspected members of Islamic State (ISIS)-Somalia. Suspected ISIS militants shot dead former official in Bosaso 21 Jan. In Galmudug, following standoff between federal govt and Sufi paramilitary group Ahlu Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) over latter’s seats in new parliament, electoral committee appointed by federal govt 3 Jan approved twenty ASWJ MPs, mid-Jan announced new state parliament and postponed election of president to 2 Feb. Incumbent state President Ahmed Geele Haaf 4 Jan announced parallel electoral committee which 19 Jan announced rival parliament in Galkayo; rival parliament 30 Jan elected Haaf as state president. ASWJ 21 Jan rejected federal govt-led process and announced third rival parliament, which 29 Jan elected ASWJ leader Sheikh Mohamed Shakir as state president. Four presidential candidates 22 Jan said they would boycott presidential polls, accusing federal govt of hijacking process. In Jubaland, state’s VP replaced mayor of Baardheere after latter expressed support for federal govt, prompting Mogadishu to deploy troops to Baardheere where tensions ran high end month. Federal parliament’s upper house 6 Jan approved petroleum law, but Puntland President Deni deemed it unconstitutional on grounds that federal states had not been consulted. In Saudi capital Riyadh 6 Jan, eight countries on Red Sea and Gulf of Aden including Somalia established regional bloc to ensure maritime security.
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.