Somalia recently emerged from a long and difficult election process that resulted in the sizeable election victory of President Mohammed Abdullahi "Farmajo". The rare moment of unity, however, has been offset by attacks in Mogadishu and rural areas carried out by al-Qaeda’s franchise Al-Shabaab. The risk of famine also looms large over the country, in part driven by drought and clan-based conflict. Crisis Group’s research and analysis help the Somali government strengthen the fragile administrations of federal member states and to address the underlying causes of conflicts between and within them. We also aim to advise the government as it works to mitigate the risk of insecurity attendant to the upcoming withdrawal of the African Union Mission (AMISOM), scheduled for October 2018.
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.
Al-Shabaab stepped up attacks in capital Mogadishu and rural areas, President Farmajo lobbied regional leaders to delay withdrawal of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as Burundi refused to withdraw troops as planned, and maritime border dispute with Kenya flared. In Mogadishu, suspected Al-Shabaab detonated car bomb 4 Feb killing nine; killed Deputy Attorney General 20 Feb; opened fire on street cleaners 25 Feb killing nine; and 28 Feb launched suicide bomb and gun attack near hotel and judge’s residence, killing at least 29, militants continued to exchange fire with security forces 1 March. In Middle Shabelle region in south, roadside bomb targeting AMISOM convoy in Balcad 16 Feb reportedly killed two soldiers. Al-Shabaab 20 Feb attacked Balcad, heavy casualties reported. Al-Shabaab 17 Feb attacked bases of Djibouti AMISOM troops in Jalalaqsi in Lower Shabelle, Djibouti forces 18 Feb retaliated, casualties undisclosed. In Jubaland state in south, roadside bombs 20 Feb targeted Ethiopian AMISOM convoy in Baardheere, no casualties reported. U.S. conducted at least five airstrikes on Al-Shabaab in Lower Shabelle and Hiran regions, killing over 90 militants. Farmajo met Burundian President Nkurunziza in Burundian capital Bujumbura 19 Feb to discuss planned withdrawal of 1,000 of some 5,400 Burundian troops from AMISOM by end-Feb. Farmajo and Nkurunziza, both opposed to withdrawal, 19 Feb called for summit of leaders of AMISOM troop contributing countries to revisit security transition plan. Burundi withdrew some 400 soldiers 21-23 Feb but refused to repatriate more, denouncing “injustice” of withdrawing only Burundian soldiers, claiming withdrawal would endanger remaining troops and threatening to withdraw all its troops. Farmajo visited Djibouti 19 Feb to ask for delay in withdrawal of Djibouti troops. Maritime border dispute with Kenya flared: Kenya 16 Feb claimed Somalia had auctioned offshore oil blocks in disputed maritime area at 7 Feb London conference, summoned its envoy to Somalia back to Kenya and expelled Somali ambassador; Somalia denied accusation and said it would not offer any blocks in disputed area for exploration until International Court of Justice had ruled on border dispute.
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 14 October 2017 twin bombings in Mogadishu mark the deadliest attack in Somalia since 2007. As Somalis unite in their disgust at the most likely perpetrator Al-Shabaab, President Farmajo must immediately provide care for victims and use surging support for the government to redouble efforts aimed at overcoming the divisions in Somalia's society that make Al-Shabaab such a persistent threat.
Chronic conflict is preventing effective response to Somalia’s prolonged drought and humanitarian crisis. This special briefing, the third in a series of four examining the famine threats there and in Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria, urges Somalia to improve governance and promote countrywide clan reconciliation to end the war.
[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?'
Crisis Group’s second update to our Watch List 2018 includes entries on seizing a chance for peace in Mali, avoiding escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh, mitigating conflict in Syria’s peripheral regions, and helping Somalia overcome obstacles to reform. This annual early-warning report identifies conflict situations in which prompt action by the European Union and its member states would generate stronger prospects for peace.
Clan divisions, a persistent jihadist presence and regional instability pose serious challenges as Somalia prepares for its first direct elections in decades. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 early-warning update, Crisis Group urges European policy makers to support reforms aimed at bridging Somalia’s political and social divides ahead of elections in 2020.
A year after the Qatar crisis began, it’s having potentially dangerous reverberations in the Horn of Africa.
Originally published in The Atlantic