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.
Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Al-Shabaab maintained its insurgency, tensions persisted between federal govt and federal member states Jubaland and Galmudug, and between Somalia and Kenya. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab militants 13 Oct launched mortars at compounds of UN and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); suspected Al-Shabaab 16 Oct killed three people; bombing 28 Oct killed at least two civilians. In south and centre, Al-Shabaab kept up attacks in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Bay and Hiraan regions, killing at least sixteen Somali and international soldiers and three civilians. Security forces 15-19 Oct reportedly killed several dozen Al-Shabaab militants in Gedo and Hiraan regions. Somali airstrikes 20 Oct left unknown number of militants dead in Lower Juba. U.S. airstrike 25 Oct killed three Islamic State (ISIS) militants; at least three civilians reported missing. Federal govt 7 Oct filed complaint against Kenya at UN aviation agency after Kenyan-chartered aeroplane few from Nairobi to Jubaland state capital Kismayo without touching down in Mogadishu, violating govt directive; federal govt 10 Oct accused Kenya of violating its sovereignty. Federal govt 11 Oct renewed ban on direct flights to Kismayo. Madobe 12 Oct called for dialogue with federal govt. After federal govt announced in Sept that it would form committee to oversee formation of Galmudug state administration and presidential election guidelines, Galmudug chief minister and head of Sufi paramilitary group Ahlu Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) 22 Oct announced parallel committee. ASWJ late Oct reportedly deployed fighters in and around Galmudug capital Dhusamareb, but returned to bases following 28 Oct meeting between Galmudug chief minister and interior minister. Following Kenya’s second request for delay, International Court of Justice 17 Oct postponed hearing of Kenya-Somalia maritime border dispute from 4-8 Nov to June 2020. U.S. 2 Oct announced re-establishment of its embassy in Somalia.
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.
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.