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 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.
Al-Shabaab attacks continued across country, electoral commission said elections could not take place as scheduled and talks with Somaliland resumed after five-year hiatus. In centre and south, Al-Shabaab attacks against security forces throughout month killed at least 14 soldiers and three civilians in Hiraan, Lower Juba, Bay, Gedo, Middle Shabelle, and Lower Shabelle regions. In Lower Shabelle region, fighting between Al-Shabaab and local self-defence militia 18 June left at least seven dead, and unclaimed bombing 20 June killed at least four soldiers and civilians. Security forces 6-26 June reportedly killed at least 67 Al-Shabaab insurgents in counter-insurgency operations in Bakool, Lower Juba, Middle Juba and Hiraan regions. In Puntland in north, security forces 6 June shot and killed Al-Shabaab militant in Mudug region. In capital Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab militants 7-27 June shot and killed four police officers and one local official. Unclaimed roadside bombing 18 June killed at least three civilians. Al-Shabaab suicide bombing at Turkish military base 23 June left two civilians dead. In Galguduud region in centre, inter-clan fighting 24-27 June reportedly left around a dozen dead. Following pressure from international community, federal parliament’s upper house, several federal member states and opposition parties, President Farmajo 24 June invited heads of federal member states to meeting in Mogadishu 5-8 July to discuss modalities of parliamentary elections due by end of year and presidential election scheduled for 2021. Head of electoral commission 27 June announced that it could not organise elections on time citing “significant technical and security challenges”. Amid ongoing standoff with Jubaland state, federal govt 14 June announced it would recognise state President Madobe as “interim” president for two-year period; Madobe immediately rejected move saying he was elected to four-year term. In resumption of dialogue process which broke down in 2015, Farmajo and Somaliland President Bihi mid-June met in Djibouti over Somaliland’s claim to sovereignty which Mogadishu does not recognise; in following days, both sides agreed to further talks and to establish subcommittees to discuss technical issues in July.
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.
[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.