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.
This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell is joined by Mohamed Mubarak, a political and security analyst, to talk about the ongoing political crisis in Somalia, fighting in Mogadishu, and the long-term implications of the current impasse.
Amid stalled electoral process, extension of president’s term triggered deadly clashes in capital Mogadishu, and violence could escalate in May; Al-Shabaab attacks continued. Following constitutional expiration of President Farmajo’s mandate in Feb, new round of national consultative council (NCC) talks on electoral framework between federal govt and member states collapsed 7 April. Parliament’s lower house 12 April passed controversial resolution to extend Farmajo’s term by two years. Speaker of Parliament’s upper house immediately said vote was unconstitutional, called on international community to intervene “before it gets out of hand”. Farmajo next day signed measure into law, drawing widespread criticism. Notably, in joint statement, UN Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), AU and others 14 April expressed “deep concern” over term extension and rising tensions, and UN Security Council 23 April urged all parties “to reject violence and resume dialogue”. Pro-opposition soldiers 25 April mutinied and entered Mogadishu, clashed with forces loyal to Farmajo, leaving at least two dozen dead; 60,000 to 100,000 people reportedly displaced. UNSOM and international partners 27 April “strongly condemned outbreak of violence”, said army’s fragmentation along clan lines could distract it from combating Al-Shabaab. After key allies came out against term extension, Farmajo 28 April announced he would ask Parliament to reverse it and pledged to renew dialogue with member states over elections; Puntland state immediately said it would not attend new talks unless invited by international community. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab attacks continued mainly in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba and Bay regions, and Mogadishu. Notably, Al-Shabaab 3 April claimed it had killed 67 govt troops in same day twin attacks on Awdhigle and Bariire army bases, Lower Shabelle; army said attacks left 76 militants and nine soldiers dead. In Middle Shabelle, army 13 April said it had killed 25 militants in Gamboole village. In Mogadishu, suspected Al-Shabaab suicide bombings killed five civilians 3 April and at least seven 28 April; mortar attack targeting presidential palace 21 April reportedly killed another three. Minibus 14 April triggered suspected Al-Shabaab landmine on Mogadishu-Balcad axis, leaving at least 14 civilians dead.
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.
Any sort of miscalculation could happen [in Somalia]. It just takes one trigger-happy soldier to fire on the other side, and that's going to erupt those dynamics.
[Somalia’s election impasse] comes down to unresolved internal political tensions, but also a lack of preparation and political will.
[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.
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.
This week on The Horn, Crisis Group’s Somalia expert Omar Mahmood joins Alan Boswell to assess the likelihood of disorder once President Farmajo’s mandate ends on February 8 and the urgency of renewed consensus on an extended process for new elections.
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.