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, guest host Nicolas Delaunay is joined by Nazanine Moshiri, Crisis Group’s climate & security expert, to discuss the complex, often dangerous relationship between climate stresses and conflict in the Horn and on the continent more broadly.
Election process made significant progress as both houses of parliament selected speakers, paving way for presidential vote; Al-Shabaab attacks continued; and UN agencies warned of risk of famine. In major step forward for electoral cycle, approximately 290 out of 329 members of parliament sworn in 14 April, meeting PM Mohamed Hussein Roble’s deadline. Swearing in took place after Roble 5 April removed two federal electoral body officials who opposed his actions, and 13 April found last-minute agreement on some disputed seats with South West state President Abdiaziz Laftagareen. Dispute over selection of Lower House seats representing Jubaland’s Gedo region led to parallel elections around 22-23 April: 16 lawmakers selected in Ceel Waaq city with support from Roble; another set of 16 MPs selected in Garbaharey city with support from President Farmajo. Selection of parliament leadership went ahead despite concerns over security and location of vote: Senator Abdi Hashi Abdullahi re-elected 26 April as Upper House Speaker, while Sheikh Adan Mohamed Nur (Madobe) 28 April became Lower House Speaker. AU Transition Mission (ATMIS) got off to bumpy start: after mission 1 April officially began operations, taking over from AMISOM, Roble 6 April declared mission’s head Francisco Madeira persona non grata, accusing him of “engaging in acts that are incompatible with his status”; Farmajo immediately challenged move. Al-Shabaab conducted several attacks in capital Mogadishu, notably firing mortar shells at complex hosting parliament during 14 April swearing-in ceremony; group 18 April again targeted complex during parliamentary meeting; suicide attack at popular restaurant 22 April killed at least six. In Hirshabelle state in centre, Al-Shabaab continued to demonstrate its presence in Hiraan region, temporarily seizing town of Mataban on 18 and 23 April; at least ten soldiers killed 30 April in roadside explosion in Middle Shabelle region. In Bay region (South West state in south), Al-Shabaab around 12 April clashed with Ethiopian contingent of ATMIS and govt forces in Tugaar-Hoosle area; at least ten al-Shabaab reportedly killed. Amid worsening drought, several UN agencies 12 April said nearly 6mn people, roughly 40% of country’s population, face extreme levels of food insecurity with “pockets of famine conditions” likely in six areas.
The African Union Mission in Somalia’s UN mandate is nearing its end. Despite the mission’s mixed record, its withdrawal could allow Islamist Al-Shabaab insurgents to take over the country. A mandate extension would allow Somalia, donors and partners to agree on a reconfiguration and funding.
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.
The swearing-in of MPs [in Somalia] is certainly a major step whose significance goes beyond symbolism.
As long as the election cycle and current tensions [in Somalia] drag on, the attention of the political elite will be more inwardly focused, while other priorities lag behind.
When the political elite [in Somalia] are focused on each other, attention turns away from the battle against al-Shabab.
Al Shabaab is fully embedded in Somali society, especially in areas under their control, where local populations have little choice but to engage the group.
Through these specific talks [in Somalia], Farmajo really didn’t play much of a role, but that doesn’t mean that he permanently is sitting out the campaign period.
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.
The International Court of Justice on 12 October handed down a decision mostly upholding Somalia’s claims in a long-running maritime border dispute with Kenya. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Meron Elias assesses the potential impact on relations between the two countries.
Could the seizure of Afghanistan by the Taliban just before the twentieth anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks be a turning point for jihadist militancy worldwide? (Online Event, 28th September 2021)
In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group’s Somalia expert, about whether the pullout from Somalia of foreign troops – in this case African Union forces – could open the door for the Islamist militants Al-Shabaab to seize power like the Taliban have in Afghanistan.
A similar rapid collapse of state institutions awaits if Somali elites and Western governments don’t alter their approach.
Originally published in Foreign Policy
Rival security forces came close to blows in Mogadishu amid a clash between the president and prime minister. These tensions are blocking the path to elections. International actors should name spoilers and wield sanctions against those who keep pushing Somalia to the edge of conflict.