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.
Ethiopia, the U.S. and the EU have brokered surprise talks between the Somalia and Somaliland administrations, which are historically opposed, though progress has stalled while both sides prepare for elections. The parties should cooperate on technical issues, pending a shot at deeper dialogue.
Al-Shabaab launched deadly attacks in capital Mogadishu and rural areas, while frictions heightened between federal govt and member states Jubaland and Puntland over organisation of elections. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab suicide bombings 3 Aug killed at least three including two security guards and 8 Aug killed eight soldiers. Inside Mogadishu’s central prison, Al-Shabaab inmates 10 Aug attempted to break free using smuggled weapons; shoot-out between inmates and prison guards backed up by security forces killed 15 inmates and four prison guards; one Al-Shabaab inmate reportedly managed to escape and killed two civilians outside prison. Al-Shabaab attack on Mogadishu hotel 16 Aug left at least 16 dead, mostly civilians. In south and centre, suspected Al-Shabaab attacks 2-23 Aug killed at least 42 security personnel, officials and civilians in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Bay, Gedo, Hiraan and Mudug regions. Security forces 2-29 Aug reported over 80 suspected Al-Shabaab militants killed in Lower Juba, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Gedo and Bay regions. Security forces 14 Aug rescued 33 children from Al-Shabaab camp in Lower Shabelle region. U.S. Africa Command said three U.S. airstrikes 20-25 Aug killed eight Al-Shabaab militants in Lower Shabelle and Middle Juba regions. In Puntland in north, security operation 20-21 Aug left at least ten Al-Shabaab militants and two soldiers dead in Bari region. President Farmajo and heads of federal member states Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West mid-Aug signed agreement reiterating July commitment to hold Nov 2020 parliamentary and Feb 2021 presidential elections on time and settling on indirect electoral model instead of “one person, one vote” polls; presidents of Puntland and Jubaland states boycotted meeting, accusing Farmajo of failing to deliver on previous commitments on elections, and 21 Aug jointly distanced themselves from agreement; 27 Aug however said they would soon attend meeting with Farmajo in Mogadishu to discuss 2020-2021 polls.
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.
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 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?'
Originally published in Daily Nation
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this episode, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Somalia Omar Mahmood joins host Alan Boswell to discuss worrying trends in Somali politics, Al-Shabaab's continued violence, and the need for a consensus agreement over the electoral process.
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this Episode, Host Alan Boswell joins five Crisis Group analysts to analyse the pandemic's political and economic implications.
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this Episode, Host Alan Boswell and Azadeh Moaveni, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for Gender, discuss women's roles within Al-Shabaab.
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. In this episode, Alan Boswell is joined by Rashid Abdi, Consultant and former Horn of Africa Director at Crisis Group, to discuss Kenya and Somalia's fight over their shared maritime border.