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 African Union has been taking a larger role of late in addressing questions of peace and security on the continent. Our annual survey identifies eight situations where the organisation’s timely intercession could help resolve, mitigate or ward off conflict.
Fighting erupted in Galmudug state after election of state president, and federal govt forces deployed to Jubaland state’s Gedo region where fighting could intensify in coming weeks. Tensions rose in Gedo following late Jan escape from capital Mogadishu prison of former Jubaland security minister Abdirashid Janan: Janan reportedly arrived in Gedo in early Feb via Kenyan capital Nairobi, and federal govt deployed some 700 troops to region; federal govt forces 4 Feb launched offensive and captured Dolow and Bula Hawa towns near Kenyan border prompting Janan to flee across border in Kenya to Mandera town; federal govt 5 Feb accused Kenya of interference for allegedly aiding Janan. Federal govt forces 8 Feb clashed with Jubaland forces in Bula Hawa, leaving at least two dead. Also in Jubaland, fighting 12 Feb broke out in capital Kismayo between state forces and supporters of state President Madobe’s political rival, death toll unclear. In Galmudug state in centre, parliament 2 Feb elected federal govt-backed candidate Ahmed Abdi Qoor Qoor as state president; federal govt forces 27-28 Feb clashed in state capital Dhusamareb with local Sufi paramilitary group Ahlu Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) which opposed federal govt-controlled electoral process, at least 22 reportedly killed; ASWJ leadership 29 Feb surrendered to federal govt and announced their exit from Galmudug politics. Inter-clan fighting erupted in Lower Juba region in south in early Feb leaving at least twenty dead. In south and centre, security operations and Al-Shabaab attacks 2-27 Feb left at least 34 soldiers and 61 militants dead in Feb. U.S. airstrikes 2-28 Feb reportedly killed ten Al-Shabaab militants, including Al-Shabaab commander involved in early Jan attack in Kenya’s Lamu county. In Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, President Farmajo 11 Feb for first time met Somaliland President Bihi; 13 Feb issued apology to Somaliland for atrocities under Barre regime, which Bihi welcomed 18 Feb.
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.