Somalia recently emerged from a long and difficult election process that resulted in the sizeable election victory of President Mohammed Abdullahi "Farmajo". The rare moment of unity, however, has been offset by attacks in Mogadishu and rural areas carried out by al-Qaeda’s franchise Al-Shabaab. The risk of famine also looms large over the country, in part driven by drought and clan-based conflict. Crisis Group’s research and analysis help the Somali government strengthen the fragile administrations of federal member states and to address the underlying causes of conflicts between and within them. We also aim to advise the government as it works to mitigate the risk of insecurity attendant to the upcoming withdrawal of the African Union Mission (AMISOM), scheduled for October 2018.
Gulf states are competing for influence in the Horn of Africa to control the Red Sea, transposing internal rivalries onto a fragile region. Horn governments should increase their bargaining power with their powerful neighbours, who should recognise the risks their policies pose to regional security.
Al-Shabaab continued to launch attacks in capital Mogadishu and in south and centre leaving over 100 dead and inter-clan violence flared in centre and Mogadishu leaving some 60 dead. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab raid on hotel near presidential palace 10 Dec left ten dead. Truck bombing at Ex-Control checkpoint north west of Mogadishu 28 Dec killed at least 90 including two Turks; Al-Shabaab 30 Dec claimed responsibility, authorities said foreign govt helped plan attack without identifying which one. In south, Al-Shabaab attacks and security operations killed at least 51 insurgents, eight soldiers and five civilians. In Galmudug region in centre, Ethiopian security forces 19 Dec clashed with nomads leaving some twenty dead along border. Al-Shabaab suicide bomb 20 Dec killed at least eight in Galkayo. Militias clashed with Al-Shabaab in Hiraan region 29 Dec reportedly leaving at least ten militants dead. U.S. airstrikes 9-29 Dec killed six Al-Shabaab militants. Al-Shabaab 12 Dec claimed it had destroyed U.S. drone in Hiraan region. In Mudug region in centre, rival clan militias clashed over land dispute 5 and 9 Dec leaving around 50 dead; following mediation by elders and security officials, clans agreed to ceasefire. In Bosaso, Puntland in north, unidentified men killed security official 13 Dec. In Galmudug federal member state, federal govt and local Sufi militia Ahlu Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) 11 Dec reached agreement that ASWJ would be allocated twenty of 89 seats in new state parliament, but tensions over forthcoming elections persisted. After federal govt committee published criteria for candidates, ASWJ 24 Dec said it did not recognise committee and called on federal govt to honour agreement. ASWJ 30 Dec clashed with security forces in Galmudug capital Dhusamareb. Federal parliament’s lower house 28 Dec approved electoral law despite outcry over clause that allows delay of elections and govt to remain in power until elections.
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.
Clan divisions, a persistent jihadist presence and regional instability pose serious challenges as Somalia prepares for its first direct elections in decades. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018 early-warning update, Crisis Group urges European policy makers to support reforms aimed at bridging Somalia’s political and social divides ahead of elections in 2020.