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.
Clashes in Mogadishu following the expiry of the president’s term highlight the risks of the standoff between the federal government and the opposition over electoral preparations. To avert a further breakdown, the African Union and UN should quickly step in to mediate.
Deadly clashes erupted between federal and Jubaland state forces in Gedo region; amid deadlocked electoral preparations, violence could erupt when President Farmajo’s mandate expires on 8 Feb. In Jubaland state’s Gedo region, fighting overnight 24-25 Jan erupted between federal govt forces and Jubaland state forces in Bula Hawa town near Kenyan border, reportedly killing 21 and displacing at least 30,000; Mogadishu 25 Jan accused “illegal militias armed by the government of Kenya” of launching attack in Bula Hawa; Nairobi same day denied involvement. Meanwhile, PM Roble 9 Jan announced legislative elections would proceed despite federal member states Jubaland and Puntland continuing to boycott electoral process. Opposition bloc of 14 presidential candidates 11 Jan denounced move, warning that partial elections would endanger “the unity and stability of Somalia”. Jubaland and Puntland states 27 Jan appointed regional electoral commissions and called for emergency meeting between federal govt and member states to resolve disputes over electoral process; President Farmajo 30 Jan announced he would meet with heads of federal member states 1-3 Feb. Failure to organise parliamentary and presidential elections as planned by 8 Feb – the day Farmajo’s mandate ends – could trigger violent outbreaks. In south and centre, Al-Shabaab attacks 2-27 Jan left at least 44 security personnel, civilians and officials dead in Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, Gedo and Hiraan regions. In capital Mogadishu, string of Al-Shabaab roadside bombings 5-23 Jan killed at least 15 security personnel, civilians and officials; Al-Shabaab attack 31 Jan reportedly left at least 11 dead. Meanwhile, counter-insurgency operations continued. Security forces 7-29 Jan killed several dozen Al-Shabaab militants in Bay, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Gedo, Lower Juba and Mudug regions. U.S. airstrikes 1-19 Jan killed a dozen Al-Shabaab militants in Lower Juba, Middle Juba, Bay and Bakool regions. U.S. mid-Jan said it had completed “repositioning” of most U.S. troops based in Somalia to neighbouring countries.
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.
[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?'
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.
Somalia is headed into an electoral season that promises to be heated. If not carefully managed, politicking could spiral into violence. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to press for implementation of consensus-based electoral model, provide technical assistance, and keep up assistance to the Somali security sector and the African Union’s peacekeeping mission (AMISOM).
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.
Originally published in Daily Nation