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.
Tensions rose between federal govt and local militia in Galmudug federal member state, while Al-Shabaab kept up insurgency. In Galmudug, federal govt forces 2 and 3 Nov seized Guriel and Mataban towns from local Sufi militia Ahlu Sunnah Waa-Jama’a (ASWJ) which opposes what it calls Mogadishu’s efforts to manipulate state’s forthcoming presidential elections. Federal govt 4 Nov deployed additional troops to state capital Dhusamareb and 25 Nov released timetable scheduling presidential elections for 17-23 Dec. Ethiopian forces unaffiliated with African Union mission (AMISOM) late Nov reportedly deployed in Dhusamareb. Jubaland federal state govt 21 Nov claimed non-AMISOM Ethiopian soldiers and working on behalf of federal govt early Nov arrested several state and security officials, took them to Ethiopia where federal govt officials coerced them into handing over control of their territories and security forces; demanded removal of non-peacekeeping Ethiopian troops from Jubaland. Federal govt 10 Nov briefly prevented former presidents and now opposition leaders Hassan Sheikh and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed from travelling to flood-hit Beledweyne to deliver aid; tensions reportedly diffused following meeting between former presidents and President Farmajo 20 Nov. Al-Shabaab attacks on Somali and AMISOM bases 1-23 Nov left at least nine dead. U.S. airstrikes 12-30 Nov killed at least two Al-Shabaab militants. In Gedo region in south, security forces and Al-Shabaab clashed leaving at least six militants dead. In Puntland in north, after state MPs tabled motion to remove parliament speaker from office, clashes erupted in Garowe 6 Nov between police and speaker’s bodyguards leaving at least four dead. Also, in Puntland, clashes between Bari regional forces and clan militias mid-Nov reportedly left several dead in Bosaso. In Bay region of South West state, clashes broke out 18 Nov between security forces and mayor of Dinsor’s bodyguards over latter’s refusal to hand over authority to new mayor, five soldiers killed. President Farmajo and Kenyan President Kenyatta 14 Nov met in Kenyan capital Nairobi and agreed to normalise relations.
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.