Long-overdue elections that returned President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud to power in 2022 have raised hopes that Somalia can close a highly divisive chapter in its recent history. But the challenges it faces remain daunting. Relations between the federal government and member states are still uneasy, talks over Somaliland’s status have made little progress and vital state-building tasks, like finalising the provisional constitution, are lagging behind. Meanwhile, a historic drought is undermining local livelihoods while also foreshadowing the long-term challenges posed by climate change. Further, even as Mohamud has declared “total war” on the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab, which remains a defiant actor, a security transition premised on the withdrawal of African Union troops by the end of 2024 is fast approaching. Crisis Group’s work in Somalia aims to foster and maintain political unity, address the root causes of insecurity, including climate change’s impact, and consider means to wind down the long war with Al-Shabaab.
This week on The Horn, Alan speaks with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for Eastern Africa, about the implications for Somalia of a possible port deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland and the risks of an escalation in regional tensions.
Al-Shabaab conducted significant attacks, authorities launched contentious constitutional review process, and Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal continued to fuel tensions.
Al-Shabaab militants continued to pose major threat amid high-profile attacks. In main theatre of govt’s offensive in southern Mudug region (centre), group launched attacks on several areas security forces recently retook, including 3 Feb in Shabellow village, with reported high casualties on both sides but no significant territorial shift. Militants also claimed 10 Feb killing of four Emirati and one Bahraini military trainer at General Gordon military camp in capital Mogadishu; attack was reportedly carried out by undercover insurgent who had claimed to have defected from group. Govt’s efforts against Al-Shabaab during month consisted mainly of sporadic air operations supported by foreign partners in southern regions of Lower Juba and Lower Shabelle, and central regions of Galgaduud and Hiraan. Meanwhile, AU mission (ATMIS) announced 2 Feb official completion of second phase of withdrawal. Govt 15 Feb signed agreement with U.S. to build five bases for 3,000-strong U.S.-trained Danab commando unit.
Domestic tensions emerged over constitutional review process. Parliament 12 Feb initiated constitutional review process, one of President Mohamud’s priorities, amid significant domestic opposition. Notably, Puntland state rejected proposals, and former presidents 13 Feb announced failure of mediation attempt between Mogadishu and Garowe. In speech to parliament, former President Sheikh Sharif 19 Feb also denounced constitutional review process.
Govt continued to push back against Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal. Mogadishu remained focussed on diplomatic efforts to pressure Addis Ababa to walk back its Jan agreement with Hargeisa that potentially paves way for Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland’s independence. Mohamud 16 Feb travelled to Ethiopian capital for AU summit, lobbying for support; Mohamud next day alleged Ethiopian security forces tried to bar him from attending closing session of AU summit, which Ethiopian govt denied, and again accused Ethiopia of trying to annex part of Somalia’s territory. Meanwhile, amid tensions with Somaliland over deal, airspace control became battleground between Mogadishu and Hargeisa (see Somaliland).
In another important development. Amid tensions with Ethiopia, govt 8 Feb signed deal with Ankara for Türkiye to help Somalia defend its territorial waters by providing support to Somali navy.
If military pressure is designed to push toward the complete elimination of Shabaab, then I think we'll miss opportunities to resolve this conflict.
Al-Shabaab continues to mount resistance in parts of central Somalia and fighting al-Shabaab in its southern strongholds will probably be a tougher slog.
Things [in Somalia] are likely to get worse before they get better as both the government and al Shabaab are locked into war mode right now.
Despite President Biden’s campaign promise to end the forever wars, Somalia remains one of the most active areas in the world for U.S. counterterrorism operations.
I think the reason why [Mukhtar Robow, ex-Al-Shabab leader] was brought from house arrest to the cabinet minister is to create a counter-narrative to that of al-Shabab.
The Somali government aims to “eliminate” Al-Shabaab by the year’s end, marking a crucial point in its sixteen-year war with the insurgency. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024, Crisis Group explains what the EU can do to address Somalia’s challenges.
This week on The Horn, Alan is joined by Crisis Group experts Omar Mahmood and Sarah Harrison, to discuss where Somalia's military offensive against Al-Shabaab might be headed and the evolving role of the U.S. in the country.
Polls likely due in 2024 could unsettle Galmudug, a building block of Somalia’s federal project, increasing frictions along clan and other lines. State and federal authorities have a shared interest in ensuring a clean vote. They should cooperate toward that end.
U.S. President Joe Biden promised to end the “forever wars” launched after the 9/11 attacks. In Somalia, however, his administration has reinvigorated a flawed military-first approach to battling Islamist militants. Washington should complement those efforts with others aimed at stabilisation and political reconciliation.
The CrisisWatch Digest Somalia offers a monthly one-page snapshot of conflict-related country trends in a clear, accessible format, using a map of the region to pinpoint developments.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard speaks with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group's Somalia expert, about the Somali army’s latest offensive, together with clan militias, against Al-Shabaab’s Islamist insurgency and challenges as the battle moves from central Somalia to Al-Shabaab’s southern strongholds.
In this video, Omar Mahmood discusses the Somali government’s recent gains in its war with the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab, mainly in central Somalia.
In conjunction with clan militias, the national army has dislodged the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab from swathes of central Somalia, marking a breakthrough in the fifteen-year war. As its campaign proceeds, Mogadishu should take steps to strengthen its hold on the territory it has retaken.
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