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.
Mogadishu reacted furiously to Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal; absent de-escalation, diplomatic row could weaken anti-Al-Shabaab campaign and further undermine regional stability.
Diplomatic row erupted over Ethiopia’s sea access deal. Govt rejected Ethiopia-Somaliland agreement signed 1 Jan, which grants Ethiopia sea access for naval facility via Somaliland, and potentially paves way for Ethiopia’s recognition of Somaliland’s independence (see Somaliland); Mogadishu 2 Jan denounced “act of aggression” violating Somalia’s sovereignty and recalled ambassador to Ethiopia for consultations. Thousands 3 Jan protested against agreement in capital Mogadishu, and President Mohamud 6 Jan signed bill nullifying deal. Govt mobilised support among international partners, with AU, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, EU, U.S. and others reiterating support for Somalia’s sovereignty. Mohamud also engaged regionally, travelling to Eritrea 8 Jan and to Qatar 22 Jan. Mogadishu 18 Jan rejected engagement with Ethiopia, saying “there is no space for mediation” until Addis Ababa retracts agreement. Operations against Al-Shabaab militants continued at slow pace. In Mudug region of Galmudug state (centre), security forces and Al-Shabaab 6 Jan clashed in Jeeh-jeeh area, and militants 24 Jan temporarily overran pro-govt clan militia position in Caad district. Airstrikes targeting militants in central states of Galmudug and Hirshabelle, including in Galhareeri 25 Jan, Cali Heyle 27 Jan, and Buq Aqable same day, showed govt’s reliance on international air support. Meanwhile, militants continued attacks, albeit at lower level; in Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab 11 Jan killed UN security guard in mortar attack targeting airport compound, and 16 Jan killed four people in suicide attack near Banadir regional administration. Suspected Al-Shabaab combatants 10 Jan also kidnapped several UN contractors after their helicopter crashed in Galmudug. Potential rupture in Somalia-Ethiopia relations would have significant consequences on security operations, given Somalia’s cooperation with Ethiopia against Al-Shabaab.Puntland election cycle concluded peacefully with President Deni’s re-election. Puntland President Said Deni 8 Jan won second five-year term in indirect election; opposition largely accepted result despite alleging manipulation in selection of MPs who took part in vote; legislators representing Dhulbahante community participated in elections after SSC-Khatumo (self-declared administration for Dhulbahante in territory also claimed by Somaliland) vowed not to in Dec. Vote concluded peacefully, offering parties opportunity to move on from divisive episode.
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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