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 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.
Election-related tensions grew further in Puntland, raising prospect of armed confrontation in lead-up to polls set for early 2024; offensive against Al-Shabaab continued to produce mixed results.
Political dispute worsened in Puntland state. Puntland President Said Deni 10 Oct returned to Puntland after near two-month absence and reaffirmed commitment to hold direct parliamentary and presidential elections by Jan 2024. Opposition continued to accuse him of seeking to use transition to universal suffrage to extend term or set rules in his favour. Notably, representatives of Mideeye and Horseed political associations 10-11 Oct met near Puntland capital Garowe and called for return to clan-based system for Puntland’s elections, also agreeing to form joint front against Deni; absent dialogue between Puntland govt and opposition, alliance further raises prospect of violent confrontations ahead of polls as opposition parties have troops at their disposal. Electoral authorities 23 Oct reaffirmed commitment to hold direct presidential election, but pushed date back to 25 Feb 2024, further raising tensions.
President Mohamud returned from frontlines as insecurity persisted. Mohamud 7 Oct returned to capital Mogadishu after two months in Galmudug state capital Dhusamareb, where his attempts to revive govt’s offensive against Al-Shabaab yielded mixed results. Notably, several clan communities in southern Mudug region agreed to join fight against al-Shabaab, but similar discussions about forming clan alliance against Al-Shabaab in northern Galgaduud region have yet to bear fruit. Militants continued to put up stiff resistance in Galmudug: local sources reported Al-Shabaab attack on clan militia positions in Bar Ujeed area 14 Oct resulted in dozens of casualties. In Hirshabelle state, govt 12 Oct announced it had pushed militants back across Shabelle river with help from AU mission (ATMIS) after Al-Shabaab crossed it mid-Sept. Southwest state President Laftagareen 7 Oct also promised to initiate second phase of anti-Al-Shabaab operations, and federal officials including defence minister 28 Oct arrived in Diinsoor district (Bay region) to coordinate operations. Meanwhile, Al-Shabaab car bomb attack 21 Oct killed at least six people at military facility on outskirts of Mogadishu.
In another important development. AU Peace and Security Council 5 Oct backed Somalia’s request to UN to pause ATMIS withdrawal for three months.
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.
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.
This week on The Horn, Alan speaks with Omar Mahmood, Crisis Group's senior analyst for Eastern Africa, about the government offensive backed by local clans that is making gains against Al-Shabaab in central Somalia, and what comes next.
Somaliland is going through considerable political turmoil. The government and opposition disagree over the sequencing of two forthcoming high-stakes elections, and both sides are digging in. International partners should push the two sides to reach consensus, while standing by to mediate if talks fail.
Receive the best source of conflict analysis right in your inbox.