Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which expires on 30 June. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), chair of the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee, will also brief the Council on activities of the committee in a closed videoconference meeting on 9 June.
At the time of writing, the authorisation for the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was expected to be renewed on 29 May until 28 February 2021.
Key Recent Developments
The Council was initially set to renew UNSOM’s mandate on 25 March and, in keeping with its practice, the expected duration of the mandate was to be one year. It became clear in mid-March, however, that the Council’s ability to conduct negotiations would be limited by measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Member states agreed that the best way forward, under the circumstances, would be a technical rollover of UNSOM’s mandate, which in Council practice is the adoption of a largely unchanged mandate for a short period. Through a written procedure agreed to by Council members on 27 March, UNSOM’s mandate was renewed on 30 March until 30 June by the adoption of resolution 2516.
Al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group aligned with al–Qaeda, continues to be a threat to civilians, and has, by some estimates, killed more than 3,000 people in the past five years. AMISOM troops successfully stopped a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack launched by al-Shabaab on 24 April. The latest Secretary-General’s report on UNSOM, published 13 May, notes that during the reporting period al-Shabaab had increased its mortar attacks in Mogadishu, the capital, with “the Aden Adde International Airport zone, in which the United Nations compound is located…[recording]…the highest number of indirect fire attacks on the zone”.
Somalia is also trying to address the challenges of COVID-19. According to the latest reports, Somalia has over 1,700 cases, the second–highest number in eastern Africa. Schools and universities have been closed for weeks, all commercial flights in and out of the country have been cancelled, and there is a night-time curfew in Mogadishu. Humanitarian cargo flights have continued but must receive permission a day in advance. Aid and humanitarian actors say the real number of COVID-19 cases could be much higher, and worry that Somalia’s weak healthcare infrastructure has left the country unable to address the disease effectively. As of 15 May, Somalia had only one quarantine centre, and it received its first test kits in April, weeks after its first case was recorded.
Tensions between Somalia and Kenya increased in the first months of 2020 over territory that has access to the Indian Ocean (in June, the International Court of Justice is scheduled to hear arguments about the border between Somalia and Kenya over the disputed territory, with implications for the control of natural resources; at the time of writing, it was unclear if the case could be delayed for COVID-19-related reasons). A build-up of Somali security forces in the Gedo region of Jubaland, Somalia led to clashes between Somali federal forces and militias loyal to the controversially-reelected president of Jubaland, Ahmed Mohamed Islam, who seems to be supported by Kenya. On 2 March the skirmishes that spilled over the border into Kenya caused some civilians to flee. On 5 March, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke via telephone in an effort to calm tensions. The two presidents made a commitment to improving border security and ties between the nations, but the general shutdown of both countries in response to COVID-19 has made further action difficult. On 4 May, a private Kenyan cargo plane crashed in Bardale, Somalia, with some reports suggesting that the plane had been shot down. Somalia and Kenya agreed to investigate the crash jointly, possibly a sign of improved relations. The plane was reportedly carrying supplies to assist in Somalia’s COVID-19 response.
Council members discussed the situation in Somalia in an open videoconference (VTC) meeting on 21 May. At the meeting, Special Representative James Swan, the AU’s Special Representative Francisco Madeira, and Agnes Marcaillou of the UN Mine Action Service briefed. Those participating in the meeting discussed the impact of COVID-19, preparations for elections, and the security situation.
On 27 May the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee held an “informal informal” meeting to discuss the Panel of Experts’ midterm report.
Key Issues and Options
One of the main reasons Council members agreed to a technical rollover of UNSOM’s mandate in March was their desire to hold substantive discussions once the Council’s interim working methods were more established, which has now happened. There are a number of elements to review in UNSOM’s mandate, such as how UNSOM can best continue to provide strategic support and advice to the Federal Government of Somalia and AMISOM, especially ahead of proposed elections. Given that AMISOM’s authorisation will now also be renewed before UNSOM’s, the Council may be able to better tailor UNSOM’s activities to support AMISOM and overall preparations for elections.
In his latest report, the Secretary-General expressed concern that the relationship between the Somali federal government and some of its states remains poor. Council members may echo his concern and could, in future Council products, include calls for better cooperation.
In the past, Council members have diverged over several Somalia–related issues, such as the pace of AMISOM troop reductions, whether or not Somalia is ready to take over more security responsibilities, predictable and sustainable funding for AMISOM, and whether to include references to the impact of climate change on Somalia in resolutions and presidential statements.
However, member states remain united in their belief that upcoming elections are an important turning point for Somalia, if they can take place given COVID-19’s impact. All members states repeat how they view that Somalia is at a critical juncture, both politically and in its reform and strengthening of the security sector. During the briefing on Somalia on 24 February, at which the representative of Tunisia spoke on behalf of a coalition of like-minded states (Niger, South Africa and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), all members emphasised the need for political agreement among Somalia’s stakeholders. In the 21 May meeting, South Africa spoke on behalf of this same coalition. Their statement clearly shared their priority to consolidate security gains and resist making changes to UN operations too soon. Some members called for the acceleration of a plan for Somali security forces to take over more responsibilities. France, in particular, spoke about the EU’s participation in Somalia, saying that the EU is in favour of a more collaborative approach that would see greater accountability, participation of the EU in strategic planning, and wider financial partners.
The UK is the penholder on Somalia. Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium) is Chair of the Sanctions Committee pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) concerning Somalia.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SOMALIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|30 March 2020S/RES/2516||This resolution renewed the mandate for UNSOM until 30 June.|
|13 May 2020S/2020/398||The latest report on the activities of UNSOM.|
|Security Council Letters|
|31 March 2020S/2020/266||This letter from the president of the Security Council contained both the draft resolution and letters received in reply from Council members indicating their national positions on the draft resolution.|
|30 March 2020S/2020/247||This was the announcement of the conclusion of the written voting procedure on resolution 2516.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|24 February 2020S/PV.8731||This meeting discussed the situation in Somalia and the latest report, covering 5 November 2019 to 4 February 2020.|