Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is scheduled to be briefed on the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which is due 14 May. James Swan, Special Representative for Somalia and head of UNSOM, as well as Francisco Madeira, head of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are expected to brief.
The mandate for UNSOM expires on 31 August. The mandate of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was reauthorised on 12 March for ten months until 31 December.
Key Recent Developments
The May briefing follows major political developments. According to an agreement reached on 17 September 2020 between the Federal Government led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and Somalia’s federal member states, the country should have held legislative and presidential elections by December 2020 and February 2021, respectively. As logistical and security challenges prohibit the safe organisation and holding of direct one-person, one-vote elections, an indirect election—whereby clan representatives elect members of the House of the People, the lower house of Somalia’s parliament, which in turn elects the president—was envisaged instead. Somalia has undergone similar indirect electoral processes in the past; it has not held direct elections since 1969.
Disagreements between the Federal Government and its member states, in particular Jubaland and Puntland, over organisational matters, and accusations that the Federal Government intended to influence the outcome, caused a delay in electoral preparations. Amidst the political impasse, the Federal Government expressed its resolve to move ahead with organising elections in Somalia’s federal member states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West State and in Mogadishu Municipality. However, on 12 April, the House of the People, decided to extend the mandate of the president and the parliament for another two years. Farmajo signed this decision into law on the following day, thus overriding the 17 September Agreement on the modalities for conducting elections in Somalia. Farmajo, whose constitutional term officially ended on 8 February, justified the extensions by citing the need to prepare the country for one-person, one-vote elections instead of the immediate indirect elections, as stipulated by the 17 September Agreement. The Somali Senate criticised the move amid concerns over the constitutionality of the term extensions.
International criticism was also swiftly registered. In a press statement issued on 14 April, AMISOM, the EU, IGAD, the UN and several member states (among them Council members France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US) emphasised that any “parallel political process, partial elections, or new initiatives leading to an extension of prior mandates will not be supported” and called on all parties to “exercise maximum restraint, continue dialogue, and avoid unilateral actions that may cause tensions.”
Against this backdrop, the UK, the penholder on Somalia, invited Council members, the Somali federal government, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the AU, and the EU to an informal interactive dialogue on 21 April to discuss the unfolding developments in the country. The AU and IGAD did not attend the meeting. Council members reiterated the need for a political solution based on consensus, warning that the tense situation could provide further impetus to the armed group Al-Shabaab and expressing alarm about the humanitarian and security situations in the country. While there appeared to be consensus on the need for dialogue between all political actors, not all Council members referenced the 17 September Agreement in their interventions.
Prior to the informal interactive dialogue, President Farmajo undertook a one-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo to meet with President Félix Tshisekedi. Farmajo asked Tshisekedi in his capacity as the AU chairperson to mediate and facilitate dialogue among Somalia’s key political stakeholders. The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), which convened on 22 April to discuss the situation in Somalia, confirmed its intention to assist in overcoming the political impasse. In the communiqué adopted following its meeting, the PSC condemned the term extensions, reaffirmed the inviolability of the 17 September agreement, affirmed the readiness of the AU to support dialogue, requested the Chairperson of the AU Commission to appoint a Special Envoy for Somalia, and called upon the Somali stakeholders to negotiate in good faith in search of an agreement to resolve the prevailing political impasse.
On 23 April, Council members issued a press statement expressing concern over the latest developments in Somalia. The statement stressed that the ongoing disagreement over the electoral model jeopardises progress towards democratisation, political reforms, security provision, and economic development. It further maintained that the impasse diverts attention from other pressing issues the country is facing, including terrorism and the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement also underscored the need for consensus to agree on an electoral model, while noting that the 17 September Agreement remained the only framework thus far endorsed by the federal government and its member states.
Pressure on Farmajo to reverse the decision continued to intensify. On 25 April, factions supporting Farmajo’s stance and opposition forces clashed in Mogadishu, causing between 60,000 and 100,000 persons to flee their homes, according to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. On 27 April, the federal member states Galmudug, HirShabelle and Southwest State announced that they rejected the delay in elections and called for a return to the 17 September Agreement. On the same day, the Prime Minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble, welcomed the announcements and stated his readiness to implement the 17 September Agreement.
On 27 April, Farmajo announced that he would return to the provisions of the 17 September Agreement. At the time of writing, the implications of this decision for his time in office remained unclear.
Alongside this political turmoil, Somalia continues to grapple with a volatile security situation, mainly due to the activities of Al-Shabaab. On 9 March, the group claimed responsibility for six mortar rounds that landed in the Aden Adde International Airport Area, where much of the UN and international community is located. A car laden with explosives detonated near a restaurant in Mogadishu, the capital, on 5 March, killing some 21 persons and wounding over 30, according to media reports. Earlier that day, at least seven people were reportedly killed in an attack on a prison in Bosaso, Puntland.
In addition to the volatile security situation, the humanitarian situation also remains a matter of concern, as Somalia is facing several threats at once, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, weather and climate shocks (including drought and flooding), and locust swarms that threaten crops and livestock feeding grounds. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia estimates the total number of persons requiring assistance in 2021 at 5.9 million.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is the delay in the elections and the status of the term extensions in the aftermath of Farmajo’s decision to recommit to the 17 September Agreement. Members may consider how to promote reconciliation efforts between the Federal Government and its member states and how to encourage dialogue based on the 17 September Agreement. They may further encourage the AU’s engagement with Somali stakeholders, in light of its decision to appoint a Special Envoy. At a future date, one option would be to hold an informal interactive dialogue with the Special Envoy, after he or she has an opportunity to interact with the parties.
Another key issue is whether and how the political turmoil in Somalia is affecting the operations of UNSOM and AMISOM. Council members may want to hear from Swan how the UN is engaging with the Federal Government and member states to fully return to and implement the 17 September Agreement, and how to pave the way for elections. With regard to the mandate of AMISOM—which was reauthorised by the Council in March—members may be interested in whether the political situation in Somalia could affect the timing of the AU assessment of AMISOM, which is currently planned for May, or the conclusion of the review of the mission’s concept of operations. AMISOM’s mandate has a timeframe attached to both.
Council and Wider Dynamics
While unanimous in their concern over the deepening of rifts between the Federal Government and its member states, Council members differ regarding the extent to which the international community should be involved. Some perceived the decision to postpone elections and move away from an indirect electoral model as Somalia’s internal matter, while others saw a clear need for the international community to be engaged and for a return to the provisions of the 17 September Agreement. These divisions may also be reflected in discussions concerning the term extensions. Since the AU intends to appoint a special envoy for Somalia, some Council members may favour supporting actions at the regional level, whereas others may wish to explore options for greater engagement by the UN and the Council. Somalia has in a statement criticised Djibouti and Council member Kenya, accusing both of attempting to influence the outcome of the 22 April PSC meeting.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SOMALIA
|Security Council Resolutions|
|12 March 2021S/RES/2568||This resolution reauthorised the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) for ten months until 31 December 2021.|
|12 November 2020S/RES/2551||This resolution renewed the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somali security forces, the authorisation for maritime interdiction to enforce the embargo on illicit arms imports and charcoal exports, and humanitarian exemptions to the regime. The resolution also renewed the mandate of the Somalia Panel of Experts until 15 December 2021.|
|17 February 2021S/2021/154||This was the Secretary-General’s latest report on Somalia.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|12 November 2020S/PV.8775||This covered the adoption of resolution 2551 (2020), including several explanations after the vote. China and Russia abstained from this resolution renewing elements of the Somalia sanctions regime.|