What's In Blue

Posted Fri 19 Feb 2021

Somalia Briefing and Consultations

On Monday (22 February), Security Council members will discuss the situation in Somalia in an open videoconference (VTC). A closed VTC is scheduled to follow. Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) James Swan, AU Special Representative Francisco Madeira and EU Managing Director for Africa Rita Laranjinha are expected to brief. Council members may issue press elements at the conclusion of the meeting.

The meeting is likely to focus on Somalia’s delayed elections and the steps being taken to safeguard the country’s political stability and security situation given the current state of political upheaval. The failure to elect a president by the 8 February deadline endorsed by the country’s parliament has now precipitated a constitutional crisis and resulted in violence. Swan is likely to brief the Council on the rapidly evolving political and security situation since he last briefed Council members under “any other business” on 9 February. During that meeting, which had been requested by the UK, Swan apparently updated members on a series of political disputes between the Somali Federal Government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo”, and leaders from two of the country’s federal member states, Puntland and Jubaland. According to a 17 September 2020 agreement, parliamentary elections were to be held from 1 to 27 December and presidential elections on 8 February. (Given the logistical and security challenges of holding direct elections, a modified indirect electoral process was agreed to last year. This system allows clans’ delegates to choose members of the lower house of parliament, which in turn chooses the president.)

The parliamentary elections had to be postponed, amid claims that Farmaajo should not be allowed to run for another term based on long-standing precedent as well as accusations that he had attempted to bypass Somalia’s electoral laws by installing loyalists to polling committees charged with coordinating the parliamentary elections. This postponement, in turn, prevented the country from organising the presidential elections. The presidential elections were slated to be held by 8 February, the day that Farmaajo’s term expired, in accordance with Somalia’s constitution. Subsequently, several opposition groups and the Council of Presidential Candidates Union—which is made up of 14 leading political figures and candidates running against Farmaajo—declared that they no longer recognised Farmaajo’s legitimacy, stating that they “w[ould] not accept any form of mandate extension through pressure”. Instead, they proposed that a Transitional National Council be established to help usher the country through this crisis and establish an electoral transition.

After discussing Somalia during “any other business” on 9 February, Security Council members issued press elements, welcoming efforts made by the leaders of the federal government and the federal member states to “find agreement on the implementation of the 17 September electoral model” but expressed concern that the dialogue had yet to yield an agreement. Council members called on Somalia’s leaders to resume dialogue and work urgently to find a consensus for how to proceed with the elections. Since December, there have been several attempts at dialogue between the parties to address the electoral delays; UNSOM, for its part, continues to offer its good offices to overcome the impasse and has facilitated meetings between the diplomatic community and Somali political leaders.

Council members will be keen to learn more about the mission’s facilitation efforts and the current state of the dialogue. There have been some notable developments in this regard in recent days. On 16 February, Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdirizak announced that a meeting of a technical committee representing Somalia’s federal government and federal member states had reached agreement on a number of technical issues pertaining to the organisation of elections, though details of the agreement were not released. The following day, UNSOM released a joint statement with Somalia’s international partners welcoming the agreement. Council members will likely want to know more details about the agreement and how it may contribute to resolving the country’s current electoral stalemate. While an official statement from Somalia’s presidential office (and media reports) suggested that a meeting between Farmaajo and representatives of Somalia’s federal states was to be organised in Mogadishu on 18 and 19 February to discuss the electoral crisis, at the time of writing, there are no indications that this meeting occurred.

Meanwhile, overnight from 18 to 19 February, violent clashes took place in Mogadishu, with opposition leaders claiming that a hotel where they were staying had been attacked by government forces. On 19 February afternoon, government forces fired on hundreds of demonstrators who were protesting the elections delay. An explosion at Mogadishu’s airport was also reported. UNSOM subsequently issued a statement, calling for restraint by all parties and noting that the violence “underscore[s] the urgent need for federal government and federal member state leaders to come together to reach political agreement” to implement the 17 September electoral arrangement.

In addition to the recent electoral-related instability, Somalia’s overall security situation remains volatile. Several high-profile Al Shabaab attacks have occurred so far in 2021, including a 31 January attack on a hotel in Mogadishu that killed ten people and an 8 February roadside attack on Somali National Army (SNA) forces that killed at least eight soldiers. Council members may express concerns that the recent violence could affect SNA activities and imperil Somalia’s efforts against Al Shabaab.

Given the deterioration in the security situation and the scheduled adoption by the Council of a resolution extending the mandate of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) on 25 February, Council members will also be interested to hear from Swan about Somalia’s ongoing fight against Al Shabaab, as well as progress on the Somalia Transition Plan—a roadmap adopted in 2018 that laid out the steps for Somalia to assume full responsibility for its own security. The Secretary-General’s 17 February report on Somalia notes that the Somalia Transition Plan has been finalised, permitting operational planning to commence with a view to implementing the country’s security transition by the end of 2021. Council members will want to be updated on the status of the plan, and in light of the current political deadlock, how delays in its approval by the Somali federal government could affect its implementation.

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