Somalia: Informal Interactive Dialogue
Tomorrow (20 April), Council members will hold an informal interactive dialogue (IID) on the situation in Somalia. At the time of writing, it was still unclear if the meeting will take place in person or via closed videoconference (VTC) format. The UK, the penholder on Somalia, organised the meeting. The expected briefers include James Swan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM); Ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman, the Permanent Representative of Somalia to the UN; Workneh Gebeyehu, the Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); Bankole Adeoye, the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security; and Rita Laranjinha, the EU Managing Director for Africa.
This will be the second time this year that Council members have discussed Somalia in an IID. They last held an IID on Somalia on 20 January to discuss delays in holding of federal and legislative elections in the country. Tomorrow’s IID follows the signing by President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed “Farmaajo” on 12 April of legislation extending his and the lower house’s four-year mandate for another two years. Farmaajo, 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.
Although Somalia’s lower house has voted in favour of the extension, the senate reacted critically: according to media reports, the speaker of the senate, Abdi Hashi Abdullahi, called the move unconstitutional. Somalia has not held direct one person-one vote elections since 1969. A political agreement reached on 17 September 2020 between the leaders of Somalia’s federal member states and its federal government had foreseen a system of indirect elections, whereby clan delegates would have chosen members of the lower house of parliament, who would have in turn chosen the president. According to this agreement, legislative elections were scheduled for December 2020 and the presidential round for February 2021. However, disagreements between the federal government and two of its federal member states, Puntland and Jubaland, over organisational matters and accusations of the federal government’s intent to influence the outcome caused a delay.
The term extension and the associated delay in holding elections have been widely criticised by several members of the international community. The EU High Representative Josep Borrell, in a statement published on 13 April, categorised the move as “undermining the longstanding effort, supported by the EU and the international community, to rebuild Somalia through consensus”. He warned that the passage and signing of this law would cause division in Somalia and constitute a threat to stability in the country and in the region. The statement urged the immediate return to talks on the holding of elections based on the 17 September Agreement. The EU indicated that a failure to do so would compel it to “consider further measures”. Similarly, in a 13 April statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed “deep disappointment” over the approval of the law and stated that “implementation of this bill will pose serious obstacles to dialogue and further undermine peace and security in Somalia”. Accordingly, the US was now compelled to “re-evaluate bilateral relations with the Federal Government of Somalia, to include diplomatic engagement and assistance, and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability”. In a 14 April press statement, AMISOM, the EU, IGAD, 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”.
On 10 April, the AU, EU, IGAD, and UN convened virtually to discuss the political stalemate and electoral delays in Somalia. In a communiqué issued following the meeting, the participants of the meeting underscored that the 17 September Agreement was the only viable path toward holding of elections with the shortest delay possible, called upon Somali leaders to prioritise the national interest of the country and urged a return to dialogue. The participants of the meeting reaffirmed their decision “not to support any parallel process, partial elections, or new initiatives leading to any extension of prior mandates”.
The Somali government has reacted by expressing its “deep dismay” at the statements by international interlocutors, stating that the new law superseded the 17 September Agreement. In a 14 April press release, the government criticised the leaders of Jubaland and Puntland for stalling progress toward implementing the 17 September Agreement, stating that the actions of these federal member states were motivated by foreign influence. The Somali government further believes that the decision to diverge from the 17 September Agreement and conduct one person-one vote elections—as well as the extension of the presidential and lower house term limits—will safeguard the electoral progress made thus far and allow the Somali people to exercise their right to elect their leadership.
During tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to engage the Somali government in determining a way forward. The format of the IID lends itself to frank, off the record and situation-specific discussion among Council members and concerned member states and other entities. IID meetings usually involve high-level representation and are chaired by the Council presidency.
Several Council members are expected to be united in their messaging and echo the concerns they have been publicly expressing, including calling for a return to the parameters set forth in the 17 September Agreement and warning of further divisions within the political landscape. Several Council members may reiterate the need to re-evaluate their engagement in and with Somalia and may suggest to the government to consider accepting external mediators to facilitate talks between the federal government and federal member state level. Council members may, however, disagree on the Council’s response to the Somali government’s actions. While some members may see engagement of the Council as necessary to promote the swift holding of elections as per the 17 September Agreement, others may view recent developments as an internal affair and defer to the Somali government in addressing the situation.