Somalia: Consultations on the Political Situation*
Tomorrow (17 September), Security Council members will convene for consultations on the political situation in Somalia. Special Representative for Somalia and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) James Swan is expected to brief. It appears that the UK, the penholder on Somalia, requested the meeting to discuss current political tensions within the federal government of Somalia and their potential impact on the electoral process. Council members may issue a press statement after the meeting.
On 7 September, the group of International Partners—comprised of member states and multilateral organisations active in Somalia, which includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, US, the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the EU, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the UN—released a statement expressing concern over the “controversy surrounding the disappearance of Ms. Ikran Tahlil Farah creating political tensions that could impact on the functioning of the Federal Government of Somalia and disrupt the electoral process”. Tahlil, a cybersecurity expert working for Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), was abducted near her home in Mogadishu on 26 June. According to media reports, NISA released a statement on 2 September, claiming that Al-Shabaab had kidnapped and killed Tahlil, but a spokesperson for the group is reported to have denied any Al-Shabaab involvement.
The handling of the investigation into Tahlil’s disappearance has further exacerbated prevailing tensions between Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo”, and the country’s prime minister, Mohamed Hussein Roble. The latter had suspended NISA’s chief, Fahad Yasin, claiming disappointment over NISA’s failure to deliver a satisfactory investigative report on Tahlil’s disappearance, and appointed Bashir Mohamed Jama as NISA’s interim chief. Farmajo reportedly called the suspension of Fahad Yasin unconstitutional, and appointed him as his national security advisor. He also named Yasin Abdullahi Mohamud as acting head of NISA. In an 8 September tweet, NISA announced Mohamud’s appointment as acting chief. On 9 September, Roble reportedly replaced the internal security minister with former finance minister Abdullahi Mohamed Nur, who is said to be a Farmajo-critic, causing the president to call the move unconstitutional and therefore void. The spat culminated in Farmajo suspending Roble’s powers to appoint and release government officials on 16 September.
The public row between president and prime minister exacerbates an already tense relationship during a politically sensitive time for Somalia. In April, Farmajo attempted to extend his presidential term and the term of Somalia’s lower house in a move to postpone already delayed parliamentary and presidential elections. Lacking backing from the leaders of Somalia’s federal member states—as well as from the prime minister and facing criticism from the international community—Farmajo eventually reversed the term extensions.
Roble subsequently took over the preparations for elections, with the aim of organising the delayed polls this year. To that end, he convened a national consultative meeting between the federal government and its member states to bridge electoral differences, which concluded on 27 May. A second such meeting was held on 29 May, resulting in the adoption of an electoral calendar. Upper house elections scheduled from 25 to 28 July commenced with delays. Lower house elections, initially scheduled to commence on 10 September, have been postponed until between 1 October and 20 November. Since the lower house delegates are mandated to elect the president in an indirect voting model, the postponement will also delay the presidential elections, initially intended for 10 October. A new date has yet to be determined.
Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed visited Somalia from 12 to 14 September and stated that “Somalia has achieved considerable momentum with its electoral process.” She urged elections to go ahead as planned, so as “not to threaten the gains made thus far”.
It appears that some Council members are concerned about the potential impact that the row within the federal government could have on electoral preparations and Somalia’s adherence to the electoral calendar. While these members were keen to have the Council discuss the situation, others apparently did not initially believe that Council involvement was appropriate. However, the suspension of Roble’s powers to appoint and dismiss government officials on 16 September apparently led to consensus on having a meeting.
During the meeting, Council members will most likely be interested in Swan’s views on the potential impact of the rift in the leadership ranks of the Somali government on electoral preparations and how to prevent further escalation. They may also inquire about the potential role the Council may play in mitigating the tensions. Remembering the violence that broke out in Mogadishu following the announcement of Farmajo’s and the lower house’s term extensions earlier this year, Council members may urge a peaceful resolution of the political conflict and call for increased dialogue. Some members may emphasise the importance of rule of law and access to justice and inquire about the status of the investigation into Tahlil’s disappearance.
*Post-script: On 18 September, Security Council members adopted a press statement (SC/14641) expressing deep concern about the “ongoing disagreement within the Somali Government and the negative impact on the electoral timetable and process”. They urged all stakeholders to exercise restraint and underlined the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in Somalia.