What's In Blue

Somalia: Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow morning (19 February), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on the situation in Somalia. The anticipated briefers are Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) Catriona Laing and Special Representative of the AU Commission Chairperson (SRCC) for Somalia and Head of the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) Mohamed El-Amine Souef.

Laing is expected to describe the latest political, economic, and security developments in Somalia based on the Secretary-General’s most recent report on UNSOM, which was published on 2 February and covers the period from 6 October 2023 to 24 January. The reporting period saw some progress towards achieving Somalia’s national priorities. In this regard, Liang may highlight the country’s admission to the East African Community (EAC) on 24 November 2023, its attainment of full and irrevocable debt relief from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank after reaching the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative completion point on 13 December 2023, and the Security Council’s 1 December 2023 decision to lift the arms embargo on the Somali government, which was established by resolution 733 of 23 January 1992 and amended through subsequent resolutions. (For more information on the arms embargo, see our 1 December 2023 What’s in Blue story.) Somalia’s candidature for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council for 2025-2026, representing the eastern Africa region, was endorsed at the AU summit that took place over the weekend (17-18 February) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Despite this progress, Somalia continues to face several challenges. Liang may highlight the ongoing discussions on the constitutional review process and the disagreements over proposals related to forms of government and the electoral model. In May 2023, the National Consultative Council (NCC)—which brings together the leaders of the federal government and the federal member states—discussed proposals to change the form of government from a parliamentary to a presidential system and adopt a one-man, one-vote electoral system to replace the clan-based formula that has traditionally been used to organise elections. These proposals have faced opposition, however, and the Secretary-General’s report refers to two meetings that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud held with key opposition leaders in December 2023 to discuss their views on those proposals. Tomorrow, Liang may stress the need for the Somali government to undertake broader public consultations to reflect the views of a wider section of the Somali population and to ensure the necessary inclusivity in the constitutional review process.

The federal member state Puntland has not been participating in NCC meetings since January 2023 and has declared its intention to act independently until the finalisation of a new Somali constitution. Efforts by Puntland’s President, Said Abdullahi Deni, to change the federal state’s constitution to extend his term in office have also been a source of increased political tensions in the region over the last couple of months. In this regard, Laing may refer tomorrow to the state assembly and presidential elections that took place on 8 January, which resulted in Deni’s re-election. The Secretary-General’s report notes that Deni reached out to his rivals after the election with the aim of fostering political conciliation and that his inauguration on 25 January was attended by Mohamud and other state presidents.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a self-proclaimed republic in the northern region of Somalia, on 1 January has been another major issue in recent months. Somalia has rejected the MoU as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The MoU was signed two days after Mohamud and Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi met in Djibouti under the auspices of President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti and announced the resumption of dialogue between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, which had been stalled for almost a decade.

The Secretary-General’s report refers to a 2 January law passed by the Somali federal parliament nullifying the MoU and a 3 January NCC decision declaring it “null and void”. Council members discussed the matter in closed consultations on 29 January following Somalia’s request for an urgent Council meeting in a 25 January letter. (For more information, see our 28 January What’s In Blue story.) At the meeting, Council members apparently underlined the need to respect Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, expressed support for the AU’s initiative to deploy AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo in order to foster dialogue among the parties, and called on the parties to de-escalate tensions and address the situation through dialogue.

It seems that one Council member suggested working on a draft press statement, but the members of the “A3 plus one” grouping (Algeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, and Guyana) argued that the issue is being handled at the regional level and stressed the need to respect the principle of complementarity. The “A3 plus one” grouping requested to postpone the Security Council meeting on Somalia from Friday (16 February) to Monday (19 February), apparently to await the outcome of the AU summit, which they expected would generate a positive outcome on the Ethiopia-Somalia issue. Instead, the summit saw controversies between the two countries over security arrangements. In a 17 February statement, Somalia accused Ethiopia of attempting to prevent its delegation, which was led by president Mohamud, from participating in the summit, and called on the AU to conduct a credible and independent investigation into the matter. Ethiopia has denied the accusations and reportedly said that “the Somali delegation was blocked when its security detail tried to enter a venue with weapons”. Mohamud was later allowed entry to the venue for the meeting.

Another expected focus of tomorrow’s meeting is the security threats posed by Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda. The Secretary-General’s report documented 755 security incidents, including 216 terrorist incidents, and noted increased Al-Shabaab activity in the Lower Shabelle region in South-West State. According to the report, Al-Shabaab is increasingly using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rockets to target personnel and facilities of the Somali government, ATMIS, and the UN. On 10 February, the group attacked a military base in Mogadishu, killing four Emirati troops and one Bahraini military officer who were on a training mission in Somalia. Council members are likely to condemn this attack at tomorrow’s meeting.

Souef is expected to focus on ATMIS’ support for the ongoing offensive operations by the Somali security forces to counter Al-Shabaab in central and southern Somalia, including in the Bakool, Hiran, Middle Shabelle, Galguduud, and South Mudug regions. He may also elaborate on ATMIS’ drawdown process and on ongoing discussions about post-ATMIS security arrangements. In accordance with resolution 2710 of 15 November 2023, which extended ATMIS’ authorisation, the mission has completed the second phase of its drawdown by withdrawing 3,000 personnel, and subsequently transferring seven Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) to the Somali government and closing two others. In the first phase of the drawdown process, ATMIS withdrew 2,000 personnel by the end of September 2023. The mission is currently undertaking efforts to prepare for the drawdown’s third phase, which will see the withdrawal of additional 4,000 troops by 30 June.

Pursuant to resolution 2710, Council members expect to receive, by 31 March, the outcome of a joint technical assessment by the Somali government and the AU evaluating the drawdown’s second phase as well as an update, by 30 April, on preparations for the drawdown’s third phase, taking into account the lessons identified from the first two phases. They also expect the Somali government to present a proposal for post-ATMIS security arrangements by 31 March. Souef may refer to the Somalia Security Conference held in New York on 12 December 2023, in which Somalia presented its Security Sector Development Plan, among other matters, proposing a new AU follow-on mission after ATMIS’ withdrawal by the end of 2024. He may also mention the Core Security Partners Group high-level consultative meeting convened by the AU on 13 February in Addis Ababa to discuss the impact of the drawdown’s second phase; to assess the state of preparedness to implement the third phase; and to consider the requirements for a post-ATMIS security arrangement, including the scope, size, composition, duration, and funding options of the follow-on mission.

It appears that the follow-on mission’s strategic concept of operations stipulates that the missions is expected to provide security and protection of key installations and critical infrastructure in the federal capital and federal member states; enable the continuation of political dialogue; ensure the protection of civilians; and ensure the protection of personnel, facilities, and equipment of the AU and the UN. The mission’s funding is expected to be a major issue, as the intention seems to be to seek support from UN assessed contributions. However, the US is apparently not keen to consider this follow-on mission within the framework of resolution 2719 of 21 December 2023 on the financing of AU-led peace support operations (AUPSOs). Its preference is apparently to apply the resolution to a new AUPSO with a smaller footprint and shorter duration.

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