Somalia’s Leaders Must Avoid Risky ‘Winner-Take-All’ Tactics, Break Standoff Blocking Realization of Agreed Electoral Model, Special Representative Tells Security Council
Worried Violence Could Escalate Further, Delegates Call for Dialogue, Compromise
Somalia’s leaders must pull back from confrontation and avoid risky “winner‑take-all tactics” in efforts to break a sensitive political deadlock over the holding of elections, the top United Nations official in the East African country told the Security Council today during a videoconference meeting, as he urged stakeholders to reach an inclusive agreement, based on the electoral model agreed on 17 September 2020, as soon as possible.
“We are seeing increased brinkmanship, pressure tactics, and tests of strength that can only heighten risks,” said James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), as he presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2021/154). The standoff has blocked implementation of the electoral model agreed by the President and federal member state leaders on 17 September 2020 — one that was endorsed by both houses of Parliament and supported by all other major political actors.
He said tensions have been compounded by questions over the legitimacy of the President’s mandate, following expiry of his constitutional term on 8 February 2021. The Government cites an October 2020 parliamentary resolution permitting the President to remain, but this is contested by others. Meanwhile, violent incidents were reported during protests announced by the opposition Council of Presidential Candidates, on 19 February 2021, while public communication from leaders has become polemical and confrontational, revealing the sense of grievance felt by many.
Recapping efforts to implement the 17 September 2020 formula, he said Federal Government and federal member state leaders met in Dhusamareb from 2 to 6 February 2021, but reached no final agreement on the composition of the electoral management bodies, modalities for selecting representatives from “Somaliland” in federal institutions, or management of elections in the Gedo region of Jubaland State. The Federal Government then convened a Technical Committee of senior Federal Government and federal member state ministers, who met in Baidoa from 15 to 16 February, and subsequently resolved the contentious issues, reaffirmed commitment to the 30 per cent women’s quota in the electoral process, and noted the need for a revised but short new electoral calendar.
Noting that plans for a leaders’ summit in Mogadishu from 18 to 19 February were disrupted by recent events, and that the leaders of Jubaland and Puntland have thus far declined to join, he said he is working with regional and international partners to engage Federal Government and federal member state leaders, key political figures and civil society representatives to find a way forward, based on dialogue and compromise in the national interest.
“The consensus-based 17 September model offers the best available option to proceed quickly to an electoral process for selection of members of parliament, senators and the President,” he declared. To build trust, the management and oversight of the agreed electoral process must be as impartial and independent as possible, he said, and subject to regular monitoring. Core political freedoms of speech, assembly, organization and access to media also must be ensured.
On the security front, he said Al-Shabaab continues to pose the primary threat and has increased its operational tempo since August 2020. Military gains made by Somali security forces, backed by AMISOM in the Lower Shabelle region in early 2019 and 2020, are being consolidated to enable progress against Al-Shabaab in other areas. Meanwhile, preparatory work has been completed to advance the security transition in 2021. The Federal Government organized meetings of the Security and Justice Committee, as well as the Somalia Partnership Forum in early December 2020 — thereby advancing the Comprehensive Approach to Security and the Mutual Accountability Framework.
Encouraging the Government to hold the Force Generation Conference announced by the Prime Minister as soon as possible, he said the Security Council-mandated independent assessment of the security situation and the role of international partners was submitted on 8 January, and the Somalia Transition Plan was updated and presented by Somalia’s Government to the African Union Peace and Security Council in early February.
The humanitarian situation, meanwhile, remains dire, with the number of people in need of assistance set to increase from 5.2 million in 2020 to 5.9 million in 2021, he said, due to increasing food insecurity, climatic disasters, the worst locust infestation in decades and the effects of COVID-19. He appealed for support to the $1.09 billion Humanitarian Response Plan for 2021, stressing that positive change for Somalis will require institution-building, improvements in governance — including through constitutional reform — investment in health and education, and greater participation by women, youth and marginalized groups.
Francisco Caetano José Madeira, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), said today’s meeting takes place in the aftermath of armed clashes in Mogadishu, as leaders struggle to overcome a political impasse and pave the way for critical elections. For its part, the African Union has demanded restraint, asked the parties to refrain from any actions that could spark further violence and underlined the importance of fair and transparent democratic elections. It is now crucial for the stakeholders to return to the negotiating table in a spirit of compromise to agree on a credible process for the holding of credible elections in line with the 17 September 2020 agreement.
Noting that the recent clashes do not put that agreement into question, he pointed out that all the parties took part in recent technical discussions. Leaders should come up with a specific date to meet and explore proposals, while examining the underlying causes of the recent violence. Calling upon international partners to support the Somali leaders in such efforts, he said AMISOM continues to deliver on its election-related responsibilities, especially in the provision of election security, training and support.
Turning to the security situation, which remains volatile, he said Al‑Shabaab is attempting to maximize its ability to disrupt the election while building its capacity to carry out attacks. It continues to target aid convoys and civilians, and it is extending its tentacles farther across Somalia’s federal member states. Despite these challenges, as well as the limits imposed by COVID‑19 and seasonal rains, AMISOM has largely been able to contain Al-Shabaab’s activities and has completed various important transition tasks. In accordance with Council resolution 2420 (2018), the Mission is also carrying out duties related to the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, the African Union is working closely with its Somali partners to facilitate the handover of security-related measures.
Emphasizing that the success of Somalia’s transition plan will depend on a well-trained, well-equipped and well-resourced Somali security force, he called for the holding of the Force Generation Conference as soon as possible. He reiterated the importance of the African Union’s ongoing assessment of the situation in Somalia, advocating for that evaluation to become the basis of international support after 2021. Calling for full respect for Somalia’s sovereignty, he went on to spotlight AMISOM’s many achievements in recent years — which have shown that Somalia is “again back on its feet” — and urged the Council not to put those hard-won gains at risk as it reviews the Mission’s mandate later this week.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates expressed regret that the electoral agreement reached in September 2020 by the Federal Government and federal member states has not been fully implemented. Several voiced concern about the eruption of political violence, which could worsen if nothing is done to move beyond the current impasse, calling on leaders to seize the opportunity for dialogue and compromise.
Rita Laranjinha, Managing Director, European External Action Service of the European Union, urged Somali leaders to resume dialogue and work to overcome the political hurdles to inclusive elections, and to respect the 17 September 2020 agreement. “Parties must come together without delay to reduce further tensions and seek to break the current political deadlock,” he said. He encouraged the Federal Government to finalize its review of the Somali Transition Plan and formally endorse it at the National Security Council, with full participation of the federal member states, and the high-level Security and Justice Committee. Noting that authorities will increasingly require support to enable their own activities, he said the revised Transition Plan clearly indicates that a reconfigured African Union mission will need to retain the ability to fight Al‑Shabaab. He also pointed to the need to address force generation, training and how bilateral engagement can support the overall vision, calling for a reinforced mechanism for bringing together Somali actors with international security providers to ensure a joint approach.
Detailing the European Union’s initiatives in Somalia, he said investment in the security sector has been substantial, with more than €2.1 billion provided to AMISOM since 2007. The bloc also secured €100 million for AMISOM until the end of June, and in parallel, scaled up the provision of non-lethal equipment to the Somali security forces engaged in transition operations. It also extended for two years its common security and defence policy missions to support the Somali security forces. He called for rebuilding the regional political consensus that existed when AMISOM was launched 10 years ago, stressing that “the future stability of Somalia lies in a robust and honest political engagement — both in Somalia and with the region”.
It will also be important to define a post-2021 security framework, he said, stressing that the renewed AMISOM mandate should support the mission during the reconfiguration, and allow the African Union the time, space and ownership to act upon the conclusions of the revised Transition Plan and the United Nations Independent Assessment. He encouraged the African Union to set out its own vision, and the requirements and commitments needed to ensure that a new mandate assists Somalia in managing its own security in the medium term. The African Union’s independent assessment, along with the Peace and Security Council mandate renewal in May, should set a direction which can be captured in a new Security Council resolution in December. He therefore welcomed a 10-month renewal of the mandate, to allow for discussions on the shape of a post-2021 mission to take place.
The representative of Tunisia, also speaking for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, voiced regret that the electoral agreement reached in September 2020 by Somalia’s Federal Government and federal member states has not yet been fully implemented. Calling for restraint on the heels of violent incidents and reported casualties in Mogadishu, he underlined the importance of holding free, fair, timely, transparent and credible elections and urged the parties to refrain from any unilateral of non-consensual measures. Also expressing concern about Somalia’s volatile security situation, he condemned the latest terrorist attacks perpetrated by Al-Shabaab, which he described as the most immediate threat to the country’s security and stability. “Despite the progress achieved so far, Somalia still needs international support to fight against Al‑Shabaab and to help build State capacity until it is able to take full responsibility for its own security,” he said. As Al-Shabaab cannot be defeated by military means alone, he also called for more efforts to diminish the group’s access to finance, tackle its ability to recruit and radicalize and counter its extremist propaganda.
Spotlighting the additional need for good governance and stronger State capacity, he encouraged the Federal Government to expedite the finalization of the revised Somali Transition Plan and looked forward to its consideration and endorsement by the African Union as the basis for international partners’ continued commitment and support. Noting that a recent independent assessment agreed with the African Union’s long‑standing assertion that AMISOM is underfunded compared to similarly sized United Nations stabilization operations, he called for continuing the Organization’s support package via the United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) and other willing donors, with the AMISOM trust fund as a minimum prerequisite. That same assessment noted that the optimal solution would be to use United Nations-assessed contribution funding for a reconfigured AMISOM, and it is unfair that African troops deployed to AMISOM receive only 70 per cent of the stipends of those deployed in other peacekeeping operations, where they face considerably less risk.
He reiterated the African Union’s appeal to the Council to give it — along with the Federal Government — adequate space to lead discussions on international engagement with Somalia after 2021. The Council should refrain from pronouncing on any possible arrangements beyond 2021 until the African Union-led independent assessment, which is expected in May, is finalized. He voiced regret that Somalia’s security situation remains a major constraint to humanitarian operations and called for more dedicated international support to help AMISOM assist humanitarian efforts.
The representative of Ireland joined others in condemning recent Al-Shabaab attacks, while also noting that the country stands at a critical juncture. Voicing regret that the expected progress towards elections has not yet been achieved, she stated: “The longer this political stalemate continues, the further Somalia moves into political uncertainty.” In light of the recent unacceptable violence in Mogadishu, Somalia’s leaders must put their people first by returning to dialogue. As trust between the parties diminishes further, the African Union’s role becomes even more crucial, she said, calling for a free and credible electoral process that safeguards freedom of expression and adheres to the 30 per cent women’s quota. She also drew attention to recent successes in countering Al-Shabaab attacks — including by disrupting supply chains for improvised explosive device components — while noting that challenges remain in that regard. The Council stands unified in its support of a phased handover of primary security responsibilities to Somali authorities, which must remain central to the organ’s upcoming consideration of the AMISOM mandate. However, no progress will be possible without a political consensus on the way forward and without support for human rights, she said, adding that the time spent arguing about election modalities draws the parties’ focus away from those important tasks.
The representative of China agreed that the parties in Somalia stand at a crucial juncture, calling for no effort to be spared in supporting the country’s security and stability. All parties should exercise restraint and engage in dialogue as soon as possible in order to hold elections in a timely manner and avoid a reversal of previous strides. Pointing out that the international community has already reached a consensus on the gradual assumption by Somali forces of security-related tasks, he called for a strong international partnership to make AMISOM’s success possible, while voicing China’s support for the Mission and its critical work. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he expressed deep concern about Somalia’s many humanitarian challenges and called for more international assistance. However, countries should also help Somalia develop its economy and enhance livelihoods, he said, calling on the international community to provide a more lenient environment concerning external debt relief for the world’s poorest nations.
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed support for the Federal Government’s efforts to continue dialogue with federal member states, with a view to holding elections soon. Ultimatums, lack of a constructive approach or internecine tensions will all undermine such efforts and she rejected the flare-up of violence on 19 February, calling for efforts to place country interests above those of party, with all actors demonstrating the political will needed to maintain stability. The electoral process must respect Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and she encouraged the Special Representative to continue his role as an honest broker amid increased activity by Al-Shabaab. Somalia and peacekeepers must not reduce their efforts to fight extremists. Welcoming the Federal Government’s results in transferring security duties from AMISOM, she said the Russian Federation looks forward to upcoming decisions by the African Union in that regard, as it will be important to consider the positions of Mogadishu and regional players when renewing the AMISOM mandate. Any decision on African Union peacekeepers should consider the interests of Mogadishu and the Somali National Army, and the building of a national security architecture, she said, calling any attempt to speed up the draw down unacceptable.
The representative of France condemned violence in Mogadishu carried out in the context of a political deadlock over elections, which were meant to have established a new President on 8 February. Pressing all parties to exercise restraint, as violence only escalates clan-related conflict and plays into the hands of belligerents, she said France took note of the 15 February technical agreement on the organization of elections and called on the Federal Government and federal member states to agree, so that elections can be held on the basis of consensus. In those efforts, she underscored the need for inclusivity, especially for women, who should be candidates, as well as men. Inter-Somali dialogue, meanwhile, should aim to consolidate the rule of law. The adoption of constitutional amendments is also critical. Calling for unimpeded humanitarian access, she expressed concern about violence against children, reiterating France’s concern over the draft law on children, which does not align with regional or other instruments. Welcoming the independent assessment carried out by Carlos dos Santos Cruz, she recalled that the European Union has contributed €1.94 billion to Somalia since 2007.
The representative of the United States said Somalia is approaching an important political transition, as well as a security transition that is now taking shape. Underlining the need for the country’s leaders to seize the opportunity before them, he voiced concern about the lack of an agreed way forward on elections, as well as the eruption of political violence last week, which could worsen if nothing is done to move beyond the current impasse. Noting that the technical committee’s recent recommendations offer a clear path in that regard, he called upon all the parties to embrace them. Fighting Al-Shabaab also remains a critical challenge that requires Somali forces, which are capable of ensuring the country’s security in the longer term. More must therefore be done to cut off resources employed by Al-Shabaab and other terrorist groups, he stressed, underlining the importance of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) concerning Somalia, and calling for its use “to the fullest extent”. Finally, he noted that the United States has joined others in co-nominating three former Al-Shabaab leaders to the Council’s designated Sanctions List, and called for additional co-sponsorships from other Council members.
The representative of Mexico called on Somalia’s political leaders to continue along the path of dialogue, while avoiding actions that could further endanger the country’s security. Urging the Somali authorities to effectively control the flow of weapons across the country, he emphasized that civilians continue to suffer the brunt of terrorist attacks. It is essential that those responsible for such crimes, as well as acts of sexual violence, be punished. All parties must also commit to preventing and putting an end to human rights violations, including crimes committed against children, and the Federal Government must expedite efforts to enact a national action plan to prevent such violence. Highlighting the impact of COVID-19, the locust infestation, drought and flood on the conflict and food insecurity, he cited a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showing that millions in Somalia are now suffering from severe food insecurity and the situation is expected to worsen. Against that backdrop, he called for urgent action to alleviate the humanitarian situation.
The representative of Estonia echoed calls on the parties in Somalia to exercise restraint and calm following the violent incidents in Mogadishu, noting that continued clashes and grievances will only open opportunities for terrorist groups and spoilers to exploit. “The recent spike in Al-Shabaab activity is a stark reminder of how there is no room for error to let the political impasse derail the progress we must continue to make,” he said, calling on Somali leaders to urgently come together and put the interests of the Somali people first. Among other things, they must arrive at a broadly accepted understanding within the framework of the 17 September 2020 agreement, and hold the elections without further delays. Welcoming the recent agreement by the technical committee as a step in the right direction, he urged leaders to act on it and to implement the 30 per cent women’s quota in the upcoming vote. Also essential are efforts to protect freedom of expression and the press, as well as all human rights, he said, reiterated previous calls for Somalia to establish an independent national human rights commission for that purpose. Meanwhile, the Federal Government should take steps to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence by enacting the 2018 sexual offence bill.
The representative of India, describing the political impasse over the conduct of elections as disappointing, urged Somali leaders to engage in dialogue. He welcomed the 16 February announcement that the Technical Committee has submitted solutions to the National Consultative Council. “We now expect an early decision of the leaders towards holding of elections soon,” he said, as any delay only emboldens Al-Shabaab and other armed groups. Somali security forces and institutions will need continued support to tackle Al-Shabaab. Therefore, the transition of security responsibilities from AMISOM to the Somali forces should be carefully calibrated, as a hasty withdrawal will nullify progress made. Extension of the AMISOM mandate should not be limited by current funding constraints. Expressing deep concern about the humanitarian situation, and pointing out that conflict and economic instability have been compounded by the “triple threat” of COVID-19, desert locusts and floods, he went on to detail India’s efforts to combat piracy and ensure maritime security, notably by conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia’s coast since 2008.
The representative of Viet Nam, noting that the 17 September 2020 agreement on a national electoral process was a remarkable achievement, expressed regret that it is not fully implemented yet. He also voiced concern about the heavy gunfire and clashes on 19 February 2021 between the opposition and security forces, stressing the importance of national unity and reconciliation. He went on to urge the Federal Government and the federal member states to set aside differences to reach political consensus on the implementation of the 17 September 2020 electoral model with the modalities and timing of the elections acceptable to all Somali stakeholders. Further, he called on the United Nations and the international community to increase financial and technical assistance to achieve this end. Noting security threats posed by Al-Shabaab, he urged international partners to maintain their support for Somali security forces through training, the provision of equipment and capacity-building.
The representative of Norway emphasized that stronger participation by women in all parts of society is fundamental to progress. The Somali Women’s Charter provides a solid Somali-led and -owned foundation towards broader and more inclusive processes in all reform areas, she said, welcoming that the new electoral law stipulates a 30 per cent quota for women in the federal Parliament. Expressing support for Somalia’s efforts to ensure that revisions of the provisional federal Constitution and other legislation are in line with human rights obligations, she urged the Federal Government to enact the widely consulted version of the child rights bill, ratify the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Somalia is also highly susceptible to the effects of climate change, she pointed out, stressing the need to address related security risks through advancing the humanitarian‑development‑peace nexus.
The representative of the United Kingdom, Council President for February, spoke in her national capacity, strongly condemning the terror attacks launched by Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu in recent weeks. “These incidents appear to have increased in number as the prospect of national elections draws closer,” she observed. It is imperative that Somalia’s leaders reach a consensus on the implementation of the electoral process without delay so that inclusive national elections can take place as soon as possible. Any alternative outcomes, including partial elections or any unilateral actions that lack broad agreement, will not receive support from the international community, risk further violence and may result in great instability. Timely delivery of the electoral process would also allow Somalia’s leaders to refocus on critical issues that require urgent attention, such as the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Expressing deep concern for the millions of Somalis experiencing severe food insecurity, she urged the international community to support Somalia’s long-term stability. The Council will this week consider a renewed mandate that sets a path towards greater Somali leadership on security.
The representative of Somalia said that, in considering the political impasse around the 17 September 2020 agreement, “context is important”. The Government has worked consistently to hold federal elections, as outlined in Somalia’s provisional Constitution. Soon after the commencement of “one person, one vote” began, a practical model was negotiated. A draft law was created, based on this agreement, and presented to Parliament for legislative scrutiny. It was then voted upon and became law in February 2020. The process was to be led by the National Independent Electoral Commission, but certain leaders reneged on the “one‑person, one‑vote” model, opting instead for a model used in 2016, which has earned the label of an “incubator” for corruption, favoured by the elite whose sole interest is to maintain patronage for the few.
With international partners pressuring the Federal Government to compromise with federal member states, he said a final meeting of the National Consultative Council reached an agreement on 17 September 2020. In seeking agreement, the Federal Government compromised on the “one‑person, one‑vote” model and made other concessions: while the Federal Government wanted at least 301 people to vote for each Parliamentary seat, and proposed that elections be held with a minimum of three locations in each federal member state, leaders of those states, however, wanted two locations — so the Federal Government accepted that wish.
He said the penholders then refused to implement this agreement and instead requested further concessions — terms that were again accepted by the Federal Government. The Technical Committee, representing all stakeholders, including from Jubaland and Puntland, finalized the outstanding issues on 16 February in an agreement welcomed by all. The two Member State leaders — the penholders of the 17 September 2020 agreement — remain the obstacle to its finalization. Rather than travel to Mogadishu to attend the National Consultative Council meeting, they offered their tacit support to a protest organized by presidential candidates. While the Federal Government recognizes the right to peacefully demonstrate, these leaders brought militia into the streets of Mogadishu, the head of which publicly stated that “there is no Government and we are taking control”. On 18 February, opposition leaders then declared that there was no Government, acts which led to a loss of life.
Somalis are yearning for stability and for a Government that represents their aspirations, he said. The key to fulfilling these dreams is through free and fair elections, as agreed by all parties and finalized by the Technical Committee no more than a week ago. Stressing that the opposition’s only interest is to foment political crisis and institutional disorder, he went on to denounce foreign interference in Somalia as a means to prolong the political process. Noting that elections will be held when the two “infamous leaders” endorse the 17 September 2020 agreement, he reaffirmed the President’s invitation to the leaders of Puntland and Jubaland to join the consultative meeting to finalize the outcome of the Technical Committee, underscoring that Somalia is also determined to continue the fight against Al-Shabaab. The country has come a very long way on a journey that many thought it would undertake. Its people are committed to building a better future.