By Dr Abdinasir Abdille Mohamed
“The time to plan and act is now. Somalia must not become a pariah state with an unelected government in Mogadishu managing a political transition, in the middle of an unprecedented regional crises in Eastern Africa.”
– Dr Abdinasir Abdille Mohamed
Eastern Africa, a global subregion with a population of over 400 million people, is a vast territory stretching from the Red Sea region in the north, to Mozambique along the Indian Ocean, to the south. In 2019, the African Development Bank estimated the region’s growth rate at 5.9%, before falling dramatically to 0.7% in 2020 due to the economic impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Despite years of growth, the region is generally characterized by poor governance, political instability, and ongoing conflicts. In recent years, extreme events in Eastern Africa have included civil wars, electoral violence, boundary conflicts, violent extremism, population displacement, and illegal migration. The region is also facing climate-related disasters, including droughts and locust infestations, which have worsened conditions and increased food security vulnerabilities, displacing millions of people across the region.
Within this context, the Tigray war erupted in Ethiopia in November 2020. A year later, that war has expanded from Tigray to other regions of Ethiopia, while in Sudan, the military seized power from a civilian transitional government in October, preempting any hopes of restoring democratic governance in Khartoum. Structural and economic pressures, and sociopolitical disparities, underlie inter-generational instability that unleashes upheaval upon this region, from time to time. Successive leaders have disregarded economic development objectives and have opted, in some cases, to pursue narrow politics of personal gain, domestic repression and undemocratic measures. Eastern Africa’s mostly-youthful populations have responded with actions that increase instability, political turmoil and civil unrest.
Humanitarian Crises and Election Delays
In the case of Somalia, a legacy of conflict and political instability over the past 30 years created conditions allowing the country’s youth to transition from one conflict to another. In May 2020, the UN warned that combined threats from COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and conflicts “could lead to a perfect storm” in Somalia. In October, Prime Minister Mohamed Roble appealed for international aid, as the UN reported 5.9 million Somalis needed urgent assistance.
Somalia’s struggle to rebuild peace and governance is symptomatic of underlying structural failures that successive governments failed to address. These factors contributed to the government’s inability to hold timely elections, leading to heightened political tensions that provoked armed clashes in Mogadishu, last April.
After numerous delays, federal and state-level electoral bodies concluded the 54-seat Upper House parliamentary elections in November, while only two of the 275-member Lower House MPs were elected in Mogadishu. These positive steps were overshadowed by allegations of electoral mismanagement, bribery and governmental interference, while the electoral process has dragged on without clear time limits. By mid-November, the international community was “deeply concerned about the extremely delayed election timeline” and called on Somali leaders to “swiftly re-commence and complete the electoral process.”
It is critically important for the electoral process to continue in a timely manner. Elections lacking credibility risk reversing security, governance and developmental gains of the past 20 years. Moving Somalia forward is dependent on today’s decisions. It is imperative that stakeholders work to safeguard democratic foundations of credible elections and peaceful transitions, which have been a hallmark of governance since the 2000 Somali election.
AU Mandate Reconfiguration
In 2007, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was launched to protect the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) against the threat posed by Al Shabaab extremist group and allow time for the FGS to rebuild governance institutions in Mogadishu and extend its national authority. Nearly 15 years later, Al Shabaab continues to pose a serious threat to Somalia and the region, and has carried out attacks in neighboring Kenya and Uganda. The FGS has focused on rebuilding the Somali National Army (SNA) and other security institutions, but these institutions are not yet adequately trained and equipped to fully takeover security responsibilities from AMISOM forces. Opposition parties have accused federal leaders of politicizing Somali national forces by involving them in local conflicts. This is against the legal mandate of the armed forces, who must remain politically neutral and strictly defend against violent extremism and external threats.
Amidst these major challenges, the African Union (AU) endorsed a joint mission with the United Nations (UN) in October, proposing to expand AMISOM to an AU-UN joint mission. Within days, the FGS rejected the proposed joint mission mandate and expelled a senior AU official from Mogadishu, a month later. As its governing mandate expired in February 2021, the FGS should wait until a new government is elected in Mogadishu to engage with the AU and UN on these critical, post-transition decisions.
The FGS has also failed to articulate and present its involvement in the Tripartite Agreement between Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was reportedly signed in September 2018 but has not been submitted to Federal Parliament for deliberations. These steps signify the outgoing Somali government’s concealed dealings with international actors and its disregard and lack of adherence to the country’s constitutional framework, including transparency on signing international treaties and holding elections at the end of a four-year mandate.
Recovery and Regional Impact
Somalia’s national recovery is threatened by broader regional instability. As geopolitical competition heats up, anti-US protests occurred in Addis Ababa and tension is rising between regional rivals Ethiopia and Egypt over the Nile River. The Tigray conflict in Ethiopia threatens to become a regional war, which allegedly involves Eritrean troops, and may displace tens of millions of people. Such a scenario has the potential to create unprecedented refugee flows and undermine stability. Tensions arising from delayed elections have worsened the political climate, threatening Somalia’s ability to continue political and economic recovery, and may delay the country’s capacity to take over security responsibilities from AMISOM forces.
The outgoing Somali government’s silence on the impact of regional conflicts, which could have serious security implications, is characteristic of its lack of planning, political foresight and neglect. The FGS failed to actively engage Federal Member States (FMS), opposition parties and other stakeholders, on a national issue that requires broader consultations. Failure to do so, means the outgoing Somali government has not only failed to hold timely elections, but the government has also failed to inform and prepare the nation for unprecedented regional crises.
Somali stakeholders have a duty to work together to prevent the nation from being directly engulfed by regional instability in Eastern Africa. Somali electoral bodies should focus on concluding the 2021 national elections in a unified, transparent, credible and timely process. The Somali government has a mandate to communicate to the nation about impending regional crises, engage African nations and other international partners, and formulate a contingency plan for disaster-preparedness, including drought relief efforts.
The time to plan and act is now. Somalia must not become a pariah state with an unelected government in Mogadishu managing a political transition, in the middle of an unprecedented regional crises in Eastern Africa.
Dr. Abdinasir Abdille Mohamed (Twitter: @AbdinasirAM) is a medical professional, entrepreneur, philanthropist, founder and leader of Gurmad (“Rescue”) Party. He is a presidential candidate in the 2021 Somali Election.