Somalia stands at a critical juncture. The hopes raised in 2017 when President Mohammed Abdullahi “Farmajo” won the election – that he could unite the nation to confront its myriad challenges – have dimmed as infighting between the federal government and its member states increases. Meanwhile, the al-Qaeda franchise Al-Shabaab continues to carry out attacks in both cities and the countryside; external actors compete for influence; and both clan conflict and food insecurity persist. With federal elections approaching again in 2020 and 2021, Crisis Group aims to help the government tackle insecurity and improve governance, and the federal member states address subnational disputes. We also work to mitigate risks attending the pending drawdown of AMISOM, the African Union’s peacekeeping mission.
The coronavirus pandemic could pose a huge challenge to Somalia. To manage the crisis, the federal government should reach out to and coordinate with political rivals. It should avoid a unilateral postponement of elections due in November, which could trigger a violent backlash.
Inter-clan violence erupted in south and centre leaving more than 100 dead; Al-Shabaab attacks continued against security forces and civilians in rural areas and capital Mogadishu, and against officials in Puntland state in north; and amid ongoing tensions with federal govt, president of federal member state Jubaland consolidated his position. Inter-clan violence late March-early April killed more than 100 in Lower Shabelle, Lower Juba, Bay (all south) and Galguduud (centre) regions. Notably, rival clans 2 April reportedly clashed over land dispute in Kismayo area, Lower Juba, leaving at least twenty dead; days later, clan in town of Wanlaweyn, Lower Shabelle, reportedly launched revenge attack against rival clan, leaving over twenty dead. In south, Al-Shabaab militants launched several attacks on civilians and security forces, including Ethiopian contingent of African Union mission (AMISOM), in Gedo, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, and Bay regions; violence left at least eleven soldiers and eleven civilians dead throughout month. In Mogadishu, Al-Shabaab militants killed at least three soldiers and six civilians in several attacks, including 26 April mortar attack at UN compound which struck nearby house killing four civilians. In Puntland in north, Al-Shabaab militants 5-10 April killed two local officials in Mudug region’s capital Galkayo. U.S. airstrikes in several regions 2-10 April killed 32 Al-Shabaab insurgents including senior leader Yusuf Jiis. Ethiopian army 13 April said it had killed at least seventeen Al-Shabaab militants in airstrikes in Jubaland state’s Gedo region. Also in Gedo, fighting 22 April broke out between federal govt forces and Jubaland forces near Bula Hawa town, number of casualties unknown. Jubaland state President Madobe 23 April signed reconciliation agreement with opposition leaders who had contested his re-election in Aug 2019; late April said he was willing to reconcile with federal govt which continues to reject his re-election. Police 24 April shot and killed two civilians reportedly violating COVID-19 curfew in Mogadishu, prompting hundreds to demonstrate in following hours and day.
Somalia and Somaliland have been at odds since the latter’s 1991 declaration of independence, which the former rejects. The dispute has cooled after heating up in 2018, but lingering tensions could threaten regional stability. To restart dialogue, the two sides should meet for technical talks.
Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s Islamist insurgency, is diminished but still potent. One understudied source of its resilience is the support of women, active and passive, despite the movement’s stringent gender ideology. Understanding the range of women’s relationships to Al-Shabaab is critical to countering the group going forward.
Al-Shabaab remains focused on recapturing power in Somalia, but it continues to plot attacks in Kenya and Tanzania – and perhaps in Uganda as well. To counter the movement, East African states should eschew heavy-handed crackdowns and work instead to reduce its appeal to potential recruits.
A dispute between Puntland and Somaliland over the contested areas of Sool and Sanaag risks escalating into open war. The UN, supported by states with influence on the two sides, should renew diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire and press both to enter negotiations.
The quarrel between Gulf monarchies has spilled into Somalia, with the fragile state now caught between the rival interests of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The competition has already aggravated intra-Somali disputes. All sides should take a step back before these tensions mount further.
[The U.S. war in Somalia appears to be] on autopilot [and] people need to pay attention.
Somalia has become a chessboard in the power game between Qatar and Turkey on the one side and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies on the other.
Somalia has been caught in the middle of an effort [by some Gulf countries] to try to expand influence, commercial and military, along the coast.
Somalia’s federal system has reistered progress. The picture overall is not hopeles. But, if [the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM)] pulls out in a hasty manner, all that will be lost.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints from Somalis saying ‘There’s a huge Western navy on our shores - why can’t those people come to help us?'
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
Against all sensible advice, the Federal Government of Somalia muscled in on a local election to shove aside an Islamist conservative candidate. It scored a tactical victory but created significant additional risk for the country already wracked by conflict and divided along regional and clan lines.