By Maddy Burt
Somalia is in crisis, battling against violent Islamic insurgents, a locust invasion, and severe food shortages. On top of this, it is now facing a political challenge that threatens to plunge the country into increasing turmoil and conflict.
The Horn of Africa nation has faced great instability for decades following the chaos of the 1991 overthrow of President Siad Barre’s military government. This led to clan warfare, and saw the rise of al-Shabaab, an Islamic insurgent group based in Somalia that is allied to al-Qaeda.
At one time, al-Shaabab controlled much of the capital, Mogadishu, and large areas in the Somali countryside. More recently, it has been pushed back from the capital and other population centres by an African-Union led military campaign. However, it threatens to reemerge in relatively stable areas due to the security vacuum caused by the current political turmoil.
Solidified by a deal made last September, late 2020 and early 2021 were set to see the holding of indirect parliamentary and presidential elections. Under
this agreement, the plan was for 27,775 special delegates chosen by clan members to pick lawmakers, who would go on to choose the president.
However, the deadline of 8th February for holding these indirect elections has now passed, after talks between the central government and federal states over how to proceed with the election broke down. Now, the coalition of opposition candidates are calling for a transitional national council to be created, whilst claiming to no longer recognise President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is also known as Farmaajo.
For three years, Farmaajo’s administration planned to hold one-man, one-vote elections, perhaps overly ambitious in a country that still sees a big al-Shaabab presence in the rural central and southern areas. The agreement that followed for indirect elections was determinedby Farmaajo and leaders from four out of five federal states in the country. However, the federal state leaders of Jubaland and Puntland soon accused the President of going back on the deal by filling the election boards with his allies.
Farmaajo asserted that he had “made compromises on everything” when attempting to reach a commitment for the election with the federal states. In particular, Farmaajo blamed “foreign interference”, most likely aimed at Kenya, for its involvement supporting armed groups in the Jubaland region. Kenya is on close terms with Jubaland’s leader, Ahmed Madobe, and it sees Jubaland as a buffer between al-Shaabab militants who are also present in Kenya. Madobe has accused Farmaajo in turn of interfering with the election process.
The central government in Somalia has a weak hold over the country, with continuing conflict between local and national forces on top of al-Shaabab insurgency. The government relies on foreign support from the United Nations and African Union in the form of security and financial aid to maintain power, and is being warned against interfering in a fair election process.
An agreement must be reached quickly to prevent increased violence, and so efforts can continue to be made to confront the ongoing humanitarian crisis. al-Shaabab has launched numerous attacks in recent weeks as unrest grows. Over one third of the population are in need of humanitarian support, and thirty years on from the 1991 rebellion, millions of people are displaced.
The future of Somalia is at stake, with the possibility of either a long yet hopeful road towards increased peace and prosperity throughout the country, or a steep descent back into conflict and war.
Image: AMISOM Public Information via Flickr