With elections slated for November delayed due to COVID-19, Somalia is at a critical juncture, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today, pressing federal and state leaders to agree on voting modalities and bolster the capacity of national security forces meant to assume responsibilities in 2021.
“We understand that there are strongly held divergent views among the leaders and political tensions are high in this pre-electoral period,” said James Swan, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia. “Yet, it is precisely during such moments that it is most necessary for the nation’s leaders to engage in dialogue.”
He described a dilemma whereby Parliament must be elected through universal direct suffrage, according to the Provisional Federal Constitution. But the Constitution also stipulates that parliamentary elections must be held every four years — meaning that elections are due by the end of November. It is impossible to satisfy both requirements, he said.
In an effort to reach a compromise, Somali leaders convened in Dhusamareeb this week, he said, commending Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and the presidents of the federal member states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West for their participation. “It is incumbent on Somalia’s leaders to rise to this moment in history and pursue agreement in the national interest,” he asserted.
On the security front, he described a “worrying upsurge” in Al-Shabaab attacks, particularly in Mogadishu, drawing attention to the 16 August assault on the Elite Hotel. Somalia is to take the lead on its security matters in 2021, and while the Federal Government has completed a concept note for updating the Transition Plan, force generation has faced setbacks in meeting 2020 projections, due to COVID-19.
Francisco Madeira, African Union Special Representative, agreed that collaboration among federal and state leaders — if harnessed — can unlock the potential of Somalis. He commended the personal efforts of the President and top state officials who laid the groundwork for the Dhusamareeb process.
Underscoring the importance of these meetings, he said “they should cease to be historical developments” and instead, “be made to repeat themselves at such a frequency that they become normal events”, uniting leaders in a common purpose to make the country a better place for all Somalis. “The Dhusamareeb process deserves our unwavering support.”
For its part, the African Union, through its mission in Somalia, will continue to secure the process and offer its political support, he said. African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) police, which will play a key role in election security, are training their Somali counterparts on the mapping tools used in election security threat assessment. He pointed to the lack of Somali security forces to take over areas currently under AMISOM control as a pressing issue that must be tackled, as the Mission’s ability to target Al-Shabaab is hampered by its need to continue protecting towns already liberated.
In the ensuing dialogue, delegates agreed that Somalia is at a critical juncture amid significant electoral delays and incomplete security arrangements. Broad agreement among major stakeholders will be needed to chart a viable way forward.
South Africa’s representative, also speaking for Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, reiterated the need for a “one person, one vote” system and for the resolution of electoral issues. He welcomed the identification of two possible election options and urged national stakeholders to reach a timely, consensus-based decision as soon as possible.
France’s delegate said elections should be held as soon as possible in early 2021, describing Parliament’s removal of the President in a vote that did not comply with international rules as “not conducive to reconciliation”. Calling on Somalia, the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union to bolster support for the security sector post-2021, she called for a more transactional approach to be taken in these talks. Benchmarks outlined in resolution 2520 (2020) must be met, she assured.
China’s delegate highlighted the elimination of terrorism as another priority, stressing that international support is needed to build the capacity of national security forces.
On that point, the Russian Federation’s delegate said the fight against extremists is hampered by the shortage of helicopters for AMISOM and dearth of progress made in restoring local administration in liberated areas. He called AMISOM “the linchpin” in efforts to fight extremism, and given its phased closure, it is important to build the capacity of the Somali National Army. He objected to efforts to forcibly push through the drawdown.
Offering the national perspective, Somalia’s delegate outlined progress in the lead-up to planned “one person, one vote” parliamentary elections, underscoring the Government’s determination to facilitate their success. “The challenge for Somalia has been the monopolization of legitimate power by a few at the expense of the Somali people,” he said, pointing to those who still seek to derail the democratic process “with a narrow focus on old, broken exclusive politics”.
Spoilers cannot be tolerated at this critical moment, he warned, urging Somalia’s international partners not to give in to such pressures.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Belgium, Dominican Republic, United States, Estonia, Viet Nam, Germany and Indonesia.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 11:55 a.m.
JAMES SWAN, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), said top Somali leaders convened in Dhusamareeb this week in an effort to reach a compromise on how to proceed with the 2020/2021 elections. Commending Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and the presidents of the federal member states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West for their participation in the meeting, he expressed regret over the absence of Puntland President Said Deni and Jubaland President Ahmed Islam Madobe.
“We understand that there are strongly held divergent views among the leaders and political tensions are high in this pre-electoral period,” he said. “Yet, it is precisely during such moments that it is most necessary for the nation’s leaders to engage in dialogue and present their best ideas to find solutions.” On 27 June, the Chairperson of the National Independent Electoral Commission briefed the House of the People, stressing that “one person, one vote” elections could take place no earlier than March 2021 — only if manual voter registration were used — or in August 2021, if the Commission used biometric registration.
Describing the dilemma, he said that under the Provisional Federal Constitution, Parliament must be elected through universal direct suffrage. But the Constitution also stipulates that parliamentary elections must be held according to a prescribed deadline, every four years. This means that parliamentary elections are due by the end of November 2020; however, it is impossible to satisfy both of these constitutional requirements. As the Constitutional Court has never been formed, there is no credible judicial body to resolve this constitutional problem. A solution requires broad political agreement.
Welcoming that Federal Government and member state leaders met virtually on 22 June, and then in person from 18 to 22 July in Dhusamareeb, he said these meetings became possible after Mr. Farmajo reached out to Mr. Madobe in a conciliatory gesture. Leaders in Dhusamareeb agreed on the goal of timely and credible elections acceptable to all, and they authorized a Technical Committee to present detailed options for consideration at their follow-up summit, which started on 15 August. Regrettably, cooperation in July was undermined by political events, as some federal member states and political parties reacted negatively to the removal of the Prime Minister from office.
Noting that Mr. Farmajo and three state leaders returned to Dhusamareeb on 15 August, as agreed, he said it is up to Somali stakeholders to determine a model that will guide the electoral process. It should preserve the tradition of peaceful rotation in office every four years, be implementable, ensure far broader representation than the 2016 model, include women and make progress towards “one person, one vote” elections. “It is incumbent on Somalia’s leaders to rise to this moment in history and pursue agreement in the national interest,” he said, also welcoming the summit of Somalia and Somaliland leaders convened by Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh on 14 June, with facilitation by the European Union and the United States.
Turning to a “worrying upsurge” in Al-Shabaab attacks, particularly in Mogadishu, he said the 16 August assault on the Elite Hotel was among a growing number of attacks across Somalia. While long-term security requires improved governance and justice systems, he said there is also an unquestionable requirement for “hard security” operations to counter Al-Shabaab. Recalling that 2021 is a critical year in which Somalia takes the lead on its security matters, he said the Federal Government completed a concept note for updating the Somalia Transition Plan. Technical teams comprising Somali security leaders and international partners began work on the update this week.
He said force generation has faced setbacks in meeting 2020 projections, owing to COVID-19. While the Comprehensive Approach to Security continues to operate at the technical level, it would be enhanced by strategic-level guidance, as called for by resolution 2520 (2020). Noting that the United Nations Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS) has contributed reliably to African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) operations and 10,900 Somali security forces, he looked forward to the independent assessment called for by the Council, in preparation for security decisions to be taken in 2021.
On the humanitarian front, he described recurring cycles of floods and drought, compounded by desert locusts and COVID-19, stressing that more than 5 million people — one third of Somalia’s population — still require aid and that the $1 billion Humanitarian Appeal is funded at around 50 per cent. He expressed hope that the new Government and Prime Minister — once appointed — will accelerate the reform agenda for national development.
“Progress in Somalia requires a long-term commitment to governance, justice, respect for human rights, and inclusion of women, youth and minorities to build the nation,” he said, registering concern over the introduction in Parliament of a bill titled, “The Law on Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes”, which would violate protections against child marriage and forced marriage. It does not conform to international human rights commitments to which Somalia is party and he urged that the previous 2018 Sexual Offenses Bill be reintroduced for consideration.
FRANCISCO MADEIRA, African Union Special Representative, said significant developments are due in large part to the determination of Somalia’s leaders to consult on all steps in strengthening the country’s capacity to fight Al-Shabaab. Collaboration between leaders of the Federal Government and the federal member states — if harnessed — can unlock the great potential of Somalis, uniting them in solidarity. He commended the personal efforts of the President and leaders of the federal member states who — through emissaries, consultations and mutual reassurances — laid the groundwork for the Dhusamareeb process.
Recalling that in Dhusamareeb, the President met with the presidents of Jubaland and Puntland, among others, he underscored the importance of these meetings. “They should cease to be historical developments” and instead, “be made to repeat themselves at such a frequency that they become normal events”, with leaders united in a common purpose to make the country a better place for all Somalis. He expressed regret that two leaders did not attend the meetings, noting that the friends of Somalia have an important role to play in making peace a reality.
“The Dhusamareeb process deserves our unwavering support,” he said, as it presents a clear signal of intent by leaders to work towards a political process. “This was the missing link. Now, it seems to be closed and we should not miss this opportunity.” Through AMISOM, the bloc is supporting Somali security forces, but more trust among the leaders will be required for the talks to succeed. The African Union will continue to secure the process and offer its political support, where and when needed. Welcoming the developing dialogue between the President and Somaliland leader, he pointed out that the latest talks in June mark the second round of discussions held in 2020. “More importantly, this is evidence of Somalia’s commitment to dialogue as a means to resolve national differences,” he said, pressing the Joint Technical Committee to likewise continue its discussions.
He said resumed dialogue between the Federal Government and the federal member states can serve as a catalyst to achieve national priorities. It has already allowed for frank discussions on the issue of elections. Partners must ensure that discussions remain inclusive, as this will determine how any consensus achieved in Dhusamareeb is implemented. The AMISOM police component, which will play a key role in election security, is engaging its Somali counterparts and providing training on the mapping tools used in election security threat assessment. It is essential that the work of the National Election Security Task Force resume as soon as possible, he added.
Expressing concern over the threat of Al-Shabaab, notably its sustained attacks against Government officials, businesses, civilians and international actors, he called for enhanced coordination and information-sharing between the Federal Government and the federal member states, particularly in the run-up to elections. More must be done to hamper the group’s operational capacity, as it has attempted to undermine the Dhusamareeb process and sow national discord. Citing resolution 2520 (2020), he said AMISOM continues to implement the transition plan. With the Somali security forces, it has carried out targeted operations to disrupt and deny Al-Shabaab free movement. It has secured supply routes and mentored Somali security forces, notably in Lower Shabelle, where recovered areas remain secure.
He said the African Union has been at the forefront of security in Somalia since 2007, stressing that the capabilities of the country’s security institutions must continue to increase. He welcomed that work to revise the transition plan is ongoing and the Government has set a clear vision of what strategic priorities to pursue. The federal member states have been fully involved in the preparation of the revised transition plan and their views are reflected in the documents being produced. A reviewed plan must focus on practical elements, including consensus on priority locations for transition and agreements on the realignment of tasks, particularly for international partners, as called for in African Union Peace and Security Council communiqué 923.
He described the lack of Somali security forces to take over areas currently under AMISOM control as a pressing issue that must be tackled head on. The problem is hampering the ability of AMISOM forces to reconfigure and create mobile units to take targeted operations against Al-Shabaab, as they are forced to continue protecting towns they have liberated from the group. “Realistic and feasible approaches need to be identified to effectively address the issue of the slow pace of generation of [Somali National Army] SNA forces,” he assured. Pointing to communiqué 923, on the need for a comprehensive, independent assessment, he called for a joint African Union-United Nations effort to deliver this assessment.
JAMES PAUL ROSCOE (United Kingdom) condemned the deplorable Al-Shabaab attacks that continue to undermine peace and security in Somalia, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “Somalia is at a critical juncture,” he said, calling for urgent agreement on a timely and inclusive political path forward. Such a road map must represent a move further away from clan-based political processes, with broad-based support from all stakeholders and should include at least a 30 per cent quota for women. Expressing regret that the Presidents of Puntland and Jubaland have still not agreed to take part in the national process, he went on to echo the briefers in voicing concern about the newly proposed sexual intercourse-related crime bill. He also raised concerns about attacks on media professionals in Somalia and spotlighted the multiple humanitarian crises, which are now exacerbated by COVID-19, floods and a locust infestation. In that vein, he called on all the country’s partners to step up their humanitarian support. The United Kingdom provided $420 million to Somalia in the last financial year and is now working to support the country’s response to the coronavirus.
PHILIPPE KRIDELKA (Belgium) welcomed the resumption in July 2019 of dialogue between Somalia’s Federal Government and its federal member states, calling for an inclusive outcome that is the fruit of compromise — not of unilateral decisions. Pointing out that Belgium chairs the Council’s Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict, he said the group recently adopted a set of conclusions about the situation in Somalia and, among other things, is troubled by the proposed new sexual intercourse crimes bill which is incompatible with the country’s international obligations. He went on to agree with other speakers that attacks by Al-Shabaab remain the most crucial security threat facing the country. In that regard, he recalled the European Union’s support to AMISOM, its capacity-building mission (EUCAP) and its anti-piracy at sea operation. The bloc also provides significant support to the Somali population, including reconstruction assistance and basic services, he said.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) welcomed resumed dialogue between the Federal Government and Federal member states in July, calling it essential to achieving peace. He urged parties to lay the groundwork for constructive and transparent dialogue towards political agreement to conclude the review process. Consensus among leaders will ensure that upcoming elections are viable and based on modalities that are accepted by all. Condemning recent Al-Shabaab attacks, notably that on 16 August against the Elite Hotel in Mogadishu, he said women’s greater participation in public and political life is essential. It is vital to achieving sustainable peace. The participation of young people is also necessary in order to overcome pressing challenges. Expressing concern over the triple threat posed by COVID-19, locust plagues and floods that have displaced thousands of people, he called for international participation in the assistance fund for Somalia.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said Somalia faces profound opportunity and elections must be kept on track to advance stability and security. Its challenges require concerted efforts by its leaders. Citing a withdrawal decision by the lower house of Parliament, she said such actions have undermined dialogue and negotiation between the Federal Government, federal member states and others. She encouraged them to “hammer out a way forward” for holding elections, which must be timely, secure, implementable and built on broad consensus through a Somali-owned and led process. Parties should agree on a model that can be carried out by 2021. Momentum also must continue on reform efforts that brought about the re-establishment of ties with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other organizations. For its part, the United States will remain a close partner of Somalia. With more than $5.3 billion in bilateral foreign assistance over 20 years, it is working to improve food security, water, sanitation and hygiene services. Expressing concern over Al-Shabaab attacks, she welcomed that military gains against the group have been followed by efforts to hold vital territory. As elements of the transition plan are behind schedule, she called for accelerated efforts to transfer responsibilities to Somali security forces.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), also speaking for Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, commended the Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states for their recent consultations, which are a first step towards a consensus agreement on such crucial issues as electoral modalities, power-sharing and security arrangements. Reiterating the need for a “one person, one vote” system and for the further resolution of electoral issues between the Federal Government and the federal member states, he welcomed the identification of two possible election options and urged national stakeholders to reach a timely, consensus-based decision as soon as possible. Turning to the security situation, he joined others in condemning recent attacks by Al-Shabaab. The Federal Government — with support from the United Nation and international partners — should continue its work to prepare national forces to take over all security responsibilities. In that regard, he also called on partners to mobilize more resources, including through the Trust Fund for AMISOM. He also underlined the need to support the peaceful coexistence between Somalia’s various clans and to stand firm against all sexual and gender-based crimes and the recruitment of children. Against the backdrop of the “triple threat” of COVID-19, climate-related shocks and locust infestation, he welcomed expanded support from the international community and voiced support for the renewal of UNSOM’s mandate for another 12 months.
KRISTEL LÕUK (Estonia) welcomed the resumption of dialogue between the Federal Government and the federal member states in Somalia and encouraged all stakeholders to continue to such talks — focusing particularly on the modalities for the upcoming election. It is crucial that no unilateral actions are taken and a broad-based consensus must be reached. Echoing concerns about the newly proposed sexual crimes bill, which is inconsistent with international law, she welcomed the conclusions of the Council’s Working Group on Children in Armed Conflict and looked forward to their implementation. All stakeholders must ensure that progress is made on the security front, she stressed, calling on the Federal Government to update Somalia’s transition plan. She joined other speakers in expressing deep concern about the country’s humanitarian situation, as well as over the fact that the international response plan remains underfunded, calling on partners to bridge that shortfall.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) welcomed Mogadishu’s efforts to achieve stability and establish democratic institutions, expressing support for Somalia’s territorial integrity and unity. He expressed hope that this week’s summit will help to flesh out the modalities for elections. The Council should support Mogadishu’s efforts to enact a “one person, one vote” electoral model, which could help Somalia extricate itself from political deadlock and “state of all-out war”. It also could hamper Al-Shabaab, which is keen to maintain the traditional electoral model. The Russian Federation is troubled by the interruption in talks between Somaliland and the Federal Government, and he urged parties to explore efforts towards dispute resolution. The fight against extremists, meanwhile, is affected by the shortage of helicopters for AMISOM and dearth of progress made in restoring local administration in areas that are now free of an extremist presence. Calling AMISOM “the linchpin” in efforts to fight extremism, he said that, given its phased closure, it is particularly important to build the capacity of the Somali National Army. He objected to efforts to forcibly push through the drawdown. The Council should be judicious and put forward measures that provide assistance to authorities with the aim of ending the crisis.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam) welcomed the July meeting between leaders of the Federal Government and federal member states, as well as the adoption of the political party law by the House of the People. Expressing support for the elections implementation plan set out by Somalia, which aims to ensure the participation of all people and political parties, he urged the Federal Government and federal member states to reach consensus on the modalities and timing of the polls, including on the representation of minorities. The United Nations meanwhile should increase its technical assistance. He stressed the importance of unity and national reconciliation, as well as efforts by the Government and political leaders in maintaining a stable environment for dialogue. Floods, locusts and the onset of COVID-19 have all threatened food security and livelihoods. The risks of COVID-19 infection remain high and he urged international partners to help Somalia alleviate the impact of this triple threat. Condemning the suicide bombing against the Elite Hotel, he urged international partners to provide capacity-building for Somali security forces.
GÜNTER SAUTTER (Germany) emphasized that credible, free, fair and credible elections in late 2020 will be a yardstick by which the current Somali administrations will be measured. Acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic will make that outcome more difficult, he rejected the current options on the table, as well as all attempts at unilateral decision-making. While spotlighting some progress, he said the speedy nomination of a new Prime Minister is crucial and a new political transitional plan is urgently needed. He also echoed concerns about the newly proposed sexual crimes bill, reminding Council members of Somalia’s questionable record in that arena. Indeed, the Secretary-General’s recent reports note that Somali security forces were responsible for one in three sexual crimes in recent years. Among other things, he underlined the crucial nexus between climate and security in Somalia, calling for more work to address those challenges.
DAI BING (China) said the Federal Government of Somalia has made earnest efforts in the political arena, but now faces several serious new challenges. Calling for efforts towards enhanced State institutions and a peaceful political transition, he underlined the important roles being played by regional mediators and UNSOM and expressed support for a resolution renewing the latter’s mandate for 12 months. Noting that the holding of successful elections will be critical, he called for continued dialogue on specific electoral arrangements in the context of the situation on the ground and the wishes of the population. The international community should respect such national decisions. He went on to spotlight the elimination of terrorism as another crucial priority, calling for international support for building the capacity of the national security forces. The triple shock of crises facing Somalia has gravely impacted the country’s social and economic development, as well as its humanitarian situation, and requires enhanced international support. China has long provided both humanitarian assistance and development support to Somalia — having already sent two batches of medical supplies since the onset of COVID-19 — and will continue to do so, he said.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said talks between the Federal Government and federal member states led to an agreement to hold elections on schedule, but no agreement was secured on the modalities. It is essential that elections be held as soon as possible in early 2021. She described the removal of the President by Parliament in a vote that did not comply with international rules as not conducive to reconciliation. As Somalis should be ensuring their own security by 2021, the transfer of duties from AMISOM to federal and regional security forces must continue, she said, noting that authorities must update the transition plan by September to ensure it is operational by 2021. There is also a need for a new force generation plan. Calling on Somalia, the European Union, the United Nations and the African Union to bolster support for the country’s security sector post-2021, she said France wishes to see a more transactional approach taken in these talks. Benchmarks outlined in resolution 2520 (2020) must be met. The current support model for Somalia cannot be taken for granted. The European Union financing model is not sustainable. If the bloc is to maintain support for the security sector, it is contingent on its participation in AMISOM’s strategic decisions and financial contributions by other partners. She also expressed concern over the humanitarian situation, stressing that the protection of civilians must be considered in the reform process.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia), Council President for August, spoke in his national capacity to stress that all Somali stakeholders and international partners must work together. Welcoming the discussions between federal states leaders in Dhusamareeb, he said that only through dialogue can they advance the reform agenda. Indonesia is hopeful that consensus can be reached on the electoral modalities. It is also important to advance national priorities and State-building efforts. Condemning attacks by Al-Shabaab, including against the Elite Hotel and the AMISOM compound, he said the perpetrators must be brought to justice. Despite continued operations against the group, it is still able to conduct high-profile attacks. The Somali National Army must be equipped with training, including on encountering improvised explosive devices, he said, underscoring the importance of accelerating force generation efforts in order to hold recovered areas. To address the triple threat of COVID-19, floods and locusts, he advocated support for the humanitarian response plan.
ABUKAR DAHIR OSMAN (Somalia) outlined progress in the lead-up to planned “one person, one vote” parliamentary elections, underscoring his Government’s determined to facilitate their success through the recently adopted electoral bill. “The challenge for Somalia has been the monopolization of legitimate power by a few at the expense of the Somali people,” he said, vowing to bring people to the centre of the country’s democracy. To that end, President Famajo is currently meeting with key leaders of the federal member states about electoral modalities. However, some still seek to derail the democratic process “with a narrow focus on old, broken exclusive politics”. Spoilers cannot be tolerated at this critical moment, he warned, urging Somalia’s international partners not to give in to such pressures.
Noting the Federal Government’s focus on building a well-trained armed force and accountable institutions to take over security responsibilities, he went on to spotlight the recent achievement of debt relief which has made access to resources easier during the COVID-19 pandemic. Against that backdrop, he noted that the UNSOM mandate “seems to be increasing in a way that is not proportionate with the efforts […] and achievements of the Federal Government” and fails to reflect the realities on the ground. The time has, therefore, come to reassess the needs of the United Nations in Somalia with a view towards formulating a more flexible and responsive mission, he said.