February 2021 Monthly Forecast
Expected Council Action
In February, the Council is expected to renew its authorisation of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), due to expire on 28 February. The Council is scheduled to be briefed on the Secretary-General’s report on the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which is due 13 February. James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and head of UNSOM, will brief the Council. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), chair of the 751 Somalia Sanctions Committee, will also brief the Council on the activities of the committee.
The mandate for UNSOM expires on 31 August 2021.
Key Recent Developments
Because of an ongoing political dispute between the Somali Federal Government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo”, and leaders from two of the country’s federal member states, Puntland and Jubaland, parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2020 have been postponed. In September, the five leaders of the federal member states and Farmajo reached an agreement, subsequently endorsed by Parliament, for parliamentary elections to be held from 1 to 27 December and presidential elections on 8 February. At the time of writing, a date for the parliamentary elections had yet to be set, and the presidential elections seem likely to be postponed.
According to international media reports, there are several reasons for the disagreements between the federal government and the Jubaland and Puntland governments. These include claims that, based on long-standing precedent, Farmajo should not be allowed to run for another term and that he has attempted to bypass Somalia’s electoral laws by installing loyalists on polling committees charged with coordinating the parliamentary elections. Given the logistical and security challenges of holding direct elections (Somalia has not held direct elections since 1969), a modified indirect electoral process was agreed last year. This system allows clans’ delegates to choose members of the lower house of parliament, who will in turn choose the president.
During an Informal Interactive Dialogue (IID) with Council members on 20 January, Somali Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdirizak Mohamud explained that the federal government aimed to organise the elections in a timely manner and would like to start this process regardless of Jubaland and Puntland’s position on the matter. This position was initially mooted by Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble on 9 January when he announced that the government was planning to move forward with the elections without Jubaland and Puntland, organizing the elections in three of Somalia’s five federal states—Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West State—and Mogadishu Municipality. To date, no further steps have been taken to begin this process.
During a 25 January visit to Garowe, the capital of Puntland, Swan met with Puntland President Said Abdullahi Deni. Speaking to the media after the meeting, Swan said that there was a “need for constructive compromise between the Federal Government and Federal Member States to reach agreement over implementation of the electoral process” given that it is “in the national interest”. Speaking to the Council on 23 November 2020, Swan called for the country’s political consensus to be “preserved and indeed deepened”.
In addition to the political instability caused by the uncertain electoral process, regional relations and the security situation in the country have also been challenging in recent months. On 30 November 2020, Somalia expelled Kenya’s ambassador, with Somalia’s information minister, Osman Dube, claiming that Kenya “continues meddling in [Somalia’s] internal political affairs and…has ignored [Somalia’s] previous calls to stop violating [the country’s] sovereignty”. The expulsion came after a meeting between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Musa Bihi Abdi, the leader of Somaliland, whose 1991 declaration of independence from Somalia has not been recognised by any UN member state. At the meeting, Kenya announced that it would open a consulate in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, and begin direct flights between Nairobi and Somaliland. Somalia also accused Kenya of putting pressure on Puntland’s federal authorities to boycott the parliamentary elections.
On 25 January, fighting between Somali federal troops and Jubaland state forces resulted in the death of 11 civilians in Bula Hawa, a town near the border with Kenya. Dube claimed that the attack was undertaken by “Kenya and its guerrilla rebels”, which the Kenyan authorities denied. In a 25 January letter to the AU, the Kenyan government warned of large-scale displacement of civilians and further destabilisation in the region if the fighting in the area continued. On 26 January, the AU called on the parties to de-escalate tensions through dialogue.
Key Issues and Options
Council members will continue to follow closely progress towards parliamentary and presidential elections, including how the dialogue evolves between the Somali federal government and the governments of the federal member states, especially Jubaland and Puntland. Council members may wish to consider adopting a press statement noting the need for the elections to be organised through a consensual approach and in a timely manner.
On 8 January, the Council received the Secretary-General’s independent assessment on the configuration of AMISOM. Required under resolution 2520 renewing AMISOM’s mandate last year, the report offers a series of conclusions and recommendations on the future work of AMISOM and its relations with the Somali federal government and security forces. The assessment is likely to guide the Council’s work as it considers how to adjust AMISOM’s and UNSOM’s priorities in 2021.
There is broad consensus among Council members regarding the challenges facing Somalia. However, members remain divided on the way ahead, and differences have emerged on the Council’s approach to the country. On 12 November 2020, for example, China and Russia abstained on resolution 2551, which, among other issues, renewed the partial lifting of the arms embargo on Somali security forces. Both Russia and China argued for the inclusion of benchmarks that could begin the path towards lifting the arms embargo while objecting to the inclusion of human rights language.
There are likely to be further differences of opinion over the current political impasse. A number of members might be reluctant to address Somalia’s internal electoral processes, claiming that such a move could interfere in the country’s internal matters.
The Secretary-General’s independent assessment may also illuminate further divisions: some members see AMISOM as a crucial bulwark against the armed group Al-Shabaab and believe that removing its authorisation could create a destabilising security vacuum. EU members on the Council, and the UK, as major financial sponsors of AMISOM, are eager to see tangible improvement on the ground. Kenya, which joined the Council on 1 January, remains one of the top contributors to AMISOM and as a close neighbour is likely to be actively engaged in discussions on Somalia.
The UK is the penholder on Somalia.