Who is holding Somalia’s tight rope to historic elections?


EDITORIAL | Somalia’s story in 2020 could be one of inspiration or disillusionment. And depending on who you ask, certain people may be credited for leading to that mark or diverting the country’s journey to an unknown territory.

This week particularly marks a milestone for Somalia: The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) begins its planned troop drawdown on February 28, reducing its numbers by about 1,000 initially. As advised by the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2472 of 2019, AMISOM was to begin gradual withdrawal from Somalia and totally remove the ground forces by end of 2021.

It is envisaged that every gap left by the departing AMISOM Forces is filled by local Somali National Army forces, supposedly trained and equipped to hold their own against the Al-Qaeda's East Africa ally, Al-Shabaab.

Whether that would be seen by next year is debatable. But this week, Mr. James Swan, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Somalia told the UN Security Council Al-Shabaab was still a capable militant group.

“Regrettably, Al-Shabaab retains the ability to conduct large scale attacks in Mogadishu, including against the UN and the international community, and in the recently recovered areas in Lower Shabelle,” Swan said on February 24.

“It is also able to generate significant revenue through extortion, as well as to conduct operations beyond Somalia’s borders.

The Somali government, AMISOM, and UNSOM (the UN Office in Somalia headed by Mr. Swan) prepared a Joint Threat Assessment, as requested by the Council and the African Union Peace and Security Council. That assessment shows Somalia’s force generation must be improved.

To be fair, Somalia has had good stories lately. It just qualified for debt relief eligibility to both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Under a program known as Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative, Somalia is due to benefit from a package that could go a long way to cut its national debt, now estimated to be $5.3 billion, most of it as arrears from the 1980s.

This week, the IMF approved a $334 million debt relief package for Somalia, while the African Development Bank (AfDB) approved a donor-supported arrears clearance program worth $122 million. Somalia owes about $1.5 billion to multilateral lenders like IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB), so the debt clearance or relief may take longer to be fully implemented.

But these victories, argued Finance Minister Dr. Abdirahman Beileh this week, will motivate the country to work on the requirements “we have seen their benefits.”

Some of those benefits, for example, include things like the AfDB lifting sanctions on Somalia, making Mogadishu eligible to receive project financing support, crucial to build roads, airports and utility services.

It also makes Somalia eligible from getting funding from other lenders, who often read multilateral lender reports on countries with a fine tooth comb.

But that is not all. Mr. Swan did tell the UN Security Council that achieving debt relief was a welcome success. But Somalia also needs to hold universal suffrage elections, finalize a federal constitution, defeat Al-Shabaab and consolidate the federal system.

Already, Somalia has passed key legislation to strengthen fiscal management, data collection, and the electoral system. But still, there are unclear issues.

“For Somalia to navigate the remaining challenges and achieve its ambitious priorities, all Somalia’s stakeholders must work together in the national interest,” Swan said.

“This responsibility begins with Somalia’s leaders. It is for them to engage in dialogue in a spirit of national unity and set aside narrow political interests to strengthen Somalia’s state, security, and prosperity.”

It has been this way since May last year though: President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo trying to control regions, but federal government accusing him of breaking up federal autonomies. In turn, there hasn’t been any consensus on the date of elections or even the type.

The recent electoral law, for example, doesn’t address the code of conduct, nature of constituencies, how to ensure everyone takes part in elections as well as the sensitive issue of Somaliland participation.

Abdulmalik Abdullahi, a researcher on the Horn of Africa affairs argues elections could be held only if the federal government and federal member states can have a political settlement.

“The center (Federal government of Somalia) and periphery (Puntland and Jubaland) have to reinstate their relations,” he said, referring to the recent tiffs between the two regions and Mogadishu.

“There has to be a joint mapping of election zones…The mapping of election zones will come in if the current model stipulated in the Election law is to be applied wholesomely. If the 2016 model (or enhanced) is to be used then there shall be no need for mapping of election zones,” he added, referring to the suggestion for the one-person-one-vote as intended or the collegiate system used in 2017 elections.

But there has been so much bad blood between the center and the periphery. Some observers think Mogadishu has to start seeing regions as stakeholders, not spoilers.

“The days of forcing or using disinformation and violence to govern are over,” Hamza Abdikadir Sadik, a political analyst in Mogadishu argued on his Twitter page.

“They have been over for decades but Villa Somalia refuses to learn the lessons that would take us all forward. We (either) meet at dialogue table or you will find it hard to enforce illegitimate and unfair orders,” he said referring to the official residence of the Somalia President.

The context was the recent deployment of SNA forces to Jubaland, ostensibly to guard the borders with Kenya, but seen by local authorities as interference. The US has since opposed the deployment, warning it could embolden al-Shabaab if key partners turn against each other.

One reason this cooperation is necessary is to ensure the weak National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) can work across the country. As it is, the Commission is vilified in Jubaland and Puntland, meaning it cannot start any civic education or even register voters.

Some experts though think Somalia’s external partners have to be clear on what will help Somalis. Mr. Abdullahi Hassan, a lawyer, and Researcher at Amnesty International argued views of the international community have not always been the best such as emphasizing a type of election while ignoring crucial issues.

“I wondered why the IC (International Community) made this a priority in a country that is one of the worst human rights and humanitarian crises in the world,” he posed.

“Is 1P1V (one-person-one-vote) election going to solve the food insecurity resulting from the locust invasion? Is it going to improve security in the country? Is it going to reconcile clans and end clan conflict and current political deadlock between FGS (federal government of Somalia) and FMS (Federal member states of Somalia)? Is it going to address the IDP situation?” he added, referring to the internally displaced people of which Somalia is said to have 1.1 million of its total 15 million people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

That, it appears, could be what may cut Somalia’s tight rope to the elections.


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