At the end of this month, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) plans to visit Somalia to interact with relevant stakeholders. Such a visit could be used to gather information about the situation on the ground, as well as to prevent tensions between the government and federal states from escalating further.
The PSC visit comes at an important time in the overall effort to sustain the progress made in the restoration of peace in Somalia. Despite numerous challenges, the country has seen a great deal of progress since the end of the third transitional arrangement in August 2012, largely through the efforts of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and its international partners. Testament to this progress are the gains made in the fight against the Islamist group, al-Shabaab, and the consolidation of the country’s federal system. However, the country is still fragile and could quickly experience a relapse in those areas where some progress has been registered.
Progress is being threatened by tensions between the federal government and the federal states Tweet this
Tension between federal states and the government
Progress is being threatened by tensions between the federal government and the federal states. In early September, the five federal states suspended cooperation with the federal government owing to grievances over resource allocation and power sharing, allegations of political interference in the internal affairs of federal member states and accusations of the government’s lacking commitment to rid the country of al-Shabaab. While one of the states, Hirshabelle, later resumed cooperation with the government, the rest have not.
The tensions and underlying grievances are not new and were in fact one of the major issues that bedevilled former president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s government. However, the situation has worsened and now poses a major threat to political stability in the country in a number of ways.
The federal states are the building blocks in the on-going state reconstruction efforts. The real danger therefore lies in the extent to which these tensions stand to erode progress in state construction efforts and threaten to isolate the central government – a move that will reverse the gains made against al-Shabaab.
One of al-Shabaab’s strengths is its ability to run alternative parallel structures Tweet this
One of al-Shabaab’s strengths is its ability to run alternative parallel structures to that of the federal government in areas under its control. Any indication of political instability in Mogadishu thus affects the government’s ability to win the respect of citizens in al-Shabaab-controlled areas and to convince them of the government’s relevance. Political stability at various levels of government is also essential for the government and federal structures to focus on the consolidation of political and security gains.
National and regional stakeholders divided
Apart from the broader impact on political stability at the national level, the implications of the tensions for political stability at the regional level have raised concerns in many policy circles. In the run-up to the mid-November 2018 presidential elections in South West State, for example, national and regional stakeholders remain divided because of accusations that two of the candidates had strong political, financial and logistical backing from political actors in the federal government.
In the run-up to the mid-November elections in South West State national and regional stakeholders remain divided Tweet this
Their participation and the associated apparent mobilisation of support for them by politicians in Mogadishu were perceived to constitute meddling by the federal government in state-level elections and as a conscious attempt by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo to oust the incumbent regional president, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan.
Members of the regional electoral commission and Adan have subsequently resigned in a move that has raised tensions and will affect the integrity of the electoral process. This has also further weakened prospects for amicable dialogue between Mogadishu and the state.
As has become clear in South West State, local political processes are increasingly becoming a contestation between the federal government, which wants regional leaders loyal to it, and regional stakeholders who are opposed to the current ruling elite in Mogadishu. Compounded by existing clan dynamics, mistrust among leaders and local political dynamics at state level, the tensions between Mogadishu and the states threaten political and security stability in Somalia.
Several elections will be held across the country in the coming years and there is a high probability that the same tensions will affect such elections in other parts of the country as well.
In addition, Somalia also currently grapples with the impact of the Gulf crisis, even as some federal states and the federal government differ over their alignment with actors in the Gulf. Other major issues requiring attention include preparations for the 2020/21 elections, border disputes between Somaliland and Puntland, and on-going discussions about the future of AMISOM and capacitating the Somali National Army to take over from the African Union (AU)-led force.
Why focus on the political tensions?
The PSC needs to make the political impasse a major component of its visit Tweet this
Despite these competing issues in the country, the tension between the federal government and the states is currently the single biggest threat to progress in Somalia.
Even though the federal government has expressed its unwillingness to accept any external mediation in resolving the tension, it is clear from the history of the crisis that successive governments have lacked the capacity to find an amicable and sustainable solution to this issue.
The PSC therefore needs to make the political impasse a major component of its visit.
Playing a role in solving the tension, however, requires extensive consultations in and outside Mogadishu. This is particularly necessary as the central government is itself an actor in the crisis. Interacting only with Mogadishu and not the federal states will raise questions about the neutrality of the AU in attempting to understand and resolve the impasse.
Going beyond Mogadishu or finding a way to meet all the stakeholders involved in the tension, either in Mogadishu or outside, will demonstrate the seriousness of the PSC in its dealings with all stakeholders. Actions that neglect the full involvement of other stakeholders risk creating other challenges.
Over the years, one of the key challenges of AU visits to conflict areas has been a perception among opposition groups that the AU favours host governments. In the case of Somalia, any discussion with Farmajo’s government without due regard to concerns raised by federal states will create problems. And while the federal states are ready for external mediation, any engagement with them without considering sensitivities in Mogadishu will also worsen the situation. It is therefore important that in this particular visit, attempts are made to engage all actors so as to provide a balanced understanding of the situation.
It is important that in this particular visit, attempts are made to engage all actors Tweet this
Need for synergy with special envoys
A month after his appointment as the United Nations’ (UN) special envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Haysom has initiated a number of visits to understand and resolve the tensions. In early November he visited several of the regional states, a move that indicates his prioritisation of these tensions in his shuttle diplomacy role in Somalia. Similarly, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) special envoy for Somalia, Mohamed Ali Guyo, also embarked on a mission to Puntland in July during which discussions were held over the Tuqaraq conflict between Somaliland and Puntland.
The PSC visit needs to take these efforts into consideration and find synergy in a way that prevents duplication and appropriately maximises the collective commitment of both the AU and the UN to deal with existing challenges to peace in Somalia.
Visiting missions to specific conflict areas or areas of concern will have to be more frequent Tweet this
Options for addressing the challenge
This is not the first time the AU is using visiting missions as an avenue for first-hand information gathering. It is, however, important for the AU to find ways of maximising its regular use as an important conflict prevention and management tool. To achieve that, the AU will have to take a number of things into consideration.
First, visiting missions to specific conflict areas or areas of concern will have to be more frequent, particularly in the midst of major threats to progress in situations such as Somalia. This will ensure that the AU’s presence and relevance on the ground, as well as the PSC’s first-hand information gathering capacity, are enhanced in a way that makes its decision-making easier.
It is also important for the PSC to consider making the visits precede discussions and briefings on particular countries. In cases where this is not possible, attempts should be made to use the visits as an avenue to address issues raised during briefings.
The options available to the PSC in this case are largely in terms of the use of its preventive diplomacy and good offices to, first, de-escalate the rising tensions, reinforce the message on the need for political consensus in making and sustaining progress, and push for a discussion of the relationship between the federal government and regional states in the on-going constitutional review process ahead of the 2020/21 elections.