2020 was set to be the year in which universal suffrage was realized in Somalia for the first time since the outbreak of civil war in 1992.
This outcome is now looking increasingly remote. Despite recent agreement on new elections, there remains a lack of consensus over the exact form they should take, amid ongoing distrust between and within Somalia’s federal government and the federal member-state governments.
Aside from undermining institutional progress in the country, such discord has also had a very real effect on the fight against Al Shabaab. Earlier this year, ACLED warned that a weak government in Somalia faced a high risk of being dominated and isolated by Al Shabaab. Analysis of the latest data indicates that this prediction has been borne out.
In July, the Dhuusamarreeb forum engaged the federal government and the federal member states in direct discussions over matters of security and the evolution of political processes in the country. The forum was seen as a positive step and ended in agreement over the holding of national elections before the end of the year (Garowe Online, 23 July 2020).
This is where the agreement ends, however. President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo has continued to push for one person, one vote elections (Somalia Affairs, 22 July 2020), despite the electoral commission having earlier declared that credible popular elections would be impossible to hold this year (CGTN, 28 June 2020).
In contrast, federal member states released a joint statement calling for the development of an alternative model to one person, one vote, in order to guarantee that the upcoming election will take place within the scheduled time (Garowe Online, 13 July 2020).
Furthermore, the post-Dhuusamarreeb removal of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire from office in a vote of no confidence by parliament has worsened discord between governments. Puntland President Said Abdullahi Dani declared the removal ‘illegal,’ accusing President Farmajo of dishonesty and orchestrating the vote of no confidence in order to push for an election delay (Garowe Online, 27 July 2020).
This is a sentiment that has been echoed by the federal parliamentary opposition (Garowe Online, 26 July 2020). Key international partners, including the European Union and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), have also expressed their concerns (DW, 28 July 2020).
The current distrust between the various governments of Somalia is symptomatic of a much wider dissonance. These are profound disagreements which connect to territorial control, political legitimacy, and the very structures defining the Federal Republic of Somalia.
They have spilled out into direct violent confrontation between rival state forces. Since the beginning of the year, clashes have been reported between Somaliland and Puntland forces over territorial disputes in the Sool and Sanaag regions, as well as between Galmudug and Puntland forces in Mudug. Jubaland forces and the Somali National Army (SNA) also clashed in Gedo over the Jubaland government’s alleged protection of a fugitive former minister wanted by the central government. Meanwhile, the Sufi militia Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa (ASWJ), former allies with the state in the fight against Al Shabaab, clashed with state forces in Dhuusamarreeb city over rival claims to the presidency of Galmudug state (VOA, 29 February 2020). ASWJ and Somali state forces had largely refrained from fighting each other since the signing of a peace accord in 2017.
Sustained political infighting has undermined the state’s ability to effectively counter the influence of Al Shabaab.
Al Shabaab’s operational activities have been allowed to intensify, despite ongoing military support from the United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) and African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeeping forces, which had their mandate extended to 2021.
Although attacks against civilians have not noticeably increased, Al Shabaab engagement in battles, as well as explosive and remote violence events, has risen substantially in the first half of 2020.
Between January and July 2020, ACLED records a 49% increase in Al Shabaab-directed remote violence when compared with the first seven months of 2019. ACLED also records a 28% increase in the number of battles involving Al Shabaab.
Although an intensification of operations could also be associated with an attempt to exploit government vulnerabilities during the coronavirus pandemic, this would appear to be a secondary factor. Battles involving Al Shabaab were already at elevated levels in January, while Al Shabaab directed remote violence began an upward trend in February, with more events reported in the first half of March 2020 than the whole of March 2019. The first coronavirus case was not reported in Somalia until 16 March.
More than just an intensification of operations, Al Shabaab has also demonstrated an increasingly bold strategy in attacks targeting the upper echelons of government. Al Shabaab assassinated the state governors of Puntland-controlled Nugal and Mudug in suicide bombings in March and May, respectively.
Meanwhile, the chief of the SNA, General Odawaa Yusuf Rageh, narrowly escaped an attempt in Mogadishu’s Hodan district in July.
Although Al Shabaab has frequently orchestrated the targeted killings of military officers, an assasination attempt on such a senior military figure is unheard of in recent years (Africanews, 14 July 2020).
The ability of Al Shabaab to orchestrate attacks on senior political and military figures highlights the operational strength of the group in 2020, but also exposes substantial state weaknesses exacerbated by political infighting across and between the Somali federal government and the various regional governments.
Following the assassinations of the governors of Nugal and Mudug, the president of Puntland Said Abdullahi Dani went so far as to imply that Al Shabaab was being used by unspecified political actors within the government (BBC Somali, 22 May 2020).
In 2020, political turmoil, highlighted by the dismissal of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire and ongoing uncertainty surrounding national elections, has undermined efforts to strengthen the Somali state and its security apparatus. At the same time, Al Shabaab has demonstrated its ability to intensify its general operations and to strike at the heart of government through targeted attacks on key political and military figures. Al Shabaab has capitalized on a state split by internal conflict, becoming increasingly bold in 2020.
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ACLED / Balkantimes.press