Update on Somalia: the road to recovery or the road to nowhere?

In June 2014 President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud declared that Somalia was in a “political crisis”. In May, UN Special Envoy to Somalia, Nicholas Kay, said that Somalia was approaching “a danger zone”. How far have these fears come to pass?

Government in-fighting

During the second half of 2014 relations between the president and his prime minister, Abiweli Sheikh Ahmed, seriously deteriorated. In December, Ahmed was dismissed by the Somali parliament and replaced by political veteran Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke.

There are hopes that Sharmarke’s appointment will mark a fresh start for Somalia, but there has been no shortage of false dawns in the past.

Mohamud’s election in September 2012, following a long and largely unproductive period of ‘transitional government’, was described by David Cameron as a “great step forward” for Somalia. But even then, there were plenty of sceptics.

For the first year or so after President Mohamud took office, Western supporters of the new Somali Federal Government put a positive spin on his performance. However, this has become increasingly difficult to do.

Some worry that the president has surrounded himself with a narrow clique. Factionalism and in-fighting have certainly been rife within the government.

Mohamud’s administration has barely begun to address many of the crucial tasks it inherited, such as completing a final Constitution and securing agreement on how a federal Somalia will operate. An independent constitutional review commission was finally established in May 2014 but it seems to have done little since then. Elections are due in 2016 but many wonder if they may have to be delayed.

There were several rounds of high-level talks in Djibouti between the Somali Federal Government and its Somaliland counterpart during 2014, but no meaningful progress was made towards bringing Somaliland back into the federal fold. Somaliland, which is de facto independent, is due to hold presidential and legislative elections during 2015.

Relations between the semi-autonomous region of Puntland and the Federal Government have also not been good recently, but may be improved during 2015 by the fact that Somalia’s new prime minister is from Puntland.

Corruption concerns

Nor does Mohamud’s government seem to have made a great deal of progress in combating rampant official corruption. In December 2014, Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index placed Somalia 174th out of 175.

Some steps were taken on the issue in 2014. In September, the Federal Government announced that it would cancel or renegotiate a number of large contracts ranging from oil exploration to port operations.

In October 2014, there were press reports that an adviser to the president had been accused by UN investigators of trafficking arms to al-Shabaab.

Humanitarian risks

A further challenge for the Federal Government and its donors is the fact that, three years after the last severe food crisis, Somalia is again at risk. Over three million people are reported now to need humanitarian assistance.

Al-Shabaab – down but not out

Al-Shabaab has suffered important military reverses since President Mohamud took office – most notably, losing control over Somalia’s strategically vital second city, the port of Kismayo in October 2012.

The 22,000-strong African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) launched new military offensives during 2014, which had significant success  – including capturing Barawe in October, the last port controlled by al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab has also experienced a violent split, with two senior figures, Hassan Dahir Aweys and Mukhtar Robow, forcibly expelled. In September 2014, the group’s emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed by a US airstrike. He has been replaced by Ahmad Umar Abu Ubaidah.

Some view these developments as spelling the beginning of the end of al-Shabaab, with the group likely to fracture along clan lines.

For now it survives and has been focusing less on permanently holding territory and instead on launching regular violent attacks against government-targets – including in Mogadishu. There was an attack on the Somali parliament in May 2014. In December, al-Shabaab operatives attacked AMISOM’s headquarters at Mogadishu airport, killing at least three soldiers and a civilian contractor.

Kenyan dimensions

The security gains made by pro-government forces, led by AMISOM, have not yet translated into a significantly strengthened Somali Federal Government. Its regional neighbours are highly influential in some parts of the country.

For example, since the port of Kismayo fell in October 2012, a local militia called the ‘Ras Kamboni Brigade’, led by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, has – with Kenyan backing, – taken over the government of the port city and surrounding areas. In May 2013 it declared a new regional state in the south called Jubaland. The Federal Government has felt compelled to accept this arrangement for a two-year period.

During 2014 Al-Shabaab continued its operations in Kenya, which has had forces in southern Somalia since 2011. At least 48 people died in an attack on the Kenyan coastal town of Mpeketoni in June 2014. In December, the group killed 36 Kenyan miners in a quarry near Mandera in the north-east of the country.

UK policy

The current UK Government has been heavily engaged on Somalia since it convened the London Conference on Somalia in February 2012 – and a follow-up in 2013.

The UK Government has been a strong supporter of President Mohamud since he took office in September 2012, although it shares some of the frustration of other donors with his performance, not least on corruption.

The UK backs the September 2013 ‘New Deal Somali Compact’, which is the current framework for donor support to Somalia. The UK has pledged Euro 407 million towards it between 2013 and 2016.

Under the Compact, a High Level Partnership Forum has been established. It held its first meeting in Copenhagen in November 2014.

DFID’s bilateral programme for Somalia, which operates in south-central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland, is worth £112.5 million in 2014-15.

Further reading

Author: Jon Lunn