Democratization ‘a Marathon in Tough Terrain’, Says Minister, as Members Hear from Chiefs of African Union Mission, Women’s Advocacy Group
Despite repeated delays and instances of malpractice, the election of a new Parliament marked a milestone in Somalia’s post-conflict transformation, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in that country told the Security Council today.
Michael Keating, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), urged candidates in the forthcoming 8 February presidential elections to adhere to the code of conduct they had signed, and to ensure that the final stage of the electoral process was conducted according to the agreed rules. He emphasized the need to resist pressure to change the polling date on political grounds.
“The electoral process has held up a mirror to Somalis in which they have seen the good and the bad regarding how power is exercised,” he said. While the parliamentary stage of the elections had been marred by instances of bribery, vote-buying, intimidation and delays, most of the contests had been conducted correctly and watched widely on social media.
Despite its problems, the electoral process had seen encouraging outcomes, he continued. The Upper House of Parliament had come into existence, comprising 54 members chosen on the basis of federal member state rather than clan; the electorate had expanded from 135 male elders in 2012, to more than 13,000, 30 per cent of whom were women; and voting had taken place in six locations around the country, reflecting emerging State structures.
On the security front, he said the Al-Shabaab terrorist group remained a potent threat, in part because Somalia’s approach to security had depended largely on military operations. It was imperative that the incoming President and Government agree on the architecture, ownership, funding and purpose of the Somali National Security Forces, he stressed. “Progress is fragile and reversible, and fraught with complexity,” he noted. However, the stage was being set for Somalia to move into a new phase in terms of sustaining peace, resolving violence and building a functioning federal State.
Also briefing were Francisco Caetano José Madeira, Special Representative and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and Asha Gelle Dirie, founder and Executive Director of the Asha Gelle Foundation and Chairperson of the Committee of Goodwill Ambassadors.
Mr. Madeira said AMISOM was working hand in hand with the Somali National Security Forces to provide a safe environment in which the political process could thrive. Despite logistical, financial and operational challenges, the Mission supported Somali operations and training, while its police units carried out their mandated tasks in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Kismayo, Beledweyne, Jowhar and Adaado, he said, noting the limited nature of AMISOM’s resources. Recovering enemy-controlled areas would require the deployment of additional forces, as well as combat and stabilization capabilities. He urged the United Nations and others to provide one-time support to enable AMISOM to conduct specific military operations ahead of its imminent drawdown. There was also need for a comprehensive approach to security anchored by functioning State institutions, democratic governance, humanitarian assistance and capable national security forces.
Ms. Dirie described the task of helping women secure 30 per cent of the seats in Parliament, thereby advancing their political empowerment, as challenging. Working to fulfil that goal entailed mapping the distribution of parliamentary seats per clan and launching an advocacy campaign to secure the involvement of political leaders and clan elders. A massive structural transformation must now aim to advance women’s representation and Somalia’s democratization, she said.
In the ensuing discussion, Abdusalam H. Omer, Somalia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion said the country had made historic progress with the holding of its first national elections in decades. “Democratization is not easy,” he emphasized in describing the process. “It was a marathon in tough terrain, rather than a race in a perfectly designed stadium with guiding tracks.” Nonetheless, Somalia was committed to national development and was winning the war against Al-Shabaab, he added. Going forward, the Government would partner with all stakeholders to complete the constitutional review, strengthen democratic institutions, as well as ratify and implement relevant political party laws. Investment, education and jobs must accompany enhanced security nationwide. Noting the deteriorating humanitarian situation, poised to worsen as drought conditions spread, he appealed to the Council, the donor community, as well as to the public and private sectors to address Somalia’s pressing support needs.
Uruguay’s representative urged the federal Government of Somalia to address the recruitment of children by armed groups, as well as attacks against schools and hospitals.
Sweden’s representative said that Ms. Gelle’s presence was a clear demonstration that women were breaking new ground in Somalia and could provide a model for other countries.
The meeting began at 10:18 a.m. and ended at 11:20 a.m.
MICHAEL KEATING, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), reported that an “extended and exhaustive” parliamentary electoral process had just concluded, and a President would be elected in 12 days. An immediate priority was to ensure adherence to the date that the Joint Federal Election Committee had set for the presidential vote. “Pressures to change the date on political grounds should be resisted,” he said, emphasizing that it was essential to conduct the last stage in a transparent manner, with candidates honouring the code of conduct they had signed.
While the parliamentary stage of the elections had been marred by instances of bribery, vote-buying, intimidation and delays, most contests had been correctly conducted and widely watched through social media, he continued. “The electoral process has held up a mirror to Somalis in which they have seen the good and the bad regarding how power is exercised,” as well as the relationship among elders, clan powers, brokers, politicians, business and ordinary citizens, he said. While the ad hoc electoral bodies had done a remarkable job, they had experienced difficulty in withstanding political pressure, threats and inducements. The electoral timetable had seen repeated delays, often used to resolve long-standing disputes among clans, states and other entities, he said, adding that, since the process had been used for inter- and intra-clan negotiations, it should, in part, be evaluated as such.
He went on to state that the electoral features had been essential in setting the stage for the move to universal suffrage elections, emphasizing the importance of the lessons learned in planning “one person, one vote” elections scheduled for 2020. Despite its problems, the process had seen encouraging outcomes and marked a milestone in Somalia’s evolution and post-conflict transformation. The number of voters had increased, with the electorate expanding from 135 male elders in 2012, to more than 13,000 at present, 30 per cent of whom were women. Almost one quarter of parliamentarians were female, a remarkable achievement, and there had been genuine electoral competition, he said, adding that voting had taken place in six locations around the country, reflecting emerging State structures.
The election of a President accepted as legitimate would set the stage for Somalia to tackle the serious challenges confronting it, he stressed, while warning, however, that, if voting was seen as compromised by corruption, the presidential vote could face protracted uncertainty. Somalis deserved an administration that would reform the security sector, accelerate constitutional review, reconcile conflicts around the country, strengthen governance and respond to the drought affecting 5 million people, from Somaliland and Puntland in the north, to coastal areas in the centre, and to Jubaland in the south. The perceived inability of the federal Government and local authorities to respond to the drought would damage their legitimacy and be exploited by Al-Shabaab, he warned.
Underlining the urgent need for a plan that would enable Somalis to assume greater political and financial responsibility for their security, he pointed out that AMISOM had made clear that it would not stay in the country unless immediate funding issues were addressed and a credible plan for Somalia’s police and security forces to hold areas liberated from Al-Shabaab was in place. AMISOM required sustainable, predictable funding, and the Council should review options for the use of assessed contributions, he said. Since several troop-contributing countries had stated their intention to leave, it was essential to build the Somali National Security Forces that reflected an emerging federal State, and that were accountable and not seen as the monopoly of certain clans. Al-Shabaab remained a potent threat, partly because Somalia’s approach to security had largely been based on military operations, he cautioned, while underscoring the imperative for the incoming President and Government to agree on the architecture, ownership, funding and purpose of the security forces as the basis for gaining more coherent international support.
Stressing that Somalia’s security and sovereignty required a reduction of its heavy financial dependence on the outside world, he said that he anticipated success in raising domestic revenues for the provision of public goods. Another priority was resuming the constitutional review in order to address such issues as delineating the responsibilities of the President and Prime Minister, those of the Upper House and the House of the People, as well as the roles of the federal Government and federal member states. Noting that most high-profile disputes around the country were those between Somalia and Somaliland, he said that grounding the political process in the rule of law, with a strong role played by the new Parliament, could be among the best ways to guarantee stability and governance reform. The United Nations had begun, as requested by the Council, a review of its presence in Somalia, but, given the delays in the electoral process, that would not be completed this month, he said, adding that he would engage with the new Government and revert to the Council in the coming months. “Progress is fragile and reversible, and fraught with complexity,” he said, while emphasizing that the stage was being set for Somalia to move into a new phase by sustaining peace, resolving violence and building a functioning federal State.
FRANCISCO CAETANO JOSÉ MADEIRA, Special Representative and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), declared: “The political environment is that of hope and confidence.” National priorities were focused on completing the constitutional review, forming political parties, establishing local governments, continuing dialogue with Somaliland, strengthening revenue collection and building State institutions, among other things. AMISOM had been called upon to support Parliament’s pursuit of those goals and the enhancement of its role as the forum for political debate. Noting that 15 per cent of new parliamentarians were aged between 25 and 35 years, he said 24 per cent of them were women — two social categories representing the majority of Somalia’s people.
Despite Al-Shabaab’s vow to thwart the electoral process, he said, parliamentary elections had taken place in all six designated centres without a security incident attributed to that group, thanks to cooperation between the Somali National Security Forces and AMISOM. It featured the exchange of real-time intelligence. The past four months had also seen sustained international engagement in a political process aimed at ending the federal Government’s four-year mandate in 2016, he noted, cautioning that such gains could be compromised if the current political unease in regional states was not tackled, since such tensions could activate armed groups wishing to exploit such convoluted environments.
AMISOM was working hand in hand with the Somali National Security Forces in providing a secure environment for the political process to thrive, he continued, warning that al-Shabaab, though weakened, continued to carry out assassinations, ambush AMISOM convoys and infiltrate all sectors, including Mogadishu. Despite logistic, financial and operational challenges, AMISOM also supported the operations and training of the local security forces, and its police units continued to carry out their mandated tasks in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Kismayo, Beledweyne, Jowhar and Adaado, with “very limited” resources, he stressed. Furthermore, the theatre of operations had changed, with the enemy carrying out new tactics that required adjustments. The terrorist group maintained control of areas around the Jubba Valley Corridor, as well as the north-east coastline, with their strongholds reinforced by an influx of foreign fighters who mostly arrived through Yemen.
Stressing that those territories must be recovered from the enemy, he said that would require the deployment of additional forces, as well as combat and stabilization capabilities that would to enable AMISOM and the Somali National Security Forces to expand offensive operations. He urged the United Nations and others to provide one-time support, including an additional 4,000 troops, to enable the conduct of specific military operations, as a catalyst for AMISOM’s imminent drawdown. No matter how effective the Mission might be, there would be no lasting peace without properly empowered national security force, he said, urging the provision of support as part of overall efforts to build a comprehensive national security apparatus. He underscored the need for a better and more mutually reinforcing intervention by security partners in Somalia, noting that dispersed individual interventions, while appreciated, had enjoyed only limited success. A comprehensive approach to security — anchored by functioning State institutions, democratic governance, humanitarian assistance, dispute-resolution mechanisms and capable national security forces — was indispensable, he said.
ASHA GELLE DIRIE, Founder and Executive Director of the Asha Gelle Foundation and Chairperson of the Committee of Goodwill Ambassadors, said that, as the Committee Chair tasked by the President with helping women secure 30 per cent of the seats in Parliament, she had found the advancement of women’s political empowerment challenging. Working towards that goal entailed mapping the distribution of seats per clan and launching advocacy campaigns to secure the involvement of clan elders, as well as political leaders. Thanking the United Nations and the international community for their support, she said the election results had marked a substantial and unprecedented achievement for Somali women and society as a whole.
Looking ahead to the 2020 elections, she said the absence of a legally binding provision had made it extremely difficult to enforce the political decision to reserve 30 per cent of parliamentary seats, which made it critically important to secure such a provision in order to further advance political equality for women. A massive structural transformation must now aim to advance their representation, as well as Somalia’s democratization process, she emphasized, pointing out that securing the reserved seats had been heavily dependent on the will of clan elders, who traditionally opposed women’s participation in politics. While women had presented a unified position during the electoral process, a lack of funding and logistical support had posed a significant challenge during the campaign period, she said, stressing that provisions for adequate support and the creation of a level playing field would be critical for the future success of women candidates.
ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay) said his delegation supported current efforts to draft a constitution and establish a democratic system, but expressed concerns about the recruitment of children by armed groups. Attacks against schools and hospitals must be addressed and further efforts must be made to enable women to hold 30 per cent of parliamentary seats, he emphasized.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), Council President for January, spoke in his national capacity, expressing condolences over the recent terrorist attacks in Somalia. He expressed hope that, following the establishment of a new, inclusive Parliament, with women occupying 25 per cent of its seats, the scheduled elections would take State-building forward. Ms. Gelle’s presence was a clear demonstration of women breaking new ground in Somalia, which could serve as a model for other countries. However, concerns persisted, he said, noting that 5 million Somalis were suffering from food shortages. Sweden urged Member States to offer emergency funding, and the Somali authorities to provide access to those in need.
ABDUSALAM H. OMER, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Investment Promotion of Somalia, said that while challenges remained, his country had enjoyed tangible, sustainable and historic overall progress in the political, social, economic and security spheres. Somalia was completing its first national elections in decades and for the first time, it had undergone a transformation, with women holding almost 26 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In addition, improved representation and voter involvement, as well as the swift, peaceful post-election transfer of titles, had demonstrated the commitment of the Somali people and politicians to democracy.
He emphasized that, while the presidential elections had been delayed, the planning and execution of one person, one vote measures in 2020 must begin immediately. The federal Government would partner with all stakeholders and complete the constitutional review process, strengthen democratic institutions and ratify and implement relevant political party laws. “Democratization is not easy,” he said. “It was a marathon in tough terrain, rather than a race in a perfectly designed stadium, with guiding tracks, perfect lighting and enthusiastic fans. However, we in Somalia are committed to our national development and governing ourselves fairly and democratically.”
Pointing to other gains, he said the improved security situation had seen the defeat of Al-Shabaab, now reduced to carrying out opportunistic attacks on innocent civilians. While expressing condolences to those affected by the recent attacks in Somalia and across the world, he stressed: “We are winning the war against Al-Shabaab.” The group’s permanent defeat was the key to Somalia’s progress and the overall fight against international terrorism. The country’s ambition was to nurture and develop a well-trained, well-equipped and well-funded national army and police force to protect civilians and safeguard further progress nationwide, he said.
The fight against terrorism was difficult and long, he said, stressing that, without a textbook on dealing with radicalized young people and misled children who blew themselves up, the knowledge to tackle it must be shared in order to adapt and devise sustainable and diverse solutions. Given the deteriorating humanitarian situation, poised to worsen with the spread of drought conditions, Somalia urged the Council, the donor community, as well as the public and private sectors to address its pressing support needs, he said. “Somalia’s progress is more than rhetoric, it is a reality evidenced by every [member of the] Diaspora, including myself, to return and the undefeatable spirit of the Somali people to achieve progress and prosperity,” he said. “Please continue to see our courageous progress against great odds, our country’s wonderful opportunities and untapped potential, as well as our determination to never return to the past, but accelerate peacefully and purposefully to a better future.”