23 November 2020

Agreement on Indirect-Voting Plan for Upcoming Elections Ended Political Stalemate in Somalia, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Prime Minister Stresses Embargo’s Impact on Anti-Terror Efforts, as Delegates Note ‘Trifecta’ of Pandemic, Floods, Locusts

The recent consensus among Somalia’s leaders on a plan to hold forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections through indirect voting ended a two-year political stalemate between the Federal Government and federal member states, the senior United Nations official in that country told the Security Council during a 23 November videoconference meeting today, emphasizing the importance of maintaining that momentum.

“The coming months will set the course of Somalia for the next several years,” said James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), welcoming the agreement among political leaders that women hold 30 per cent of parliamentary seats.

However, the model of voting, agreed in September, regrettably fell short of the constitutional requirement for direct universal suffrage in electing parliamentarians, he noted, while stressing that the agreement reflected wide political consensus and ownership.  “Going forward, this broad political consensus must be preserved and indeed deepened,” he said.

According to the electoral schedule, members of the two houses of the Federal Parliament will be selected by the end of December, with the President’s election by the new Parliament slated for February 2021, he explained.  However, nominations to the electoral management bodies were several weeks behind schedule and remain the subject of contention.  Also to be finalized is the electoral security plan to ensure the safe holding of elections and minimize the risk of the Al-Shabaab insurgent group disrupting or influencing the process, he added.

Highlighting the need for universal suffrage elections in the future, he urged leaders to prepare a consensual road map with clear timelines and benchmarks to ensure that one-person-one-vote elections take place in 2024/2025.  He also stressed the importance of enhancing political dialogue between the Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states, noting that he has initiated a series of visits to the capitals of the latter.

On the security situation, he reported that persistent attacks by Al-Shabaab remain the primary threat.  Continued efforts to protect the Somali people and degrade the insurgent group’s capabilities must be the main objectives of the national security forces, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other security partners as the country enters a sensitive electoral period, he emphasized.

“Next year will be a transition year in which Somalia takes lead responsibility on security matters,” he continued, stressing the need for agreement on a strategic vision for national security involving all stakeholders.  The Federal Government is drafting an updated transition plan, which must address many long-standing challenges, including the need for realistic operational objectives, credible plans for force generation, and clear coordination structures, he said, adding that it will also serve as a baseline for further discussions in the coming months to guide the role of the Somali security forces, AMISOM, the United Nations, and bilateral security partners.

Francisco Madeira, Head of the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), detailed how protracted, painstaking dialogue and negotiation yielded an important consensus to improve the indirect electoral model of 2016 for the upcoming elections.  The consensus enjoyed broad support across the country as well as the endorsement of both houses of the Federal Parliament, former presidents, civil society and business leaders, he said.  It also led to the appointment of a new Prime Minister, who has selected a Cabinet and worked to accelerate the constitutional review process.  The African Union will offer whatever support the Prime Minister needs to conduct free, fair, inclusive and secure elections, he pledged.

He went on to underscore the need to conclude the constitutional debate and draft a shared national vision; address issues related to reconciliation, the sharing of land and natural resources; and combat radicalization, insurgency and terrorism.  This will require repeated formal and informal discussions among political stakeholders like those held in Dhusamareeb and Mogadishu.  Applauding the strength, courage and perseverance demonstrated by women in their contributions to peacebuilding in recent years, he stressed the importance of their full participation in the upcoming elections.  The upcoming elections are a top priority for AMISOM, he added.

Detailing the Mission’s accomplishments since he last briefed the Council, he said they include increased training assistance for national security forces.  AMISOM has also supported electoral security operations by mentoring its Somali counterparts in planning, coordinating and delivering security throughout the electoral process.  The Mission’s civilian staff have held a series of thematic election workshops to promote the participation of women in the electoral process, he added.

Turning to Al-Shabaab, he said the group remains a principal threat to peace and security and is increasingly emphasizing the destabilization of Mogadishu by attacking high-profile targets.  Underlining the emergence of a clear threat picture, he said the group is also enlisting foreign expertise as part of its transfer of knowledge from affiliated foreign groups.  Bolstered by its ability to mobilize quickly, Al-Shabaab has recently begun targeting aircraft during take-off and landing in forward operating bases, he said, cautioning that, while these attacks have been unsuccessful thus far, it is important to follow that emerging threat.

He went on to detail several successful AMISOM operations disrupting Al-Shabaab’s activities, seizing weapons and capturing fighters.  The Mission has also responded to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing personal protective equipment and delivering essential services, including clean water.  He added that AMISOM has also constructed childbirth facilities to provide maternal care in Jubaland.

Zainab Hassan, Chairwoman of the Somali Gender Equity Movement, long-time civil society activist and one of the experts who developed the National Reconciliation Framework, said that although women can cross clan boundaries to promote reconciliation, they have been largely absent from peacebuilding processes.  “Without women’s full presence at the table where decisions are being made, Somalia will not be able to attain sustainable peace and create a just society based on the rule of law,” she stated.

For progress, more investment in public education is needed, she said, pointing out that although girls have made significant gains in literacy, with 83 per cent enrolment in elementary education, that number drops greatly as they get older and more susceptible to working and child marriage.  She cited Bar Ama Baro, a partnership between USAID Somalia and the Ministry of Education aimed at increasing the enrolment, safety and health of girls as a good model for international assistance.

She went on to stress that women’s economic contribution is very clear, particularly in micro- and small-sized enterprises.  However, their absence from medium- and large-sized enterprises is mostly due to lack of access to family funds and loans.  Noting that women have increasingly been making inroads into male-dominated sectors such as livestock, fishery, farming, and petroleum importing, she underlined the need for systematic support in all areas, accompanied by more data.

Somalia is at a critical juncture with the imminent end of the mandates for the Federal Parliament and executive branches.  In that context, she welcomed the agreement on a 30 per cent quota for women’s participation in Government roles while emphasizing the need for an enforcement mechanism to that end.  The significant increase in women’s representation achieved so far can be attributed to advocacy by women civil society groups, in collaboration with support of the Goodwill Ambassadors Committee, the United Nations and key members of the international community.  She stressed that attaining the quota was the specific focus of her Movement, which has been active in the electoral process since 2016.

She went on to point out the obstacles faced by women in the current electoral process, saying they include outright opposition to the quota by some religious leaders, traditional elders and male politicians, as well as lack of access to financial resources.  Empowering women economically is pivotal to positioning them well to compete in the political arena, she said, stressing that the steep decline in the number of women’s seats in all state parliaments except that of Jubaland demonstrates the urgency.  Calling upon the National Consultative Council to honour its agreement on the quota, and on the Federal Government, political parties, opposition groups and civil society to work together towards a fair and free election, she urged the Security Council to closely monitor and exert pressure on them all.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates broadly welcomed the agreement on the electoral process, calling upon leaders to resolve outstanding issues and to hold the parliamentary and presidential elections as scheduled.  They also agreed that Al-Shabaab remains a major threat to Somalia’s security, highlighting the role of the United Nations in helping to strengthen the capacity of national forces.

The United Kingdom’s representative emphasized that effective federalism is critical to long-term stability, urging leaders to set out their vision for an inclusive political settlement, finalize the constitution and ensure direct elections in 2024/25.  Welcoming the renewal of the transition plan, under which national authorities will take over greater security leadership from AMISOM by the end of 2021, he said that support will be needed beyond that year, when the Mission evolves into a role in which it can enable the Somalis to manage their own security.  International conversations, including the upcoming European Union conference on security as well as independent assessment mandated by the Security Council, are necessary for partners to reflect on collective implementation of Somalia’s security vision, he said, urging constructive engagement with those processes towards the renewal of AMISOM’s mandate.

The representative of the United States said that, while the recently developed electoral model does not achieve the one-person-one-vote model that most Somalis want, the peaceful dialogue that led to the model is encouraging.  All concerned parties should hold to the quota established for the political participation of women, she added, calling also for timely implementation of the election security plan.  Turning to terrorism, she said conflict remains an obstacle to long-term stability and development, expressing support from African-led efforts to combat the threat.  Al-Shabaab has been able to accrue large amounts of financing through illicit activity, raising more than $50 million per year through illegal means, she noted, emphasizing the need to address that matter.  She added that the “trifecta” of COVID-19, severe flooding and locust infestation has exacerbated humanitarian issues in Somalia.

France’s representative expressed regret that, despite the political agreement on an inclusive election, the principle of one-person one-vote was not met.  It is now critical that all other agreements for a free and fair election are fully implemented, she said, stressing the particular importance of meeting the quota for women’s representation as well as other principles under the women, peace and security agenda.  Noting the continuing severe threats to human rights and security, she said an evolution must take place within AMISOM, expressing full support for an independent evaluation to be undertaken in an effective and timely manner.  Given the persistent threat of Al-Shabaab, she said, France welcomes the renewal of the sanctions regime against the group and emphasizes the need for governance and security reform as well as economic recovery in that context.  She called for reinforcing, as a priority, all institutions aimed at preventing impunity for crimes against human rights.

South Africa’s representative, speaking also on behalf of Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said the agreement on the electoral model and timetable will ensure that the general elections are held as scheduled at the end of 2020 and 2021.  He applauded all political stakeholders for their commitment to consolidating democracy, ensuring the holding of timely and credible election, and guaranteeing the 30 per cent quota for women’s representation in Parliament.  Concerning the volatile security situation, he strongly condemned all attacks, including those carried out using improvised explosive devices and vehicle-borne suicide attacks by Al-Shabaab against civilians, security forces, AMISOM and the United Nations.  The triple threat of COVID-19, desert locusts and floods have exacerbating pre-existing vulnerabilities, he noted, expressing concern that the situation will intensify the displacement of people and food insecurity.

Indonesia’s representative, speaking also for Viet Nam, noted that the electoral model constitutes progress as it expands the voting franchise and guarantees the 30 per cent quota for women in Parliament.  Expressing hope that the electoral model can be implemented in a secure and peaceful manner, he reiterated the need for international support for State-building efforts.  He went on to note Al-Shabaab’s continuing use of improvised explosive devices and other high-profile suicide attacks, stressing the importance of a Somalia-led update of the transition plan that will lay the foundation of the security transition, including future international support.  It is crucial to continue force-generation efforts as well as training and capacity-building for the Somali National Army, he added.

Belgium’s representative emphasized the importance of ensuring that the elections take place in a fair and secure manner and to ensure the participation of women.  It is also necessary to expand the democratic space so that all Somalis are involved in determining their democratic future.  Expressing concern over attacks against journalists, he called for investigations.  He went on to emphasize the importance of further dialogue to strengthen the federal model saying that adopting the draft constitution and improving the climate-change framework are other priorities.  Expressing concern over human rights violations, he welcomed the recent release of former child soldiers while expressing regret that the draft law on sexual violations has been weakened in key areas and that key human rights mechanisms are not yet established.  Belgium underlines the importance of an independent review of AMISOM and continued assistance for institutional capacity-building, he added.

The Dominican Republic’s representative said his delegation looks forward to fair, credible and peaceful elections, underlining the importance of meeting the quota on women’s participation.  Efforts to include young people in the political process are also crucial, he added.  Expressing hope that effective transitions in local governance will take place, he called for the provision of adequate resources for that purpose.  With security remaining a concern, he condemned Al-Shabaab’s attacks and urged accelerated improvement in the security sector.

The Russian Federation’s representative urged Somalia’s leaders to resolve outstanding electoral issues, including the selection of members of electoral management bodies and the pending electoral security plan that would guarantee safety during the election period.  Noting developments in the political dialogues between the Federal Government and federal member states, she said further progress hinges on institutionalizing such talks.  Concerns about sexual and gender-based violence must be addressed by respecting Somalia’s independence and sovereignty, she added.  Emphasizing Al-Shabaab’s ability to adapt to pressure, she said AMISOM remains a key counter-terrorism force.  Moscow looks forward to the completion of the renewed security transition plan but opposes any forced reduction of strength, she added, stressing that any withdrawal must consider progress in training national security force.

Estonia’s representative urged implementation of the 30 per cent quota for women parliamentarians and the inclusion of marginalized groups, calling also for freedom of expression and the press during the upcoming elections.  He went on to emphasize the importance of establishing an independent national human rights commission, calling upon Somalia to respect its international human rights obligations.  He further condemned continuing attacks, while cautioning:  “Al-Shabaab cannot be defeated only through military means.”  Estonia calls for institution-building and supporting other activities alongside military operations, he added.

China’s representative called upon the parties to place the interests of State and people above all else to enhance political trust, complete State-building and proceed with the constitutional review process.  On the security situation, he noted that terrorist attacks are still frequent and expressed appreciation for UNSOM’s efforts in that area.  China calls upon the international community to provide a steady and continued financial guarantee to help with the security transition, he said.  Highlighting long-term humanitarian challenges, he called upon the international community to help the Government and people achieve their development goals while improving the country’s economy and livelihoods.

Germany’s representative welcomed the restoration of political dialogue between the Federal Government and federal member states, noting that — despite the failure of the adopted electoral model to meet expectations and the Government’s promises — credible, transparent and fair elections are key to the State-building process.  Citing the volatile security situation, he stressed that election security must be a top priority in the coming weeks.  AMISOM continues to play a pivotal role, but it remains crucial to reflect on how to reshape the Mission, he said, emphasizing that while existing threats may change, the goal is for Somalia to assume full responsibility for its own security.  On the link between climate and security, he urged the United Nations to systematically include climate-related risk factors in its analyses and enhance efforts to address them.

Prime Minister Mohammed Roble of Somalia said that the signing of the electoral agreement on 12 November marked the culmination of the inclusive political agreement by the federal member states and the Federal Government.  He reiterated the Government’s commitment to fair and free elections, according to the agreed schedule.  Given the logistical and security challenges, partners should renew their commitments to timely and adequate support for the bodies tasked with organizing and overseeing the elections.

Pledging his Government’s continued advocacy of women’s full political representation at all decision-making levels, he noted that the political agreement supports the 30 per cent quota for their representation.  The Government sees that as a minimum level and supports the goal of 50 per cent representation, he added.  While the one-person-one-vote standard cannot yet be achieved, it remains the ambition of all Somalis and an inter-ministerial technical team is being formed alongside political steps to achieve universal suffrage in 2025, he said.

Turning to security, he said the Government continues to generate and integrate forces, enabling it to continue degrading the terrorist groups and liberate more areas.  Paying tribute to the contributors to AMISOM, he detailed efforts for a longer-term plan to transition security responsibilities to the national forces, whose young men and women continue to effectively hold areas liberated from Al-Shabaab.  However, there is urgent need to invest more in their equipment, he stressed, pointing out that the arms embargo is greatly hindering their ability to effectively eradicate terrorist groups.  On other fronts, he said the systems and processes the Government has built through the economic reform journey should lead Somalia on the road to sustainable development, opportunity and prosperity.

He went on to outline advances in the justice sector as well as anti-corruption efforts and strengthening human rights protections.  The Government is aware of the controversy surrounding the Sexual Offences Bill and will engage in dialogue with Parliament and religious scholars on how to move that vital legislation forward.  He went on to reiterate the Government’s commitment to protecting journalists and a free media.  “Somalia’s challenges remain significant including our vulnerability to extreme weather, COVID-19 pandemic, the long-term demands of State-building, and tackling an active and a vicious terrorist group,” he said.  With long-term planning, “we are certainly on the right path, which will enable us to achieve peace and security for all Somalis, while changing from poverty to sustainable development and from fragility to resilience”.

For information media. Not an official record.