Following weeks of mounting political tension, Somalia’s leaders have walked “back from the brink” and resumed talks in the capital, where a positive atmosphere prevails and an agreement on electoral arrangements is now anticipated imminently, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council this morning.
James Swan, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), spoke via videoconference to delegates gathered in the Security Council Chamber for the first time since December 2020, when the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a return to remote work arrangements.
Recounting the developments that led up to Somalia’s recent political stalemate — and then to the welcome return to negotiations — he said talks between the country’s Federal Government and the leaders of its Federal Member States broke down in early April. The House of the People of the Somali Parliament adopted a “Special Law” abandoning a critical 17 September 2020 electoral agreement, thereby extending the mandates of current office holders for up to two more years. In the weeks that followed, opposition to those moves led to violent clashes, risking a broader conflict.
Under intense pressure, he said, the House reversed the Special Law, and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” empowered the Prime Minister to lead the Federal Government’s involvement in the electoral process — including security arrangements and negotiations with Federal Member States. Those measures greatly eased tensions, he said, commending all the Somali leaders who sought compromise and consensus and worked to de-escalate the situation and adding: “This spirit of compromise remains an urgent necessity going forward.”
Noting that a new summit between the Federal Government and the Federal Member States began on 22 May, he described the meeting as a welcome return to dialogue after the recent confrontation. So far, a positive atmosphere is prevailing, and all sides report progress. Urging all the country’s leaders to work in good faith, he said the signatories of the 17 September agreement must now commit to a clear way forward with the holding of elections. “Without this, progress on key national priorities will continue to be hampered, or worse, reversed, in critical areas, including in the security, economic and development sectors,” he warned.
Also briefing the Council was Francisco Madeira, Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). He agreed that the months of February, March and April were marked by deeply concerning political tensions in Somalia, as national stakeholders remained unable to reach a compromise on how to hold the country’s upcoming elections.
Welcoming the fact that wisdom ultimately prevailed and talks resumed, he said the country’s Prime Minister has assumed responsibility over the electoral process and the security of elections, greatly easing political tensions. A consensus was generated among all parties on how to move forward, and the armed groups that were behind some of the recent clashes returned to their bases. Noting that today’s meeting takes place as the talks in Mogadishu continue into their fourth day, he said reports are now emerging of compromise among participants, including on the holding of elections.
He praised the Somali stakeholders for their show of commitment and profound sense of national solidarity, urging them to continue to refrain from actions that could derail the process — such as supporting parallel political talks or adopting new initiatives leading to the extensions of prior mandates. Meanwhile, he said, security conditions on the ground remain unpredictable, with the Al-Shabaab terrorist network continuing to launch asymmetric targeted attacks, as well as assassinations and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.
As Council members took the floor, many welcomed the progress reportedly under way at the Mogadishu summit and expressed relief that wider conflict was averted. Several urged Somalia’s leaders to prioritize compromise and dialogue over self-interest, particularly amid a highly fragile security environment and dire humanitarian conditions.
Tunisia’s representative, who also spoke on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the decision by Somalia’s House of the People to rescind the Special Law on federal elections, and joined others in expressing hope that it will continue to reduce tensions. All parties should refrain from any new and unilateral actions that might further deteriorate the political situation, he said, urging them to instead focus on combating the common enemy that is Al-Shabaab. Spotlighting the need to address grave human rights violations, as well as Somalia’s dire humanitarian situation, he called on international partners to scale up funding to AMISOM and to the Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia, especially in the face of severe climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The representative of the United States said Somalia’s holding of peaceful, inclusive, transparent and timely elections on the basis of consensus is crucial to the country’s future. “We have seen the risks associated with actions that are taken without broad consent,” he said, calling on the parties to set aside narrow political agendas and “do what is right for Somalia”. The United States is prepared to take action against individuals who it assesses are obstructing the peace process or threatening Somalia’s peace and security agreement, he said, emphasizing: “Squandering this opportunity would be unforgivable.” Somalia’s leaders must place the country’s interests above their own, she said, calling for the country’s 30 per cent minimum quota for women’s participation in elections to be upheld and warning that the use of armed actors to manipulate the electoral process cannot be accepted. She also expressed concern that the recent political impasse continues to divert resources away from operations against Al-Shabaab, increased clan violence and other serious threats facing Somalia.
Mohamed Abdirizak, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia, told Council members that the main topics on the agenda at the ongoing summit in Mogadishu are the status of election representatives for Somaliland, arrangements in other parts of the country and questions related to election committees. Noting that agreements have been reached on all those matters in principle, he said they will be detailed in a communiqué to be released in the coming days. “The negotiation process has not been easy, which demonstrates […] how fragile peace in Somalia remains,” he stressed, voicing hope that the imminent agreement will lead to free and fair elections and a peaceful transition process in the coming months.
Also speaking were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, Viet Nam, India, Estonia, France and China.
The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.
JAMES SWAN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in that country (document S/2021/485) and outlined recent developments. Stressing that the political process towards holding elections faces many obstacles, he said the talks between Federal Government and Federal Member State leaders that began in March regrettably broke down in early April. The House of the People of the Somali Parliament adopted a “Special Law” abandoning the 17 September 2020 electoral agreement, reverting to a one-person-one-vote model, and extending the mandates of current office holders for up to two more years. Opposition to those moves led to the mobilization of militias and exposed divisions within the Somali security forces, and violent clashes ensued on 25 April, risking broader conflict.
“Since then, Somalia has come back from the brink of this worst-case scenario,” he said. Under intense pressure, the House of the People on 1 May reversed the Special Law at the request of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo.” The President subsequently empowered the Prime Minister to lead the Federal Government’s involvement in the electoral process, including security arrangements and negotiations with Federal Member States. Those measures greatly eased tensions, he said, commending all the Somali leaders who sought compromise and consensus and worked to de-escalate the situation and adding: “This spirit of compromise remains an urgent necessity going forward.”
Recalling that Prime Minister Muhammed Hussein Roble convened a new summit between the Federal Government and the Federal Member States on 22 May, he described the meeting as a welcome return to dialogue after the recent confrontation. Discussions are now centred on resolving the outstanding issues related to the implementation of the 17 September agreement and the Baidoa Technical Committee proposals. So far, a positive atmosphere prevails and all sides are reporting progress in the discussions. Outlining the United Nations support for the summit, he said it is coordinating closely with the African Union, the European Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and other partners in all diplomatic engagements. In that regard, he expressed deep regret over the Somali Government’s decision to reject the African Union High Representative for Somalia.
Urging all the country’s leaders to find solutions in good faith and demonstrate leadership, he said the signatories of the 17 September agreement must now commit to a clear way forward with the holding of elections. “Without this, progress on key national priorities will continue to be hampered, or worse, reversed, in critical areas, including in the security, economic and development sectors,” he said. It is crucial that the upcoming elections include a minimum of 30 per cent representation for women in both Houses of the Federal Parliament, as well as the voices of youth and minority groups.
Meanwhile, he said, the terrorist group Al-Shabaab remains a serious threat and the work of the Somali security forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) remain crucial. Some progress was made in implementing the revised Somalia Transition Plan, but its pace was affected by the ongoing political impasse, and major commitments are behind schedule. The United Nations Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS) continues to provide logistical support to AMISOM and stands ready to continue to furnish non-lethal support to the Somali National Army and the Somali Police Force, using voluntary contributions to the United Nations trust fund for the Somali security forces. However, he voiced concern that the fund will be depleted by the end of June and requires urgent contributions.
Turning to the humanitarian situation, which is still dire, he said 5.9 million Somalis — or more than one third of the population — are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021. Some 80 per cent of Somalia has been impacted by droughts, while heavy rains are at the same time causing seasonal flash flooding in riverine areas. Noting that such erratic climatic shocks have led to greater displacement and increased food insecurity, he noted that only 19 per cent of the Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia has been funded so far and appealed to Member States for more contributions. Somalia received its first batch of COVID‑19 vaccines through the global COVAX facility in March and has so far been able to administer 42 per cent of the 300,000 doses received. The country will require the international community’s continued support going forward, he said.
FRANCISCO MADEIRA, Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia and Head of AMISOM, said localized floods, below average rainfall levels and locust infestations continue to impact the population in many parts of the country. Nearly 340,000 people have been affected by flooding, while other regions are most affected by droughts. Describing the Federal Government’s efforts to alleviate the plight of those affected, he said those will continue to require the international community’s dedicated support. Against that backdrop, the months of February, March and April were marked by deeply concerning political tensions as national stakeholders remained unable to reach a compromise on how to hold the country’s upcoming elections.
“These tensions threatened to drive the country to the brink,” he said. However, wisdom ultimately prevailed and talks resumed. The Prime Minister assumed responsibility over the electoral process and the security of elections, greatly easing political tensions, and entered into intense engagement with the council of presidential candidates, women leaders, non-governmental organizations and others. A consensus was generated among all parties on how to move forward. The armed groups that were behind recent confrontations also accepted the election plans and returned to their bases. Meanwhile, all of Somalia’s leaders agreed to return to the negotiating table without preconditions and move in earnest towards the implementation of the 17 September 2020 agreement.
Noting that today’s meeting takes place as the talks in Mogadishu continue into their fourth day, he said reports are now emerging of like-mindedness and compromise among participants, including on the holding of elections. Welcoming those developments, he praised the Somali stakeholders for their show of commitment and profound sense of national solidarity. The African Union, in cooperation with other partners, has encouraged the parties to continue engagement and urged them to refrain from actions that could derail the process — including by warning them not to support any parallel process or new initiatives leading to the extensions of prior mandates.
AMISOM continues to deliver on its key responsibilities, including training security forces and providing operational support, strategic advice and capacity-building to the Somali police, he continued. It also supports enhanced coordination between security forces and their counterparts in the Federal Government. Security conditions remain unpredictable, with Al-Shabaab continuing to launch asymmetric targeted attacks, as well as assassinations and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.
In the short- to medium term, he said, the security situation is likely to remain volatile as Al-Shabaab seeks to disrupt the electoral process and exploit any political divisions among the country’s leaders. Outlining efforts to degrade the group’s capacity — including trough counter-attack operations and joint operations with the Somali National Army — he said much progress has been made in implementing the tasks laid out in Council resolution 2568 (2021). However, “Al‑Shabaab remains a ruthless enemy”, and more remains to be done to protect the Somali people and preserve gains already made, he said, pledging the African Union’s commitment to those ends.
MOHAMED ABDIRIZAK, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Somalia, recalled that his country’s leaders resumed talks in Mogadishu on 22 May following the recent agreement to return to an indirect election model. The main topics being considered are the status of election representatives for Somaliland, arrangements in other parts of the country and questions related to election committees. Noting that agreements have been reached on all those matters in principle, he said they will be detailed in a communiqué to be released in the coming days. “The negotiation process has not been easy, which demonstrates […] how fragile peace in Somalia remains,” he said. However, he expressed his hope that the agreement to be stipulated in the communiqué will lead the country to free and fair elections and a peaceful transition process in the coming months.
BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) urged Somalia’s leaders to continue constructive dialogue according to the 17 September electoral agreement to ensure that inclusive, credible elections can occur as soon as possible to break the political impasse in the country. Continued political turmoil directly impacts the country’s security situation, and she condemned the violence that occurred in Mogadishu on 25 April, urging all sides to show restraint and engage in dialogue to avoid a repeat of these scenes. Welcoming further engagement between the United Nations and the African Union in renewing AMISOM’s mandate, she also supported upcoming discussion of the shape and mandate of a new mission for Somalia from 2022. Political instability risks exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation in Somalia — compounding the existing threats of COVID-19, flooding, drought, food insecurity and locust swarms — and she called on Somali leaders to address these issues and resolve the impasse to focus instead on defeating Al‑Shabaab and supporting development in the country.
MONA JUUL (Norway) welcomed the revitalized dialogue in Somalia, but called on the Federal Government and leaders of the Federal Member States to engage constructively and without preconditions on the basis of the 17 September agreement. “There is no more time, energy and good will to lose,” she said, encouraging Somali leaders to make full use of the good offices of the United Nations and the African Union. She appealed for greater inclusion in the dialogue, particularly for women. At the same time, the Government must give full attention to the looming threats of drought, desert locusts and the coronavirus. She went on to say that Norway is very concerned by reports of unlawful detention of children associated with Al-Shabaab.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, welcomed the decision by Somalia’s Lower House of Parliament on 1 May to rescind the Special Law on federal elections and joined others in expressing hope that it will continue to reduce tensions. Underlining the need to hold free, fair and timely elections, he voiced his hope that the 30 per cent quota for women will be upheld, paving the way for their deeper inclusion in Somalia’s decision-making. He also advocated for a one person, one vote universal model for elections in 2024 and 2025 and underlined the need for all parties to refrain from any new and unilateral actions that might further deteriorate the political situation, urging them to instead to focus on combating the common enemy that is Al-Shabaab.
To that end, he called upon the international community help the Federal Government shore up its finances — which remain vulnerable to infiltration by Al‑Shabaab — and the transfer of security functions to the Somali National Army must be done gradually. Weapons meant for security forces must not be allowed to fall into the hands of Al-Shabaab. Turning to AMISOM’s potential reconfiguration after 2021, he said if such a change is found to be the most viable way forward, the Mission must be funded sustainably and predictably, including through United Nations assessed contributions. He went on to underline the need to accelerate efforts to address grave human rights violations, largely committed by Al-Shabaab, and to address Somalia’s dire humanitarian situation. In the current context of climate change shock and COVID-19, he called on all partners to scale up funding to the Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia as well as support to help AMISOM fulfil all its mandated tasks.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) welcomed the convening of an all-Somali summit in Mogadishu to work out national issues, as well as emerging positive signals that an agreement on an electoral model is imminent. Also praising the resumption of diplomacy between Mogadishu and Nairobi, he called upon the United Nations and other stakeholders to continue their support for Somalia while respecting its sovereignty, territorial integrity and without interfering in the country’s domestic affairs. Expressing serious concern over Al-Shabaab’s continued activities, including attempts to use the current political crisis to strengthen its position, he said the African Union should lead the process of deciding on the parameters for the transfer of security responsibility from AMISOM to the Somali National Army, based on conditions on the ground. Forcing through a drawdown of AMISOM is unacceptable, he stressed.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), while welcoming the return to the 17 September electoral agreement as the basis for upcoming elections in Somalia, expressed concern over some parties’ reluctance to return to dialogue and called on political and social leaders to refrain from inciting communities to violence. The international community — including the Security Council — must signal the necessity to resolve disputes through dialogue and to avoid derailing political solutions to conflict. Noting that the electoral impasse has consequences for security throughout the country, he said that Al-Shabaab and other groups are taking advantage of the situation to increase their power and influence. Further, the worsening security environment is frustrating distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and access by humanitarian personnel, and he called on all relevant parties to ensure such access. On the restoration of the diplomatic relationship between Somalia and Kenya, he welcomed this development as important for the security of both countries and the wider region.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) welcomed the improved diplomatic relationship between Somalia and Kenya and expressed hope that the two countries can fully restore ties to facilitate development and stability in the region. Expressing concern over the political impasse in Somalia that threatens to create a constitutional vacuum and further instability, he underscored the importance of resumed dialogue in Mogadishu based on the 17 September electoral agreement. Political division is at the centre of Somalia’s turmoil, and national unity and reconciliation is the only way forward — on this, he called on all relevant parties to refrain from actions that could jeopardize peace and security in the country and on the Government to ensure the safety of civilians. He also expressed concern over the water shortages caused by drought in many parts of the country, as this and other environmental challenges exacerbate the fragile humanitarian situation of those already vulnerable due to chronic poverty and conflict. These challenges must be addressed, with a particular focus on agricultural development.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) said that the “political brinksmanship” of certain Somali leaders has halted the electoral process, and decisions by constitutional bodies and authorities have created further uncertainty. These developments threaten to derail the international community’s expectations for Somalia in 2021 and cast doubt on the electoral cycle. He called on Somalia’s leaders to work towards resolving contentious issues and hold elections without further delay, as resorting to violence and unilateral action will only compound problems for the country’s people. Given the unpredictable political and security situation in the country, the international community should not be eager to drawdown AMISOM, as the Mission has been playing an important role in stabilizing the security situation and fighting Al-Shabaab. Noting the ties between New Delhi and Mogadishu, he said that his country has recently contributed $1 million to the United Nations Trust Fund in support of AMISOM and will continue to support Somalia and its people on the path to stability, peace and prosperity.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) welcomed the resumption of talks between Somalia’s leaders aimed at agreeing on election modalities, as well as the leading role of Prime Minister Roble. Emphasizing that dialogue, compromise and consensus are the key to overcoming the stalemate, he voiced regret that the ongoing political crisis is diverting attention and resources away from Somalia’s development, humanitarian, rule of law and security priorities. Urging the country to implement the 30 per cent quota for women’s representation in the upcoming elections, he also underlined the need for measures and institutions to protect human rights and reiterated his call to establish the Independent National Human Rights Commission. He also called on the Federal Government to take steps to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence by enacting the 2018 Sexual Offence Bill and to implement the conclusions of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict on Somalia. Describing the continuation of a post‑2021 mission in Somalia as critical amid the deteriorating security situation, he declared: “It is crucial that the future mission will learn lessons from AMISOM and take into account the changing conditions on the ground.”
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) reiterated that Somalia’s holding of peaceful, inclusive, transparent and timely elections on the basis of consensus is crucial to the country’s future. “We have seen the risks associated with actions that are taken without broad consent,” he said, noting that the country was pushed to the brink of conflict in recent months following the passage of a mandate extension bill in April. Welcoming the subsequent decision to resume negotiations and praising Prime Minister Roble’s leadership — as well as the announcement that he will oversee election planning and security — he called upon the parties to set aside narrow political agendas and “do what is right for Somalia”. The United States is prepared to take action against individuals who it assesses are obstructing the peace process or threatening Somalia’s peace and security. Noting that addressing the threat posed by Al-Shabaab remains an urgent challenge for Somalia and the entire region, he went on to recall that in April the United States announced an additional $154 million in humanitarian assistance to the country. It stands committed to addressing the urgent needs of the Somali people and helping them to build a peaceful and stable future, he said.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) expressed concern over the political impasse in Somalia and stressed the need to reach agreement so that elections can be held without further delay. The inclusivity of the electoral process is paramount, as is the participation of women, both as voters and candidates. A continuing political stalemate has security implications for Somalia, where Al‑Shabaab is continuing deadly attacks on civilians. Turning to AMISOM, she called for a decision to be made in 2021 regarding the Mission’s funding, which must involve the African Union, Somalia and countries contributing financial and troop support. For its part, the European Union has invested nearly $2 billion in the Mission since 2007. On the humanitarian situation, she said that the plight of the civilian population has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and weather conditions such as drought and locust swarms. Further, Somalia has one of the highest rates of child mortality in the world, where 1 in 8 children die before the age of five. She called for safe, unhindered humanitarian access to help mitigate these issues.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) joined other speakers in welcoming Somalia’s steps back from the decision to extend the mandates of both the Parliament and the President. Restoring the 17 September agreement provides a pathway to elections, she said, adding: “Squandering this opportunity would be unforgivable.” Somalia’s leaders must now place the country’s interests above their own, she said, welcoming the preliminary talks currently under way in Mogadishu and calling for more clarity on how the crucial next steps — the holding of timely and inclusive elections — will be achieved. Echoing calls to ensure the 30 per cent minimum quota for women’s participation, she warned that the use of armed actors to manipulate the electoral process cannot be accepted. Also echoing expressions of disappointment that Somalia rejected the offer to deploy an African Union envoy, she called on the country’s leaders to reconsider their approach and constructively engage with the bloc on a way forward. In addition, she expressed concern that the recent political impasse continues to divert resources away from operations against Al-Shabaab, increased clan violence and other serious threats, calling upon the Federal Government to refocus and step up its efforts to protect civilians and on all parties to prevent and end violations against children.
ZHANG JUN (China), Council President for May, spoke in his national capacity to state that ending the current political stalemate serves the common interest of the parties and peoples of Somalia, encouraging relevant actors to put the country first, make necessary compromises, build political trust and restore political stability to facilitate national reconstruction. The security situation is still dire, and attacks by Al-Shabaab are frequent; for its part, AMISOM has expended considerable effort towards the maintenance of peace and security in the country. He supported extension of AMISOM’s mandate and encouraged the African Union, the United Nations and concerned countries to reach consensus on the Mission’s future configuration. The international community must increase its assistance to Somalia’s security forces so the same can gradually assume responsibility for the country’s security. Turning to the humanitarian situation, he said that COVID-19, locust swarms and drought have exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, calling for increased international assistance aimed at post-pandemic reconstruction, debt relief and alleviating food insecurity and poverty.