Conflict Alerts # 370, 29 April 2021
In the news
On 28 April, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as Farmaajo, reversed the decision to extend his presidential term by two years after clashes within security forces gripped the capital, Mogadishu, for three days. Farmaajo said he would appear before the parliament on 1 May "to gain their endorsement for the electoral process that [was] agreed upon." He also asked the opposition not to initiate activities that could jeopardize the country's stability. However, the opposition maintained that they would not change their stand.
On 25 April, Mogadishu witnessed clashes between pro-government and pro-opposition units within the security forces. The New York Times reported that pro-opposition soldiers "took positions at several strategic locations in Mogadishu, drawing fire from pro-government forces." A former Somali president claimed that soldiers had attacked his residence and Farmaajo of the same. However, the Minister of Internal Security denied these claims and blamed foreign countries instead.
On 23 April, the UN Security Council called on all actors in Somalia to reach a consensus on the electoral process and "reject violence and resume dialogue as a matter of urgency and without precondition."
Issues at large
First, the political deadlock. The latest clashes took place after Farmaajo extended his presidential term by two years on 12 April. This measure was taken after the regional governments of Puntland and Jubbaland, and the federal government disagreed on the procedure for parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for February 2021. This was the second time elections were postponed; the parliamentary elections were postponed from December 2020.
Second, the clan-based electoral system. The presidential elections in Somalia are characterized by a clan system wherein clan elders choose lawmakers who elect the president. Further, clans do not have an equal share, and hence the system is called the 4.5 formula, where four major clans have an equal share, and the minority groups have half a share. Though the system has been under criticism from within and outside the country, the political leaders have not given it up. The clan divisions are also evident in the armed forces.
Third, external pressure on Somalia. Since 2012, external countries and organizations, including the US, EU and the UN, have backed the federal government in Somalia to prevent the country from slipping into a civil war. Therefore, following Farmaajo's bid to extend the presidential terms, the US threatened to impose sanctions, and the EU also said it would consider "concrete measures."
First, the recent clashes reflect the worsening internal political stability of the country. It also exposes the fragile nature of Somalia's clan-based system, whether in the political front or in the armed forces.
Second, the long-drawn political and electoral impasse shows that the political leaders, both federal and regional, lack a will to reach a consensus or a compromise. While the clashes have pushed Farmaajo to act in urgency, it is uncertain whether the immediacy will be reflected in other leaders.