Since mid-2020 Somalia has been unable to organize national elections for parliament and parliament. In 2021 the deadlock turned violent and threatens to escalate into another civil war. Since early April president Farmajo has been using Turkish trained-troops and loyal (to him) police to control Mogadishu, and continues blocking serious efforts to hold the long-delayed elections. Farjamo persuaded parliament to extend his current term, which expired in February, two more years. That was something parliament did not have the power to do and Farmajo used the Turkish-trained troops to stage a coup against police and any other armed, or unarmed groups in Mogadishu that opposed him. Farmajo underestimated the resistance in Mogadishu and the rest of the country and has now agreed that the two-year term extension was illegal and is trying to negotiate a settlement.
Farmajor still has foreign support, but not enough. The Turks are joined by Qatar and Iran in providing Farmajo with enough foreign aid to keep the election resistance going, but not enough to assure success. Farmajo’s resistance to elections has long been funded by cash from Iranian ally Qatar and 4,000 Somali troops trained by Turkey, another Iranian ally. While the Qataris moved their cash to Farmajo quietly, the Turkish effort was more public. A growing number of Somalis believe the Turks are more of a threat than a benefit.
Foreign donors are threatening to stop supplying the cash that enables the national government to exist at all. The UN is caught in the middle as they are desperate to retain whatever national unity has been achieved since 2011 when a UN backed (and paid for) AU (African Union) peacekeeping force drove al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other urban areas the Islamic terror group had taken control of. Al Shabaab had itself started with good intentions. The tribal/clan rivalries that were tearing the country apart since 1991 resulted in some clan and religious leaders organizing a "clean government" coalition (the Islamic Courts) after 2001. The Islamic Courts formed a militia that pacified some areas, but their goal of installing a religious dictatorship was taken over by al Qaeda-backed Islamic terrorists and turned into another warlord group called al Shabaab.
Farmajo insists that with another two years he will be able organize the long-delayed elections. He has been making promises like that for years and most Somalis don’t believe him. Farmajo believes he can successfully bluff the donors and UN to stick around for a least another two years. That’s what happened in the 1990s and led to a disastrous American intervention that ended with the “Blackhawk Down” incident and the Americans left, as did other foreign peacekeepers.
The Northern Exception
Some parts of Somalia are ready for the national elections. In the north, the autonomous regions of Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million) have been able to meet the election deadlines that most of Somalia is still not ready for. The north contains about a third of the Somali population and these Somalis have less poverty, a longer life expectancy and higher literacy rates that the rest of the country. The only other exception is the southern region along the Kenyan border that, in 2013, declared itself the independent state of Jubbaland. That independence effort did not succeed as it did earlier in Puntland and Somaliland. The problem in Jubbaland was than although all the clans favored autonomy, they could not agree on how the new statelet would be ruled. In the north the clans were willing to hold elections and let the vote determine who would run the local government. Another problem was that Kenya backed the Ras Kamboni clan militia, the most powerful one in Jubbland and often allied with al Shabaab. But Ras Kamboni was not powerful to force all the other clans to submit, even with Kenya backing Ras Kamboni. While the other Jubbaland clans would not accept Ras Kamboni as their leader, they did not see any point in continued fighting over the issue and agreed to a ceasefire. Ras Kamboni controlled the port city of Kismayo, the second largest port in Somalia and was forced by the other clans and the Somali government to share the wealth gained from fees charged businesses to use the port and market places. Ras Kamboni remains the most powerful armed force down there and continues to prevent a unified and autonomous Jubbland. There is enough order down there to complete election preparations but for the rest of Somalia, between Jubbland and the autonomous north, there is al Shabaab, feuding clans, 22,000 peacekeepers and a central government in Mogadishu dominated by a president who refuses to support free elections.
Since the 1990s the two northern regions have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity, along with regular elections recognized by foreign observers as free, fair and including all adult voters to register and vote. There are still some problems in the north with clan feuds and warlords as well as attempts by al Shabaab and ISIL to establish themselves. The two statelets have had some political problems but much less so than the rest of Somalia. In contrast the other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south has been in perpetual chaos since 1990, and the establishment of a lasting central government and regular elections there is still a work-in-progress. The two statelets are willing to rejoin a united Somalia once there the rest of Somalia is united and as safe as Puntland and Somaliland.
While the UN has refused to recognize the independence of the north, there have been no serious efforts to interfere with the northern governments. One reason for this was the ability of Puntland to help suppress the pirate gangs that still operate in Puntland. The international community found the two northern governments willing to help act to deal with the pirates. This was especially true after 2008 with the deployment of the international anti-piracy patrol off the Somali coast. This made it possible for Puntland to establish, with European aid and assistance, a new coast guard to deal with illegal foreign fishing trawlers as well as the pirates. Many northern fishermen were willing to abandon piracy and return to fishing if the illegal foreign trawlers were kept out. In the 1990s the illegal fishing had put Somali fishermen out of business and led to the growth of people smuggling and piracy. At its peak, between 2005 to 2012, the pirates took over 3,600 hostages from captured ships, which were anchored off port towns the pirates controlled. Over $300 million in ransom cash was paid to free most of them. Within four years the piracy threat was much reduced because of the anti-piracy patrol, the new coast guard and pressure from the rest of Puntland to shut down the major pirate gangs. Some of the pirate hostages remained captives because Puntland was unwilling to fight the local clans to get those last hostages freed. That would have created long-term animosity between the Puntland government and some coastal clans. The last of these hostages was finally released in mid-2020 and the piracy threat has been reduced to the nuisance level that existed before the 1990s. The piracy threat still exists because there are still local fishermen/smugglers who are armed and willing to take risks for the chance of a major payday. There has been impossible since 2012 and the most active pirates now appear to be operating out of port towns in southeast Yemen.
ran has tried to take advantage of this by basing its smuggling efforts in northern Somalia rather than sending the smuggler boats all the way from Iranian ports. Smuggling has been a sideline for Somali fishermen for centuries, and flourished in the late 20th century as more Africans were willing to pay Somali and Yemeni smugglers cash to get from Somalia to Yemen and then north to the Gulf oil states and Europe. The small port towns that serve as bases for the smugglers, and later the pirates, were controlled by gangs that paid local clan leaders for “basing rights”. Puntland convinced the nations comprising the anti-piracy patrol that the Puntland approach was more certain and longer lasting than threats of a blockade and raids by foreign troops. Puntland gained international respect for doing its part to suppress the piracy and keep it in check ever since. Some of the piracy gangs tried to move operations to Somali port towns south of Puntland but that did not work because the peacekeeper force was available to shut down any efforts to establish new pirate sanctuaries for captured ships off in Somalia.
The Somali Curse
The elections deadlock is also history repeating itself. In 1960 all the colonial powers were gone from Somalia but the newly established Somali government began to come apart, a process that was complete by 1991 and no one has been able to get all the clans to agree on a new central government since. To make matters worse, most of the educated Somalis fled in the 1990s and not a lot have come back. In part that is because a number of returnees were murdered. Meanwhile public education has been absent in most of Somalia for decades and the literacy rate is under 40 percent (and under 30 percent for women). Public health has been largely missing for two decades and life expectancy is about 52 years. Outside of Somaliland and Puntland it’s under 50 years.
The electoral crisis began in June 2020 when the National Independent Electoral Commission told parliament that it was impossible to hold elections for parliament and a new president as scheduled on November 27 2020. The delay was blamed on the usual suspects; political deadlocks, poor security (bandits and Islamic terrorists), bad weather (floods this time) and covid19. To assure a minimum level of legitimacy the six million eligible Somali voters must be registered biometrically and that requires special equipment that had not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission lacked the money and needed at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time was also required but it was never going to be enough. None of this is a surprise.
The first parliamentary elections finally took place in 2016 and the new legislature was installed at the end of 2016. This was supposed to have taken place months earlier but did not because too many of the current politicians regarded elections as a threat to their income from corruption. Some foreign donors correctly saw the 2016 delays as a ploy so the interim government could stay in power longer and steal more aid money. This led to threats to halt aid if elections for parliament and president were not held. That worked, sort of, and the electoral process lurched forward, if only to keep the free money coming.
The presidential election (or selection, by the parliament) was supposed to take place by the end of January 2017 but took a lot longer. Part of the problem was political, with many of the clans (tribes) maintaining armed militias and refusing to abide by a “one man, one vote” system. That is, some clans demand more (foreign aid and other resources) than their numbers justify. This is not the case in the north and a major reason for the relative peace, prosperity and continued autonomy in the north.
In 2016 a compromise was worked out to accommodate clan resistance to one-man/one-vote. In effect the 2016 parliament was created by a “selection” rather than a national election. The national parliament had 275 members who were elected by 14,025 “voters” selected by 135 clan elders. The 54 members of the upper house of parliament are selected by local (state or regional) assemblies.
A Western style election, in which all adult citizens can vote, was not expected until the early 2020s, if ever. The current president was selected by the 2016 parliament, which meant all manner of deals were made in return for support of one candidate or another. The major aid donors quietly made it clear that if the new government did not curb the rampant theft of foreign aid, there would be a lot less of it and thus the new president was expected to be more effective in curbing corruption. The current government did not do much to reduce the corruption and foreign aid declined.
Somalia has a hard time pleading poverty because so much foreign aid gets stolen by Somalis before it can reach the people who need it, and whose desperate plight caused foreign donors to donate in the first place. The failed, so far, election preparations can be expected to continue failing with or without additional time and money. No one wants to admit that Somalia is a failed state, but fewer and fewer donors want to keep sending aid to Somalia only to find that most, or all of it was stolen. There are many other needy areas where most of the aid gets to those who need it.
May 13, 2021: The UN/AU (African Union) has agreed to extend the presence of its 22,000 peacekeepers in Somalia until the end of 2021. Previously the AU was going to start withdrawing the African peacekeepers in 2021 but the current election crises changed that.
May 10, 2021: North of Mogadishu (Mudug province) al Shabaab released photos showing off its continued control (since April) of the town of Bacaadweyne. This town has been occupied by the Islamic terrorists several times since 2011 and the peacekeepers, Somali army or local militias always took it back. In April Somali troops withdrew because of the election crises in Mogadishu and al Shabaab moved in. This time they arranged to stay by making a deal with the local clans to keep the peace and not retaliate for losses inflicted by clan militias in the past. The government is trying to assemble a force of soldiers and peacekeepers to take the town back but that is proving difficult with the current crisis in Mogadishu.
Mudug consists of territory stretching from Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean and from Puntland south to the by Hirshabelle region. During the 1990s clan wars in Mudug caused the province to be divided. The northern part joined Puntland while the southern half, which is 750 kilometers north of Mogadishu did not. Somalia wants to reunite Mudug and Puntland saw that as aggression and has so far retained its portion of Mudug.
May 9, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked a police station, killing six policemen. There has been less al Shabaab violence since April as most Somalis turned on Turkey and Iranian efforts to keep an illegitimate Somali president in power. The Somali army is taking sides with various clans rather than a national government. Al Shabaab sees an opportunity and attacked the police in Mogadishu, who are working with the Turkish trained troops. If the chaos grows al Shabaab will have more opportunities to expand its power. There is still a lot of violence in Somalia, but mostly because of the normal banditry and clan warfare violence.
May 8, 2021: In Puntland the new biometric voter registration equipment arrived, along with the computer software for tallying the biometrically identified voters and their votes in the upcoming national elections. Somaliland and Puntland have been holding elections for two decades and have no problems with biometric registration of their existing voters registered without it. If the rest of Somali can also use the biometric registration equipment and participate in national elections, Puntland and Somaliland will become part of a new united and democratic Somalia.
May 6, 2021: Somalia and Kenya restored diplomatic relations and thanked Qatar for mediating the dispute that caused ambassadors to be withdrawn at the end of 2020 because of a maritime border dispute. The border dispute is still unresolved, as is the dispute over Kenyan plans to expel several hundred thousand Somali refugees currenting living in northern Kenya. Both countries were persuaded to resume diplomatic ties to make it easier to continue negotiations. In 1994 Kenya closed its embassy in Mogadishu and withdrew diplomatic personnel from Somalia. Diplomatic ties were not resumed until 2019.
May 3, 2021: In the south (Jubbland) three American soldiers, representing Africom (Africa Command) were photographed with the Jubbland president. While all American troops were withdrawn from Somalia in January, some still visit as part of joint counter-terrorism operations and successful cooperation with some parts of Somalia (Somaliland, Puntland and Jubbland) where those operations continue to make progress. While American troops are no longer based in Somalia they are allowed to visit on official business. Details of these visits are not publicized, to minimize Islamic terrorist attacks against Americans. Africom is supporting parts of Somalia that are working to hold national elections.
April 28, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomb exploded near a police headquarters compound, after being stopped short of the compound itself. Seven people were killed and eleven wounded. One of the dead was a woman who had been living in the United States but returned to Somalia. Since early April thousands of Mogadishu residents have fled their homes to escape the growing number of raids by Turkish trained troops and police loyal to president Farmajo.