There is still deadlock over when and how to hold the next national elections. This dispute is between regional politicians and the existing president whose term of office ended in early February 2021. The regional leaders don’t trust the current president or each other. Regional leaders of Puntland in the north and Jubaland in the south refused to attend the last national conference called by the president to work out the problems because they insisted, he no longer had the authority to do so because his term had expired.
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. That current presidential term was due to end on February 8th, 2021.
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. That requires special equipment which has not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission does not have enough money and needs at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time is also required but it is not 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’ regard elections as a threat to their income (from corruption). Some foreign donors correctly saw the 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 lurches 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.
A compromise was worked out to accommodate that. In effect the new parliament was created by a “selection” rather than a national election. The national parliament has 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 will be a lot less of it and thus the new president is 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.
The elections deadlock is history repeating itself. Once all the colonial powers were gone by 1960, 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 submit to a new central government since. To make matters worse most of the educated Somalis fled in the 1990s and few have come back. Meanwhile public education has been absent in most of Somalia for two 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 security situation is better than it was in the 1990s when the infamous “Blackhawk Down” incident occurred, and most foreign aid was halted because of the unsafe conditions for foreigners and most Somalis. Since the late 1990s conditions have improved because the UN and AU (African Union) agreed to supply Somalia with peacekeepers and the money to pay and sustain them. Back then the plan was for 8,000 peacekeepers who would only be needed for six months. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000. It made some difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help from the peacekeepers, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. That peacekeeper force is due to leave because the best it can do is reduce the violence and disunity and UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the foreign aid.
March 22, 2021: Turkey flew in another shipment of armored vehicles and weapons for the Gorgor Force. This is technically illegal because of the international arms embargo. The Turks insist the vehicles and weapons are for use by the Turkish personnel administering the training. A growing number of Somalis believe the Turks are more of a threat than a benefit. A month ago, Mogadishu residents who participated in the peaceful demonstrations claimed that one reason the demonstrations turned violent, and left five dead and many more wounded, was because the Turkish trained Gorgor special operations troops led the attack on the demonstrators.
Outside the city there is a Turkish military training center compound that is largely left alone by
Al Shabaab. The Islamic terrorists are particularly hostile to the Turks because the Turks will not pay protection money to al Shabaab to avoid violence. The Turkish training facility has, since 2017, trained five Somali infantry battalions. The Turks ran separate training programs for officers (over 200 graduates so far) and NCOs (over 300 grads so far). The Turkish military reputation is respected by Somalis and the training is tough, thorough and apparently successful. The Turk trained battalions are visibly more effective against al Shabaab and the Islamic terrorists would like to see these units disbanded. So do many Somalis, who see the Turk trained Somali units, which consist of over 4,000 troops, as an effort by the Turks to exercise control over whoever rules in Somalia. Th Somalis know this is already happening in Syria, Libya and other areas where the Turks offer to help. Most of the Turkish trained troops are stationed in or near Mogadishu and all these battalions have Turkish officers attached as advisors and to keep an eye on how the troops are doing in terms of performance and loyalty to the government and Turkey. A problem with any Somali army is that regional (clan) loyalties tend to supersede national ones. The Turks believe they can change that.
March 20, 2021: Once more the UN announced that food aid would be reduced by mid-2021 because more donors were refusing to contribute. The donors were sending their aid elsewhere, where it was less likely to be stolen and more likely to reach the people who needed it.
March 15, 2021: The Somali government and al Shabaab leaders believe the new (since January 20) American government has quietly ordered a halt to the American use of UAVs over Somalia to locate, track and sometimes attack (with missiles) al Shabaab personnel. Al Shabaab gunmen are moving around confident that they are not making themselves vulnerable. The previous American government had ordered all U.S. troops out of Somalia and this was completed by January 15th. The 700 U.S. troops who left Somalia were sent to other parts of East Africa. The departing troops who will be missed the most are Special Forces operators training and advising their Somali counterparts. The American troops in Somalia also handled intelligence collection and monitoring things in general. This will continue from a major American special operation base in neighboring Djibouti, as will the use of American UAVs, based in Djibouti, to search for Islamic terrorists and carry out airstrikes when the opportunity presents itself.
Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 170 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 275 in Somalia in the last decade. For 2021 there have been seven UAV airstrikes so far, the last one on January 29th. Attacking Americans in Somalia who support those air operations has long been an al Shabaab goal, but the Islamic terrorists have had little success at that. Most of those attacks were against al Shabaab targets with a few directed at ISIL forces in the north. In 2019 there were 63 UAV attacks in Somalia for the entire year. The 2020 attacks have killed several senior leaders although most of the UAV attack missions are in support of Somali Army operations, especially in southern Somalia where the remaining al Shabaab strongholds are.
The United States told the Somali government and military that if Somalia can continue providing accurate information about al Shabaab and ISIL activities the U.S. can continue providing UAV and surveillance and airstrike support. The Somali Special Forces troops complain that without their American advisors there is no way to call in airstrikes by American UAVs or medical evacuation helicopters. Past experience has shown that too many Somalis are willing to take a large enough bribe to abuse the ability to call in airstrikes or medevac missions. This usually means calling in an airstrike against a political rival rather than Islamic terrorists. Medical evacuation helicopters can be misled and called into an ambush situation. This sort of things is another of the reasons why Somalia has been rated the most corrupt nation on the planet for decades.
March 13, 2021: In Mogadishu al Shabaab took credit for a roadside bomb attack that killed one person and wounded three others, including an army intel officer who was apparently the target of the attack.
March 9, 2021:
In the south (Lower Shabelle region) the army carried out a major operation to find and destroy several al Shabaab groups known to be based and operating in the area, mainly building and placing roadside bombs and landmines. During several clashes at least 18 al Shabaab were killed and many more wounded or captured.
March 5, 2021: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a suicide car bomb to destroy a crowded restaurant popular with security personnel and affluent Somalis. The explosion killed twenty and wounded more than 30.
March 4, 2021: In the north (Puntland) al Shabaab attacked the main prison in
the port of Bosaso to free fellow Islamic terrorists held there. At first the jail break seemed to succeed as several dozen prisoners got away. But several of the attackers were killed or wounded in the operation and police reinforcements recaptured most of the prisoners and killed or captured most of the al Shabaab attackers, who wore army uniforms as a disguise. By the end of the day at least twenty al Shabaab were dead and four captured. Al Shabaab has been much less successful in the autonomous northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland. These two regions have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity in the north. However, all is not perfect in the north. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland) have been having some internal problems but much less so than in the rest of Somalia. Northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away in the 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). 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 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.
February 28, 2021: In Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen killed two agents of NISA (N
ational Intelligence Security Agency). NISA have been a frequent target of al Shabaab attacks since the agency was founded in 2013 and has grown to include over 1,500 personnel, including several special operations units as well as dedicated security collection and analyst personnel.
February 27, 2021: In the south (Jubaland) Ethiopian peacekeepers have managed to drive al Shabaab gunmen our of several areas they had used for bases from which they raided along the border, in Kenya as well as Somalia. Al Shabaab generally stays out of Ethiopia to the west because the Ethiopians have been fighting Somalis for centuries and generally prevailing.