Somalia: Election Miracle

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July 14, 2021: The presidential electoral crisis appears to be settled with incumbent president Farmajo’s supporters and the opposition finally agreeing two weeks ago on the details of new elections. These elections were supposed to be held in December 2020 but were delayed over a year because of difficulty in agreeing on how and when. The June 29 agreement stipulates national elections for the 54 members of the senate be held from July 10 to August 10 while the elections for the 275 members of parliament will take place between August 10 and September 10. Starting on September 20 the newly elected members of the senate and parliament will select senate and parliament leaders. Once that is done, a process that could take months, the combined senate and parliament will elect a new president. Like previous agreements, this one might not actually work. But after a year of bickering and threats of civil war and the withdrawal of foreign aid, this agreement may be the one that works.

The final dispute was in agreeing on who was non-partisan and eligible to replace 34 ousted members of the National Independent Electoral Commission. A May agreement made was supposed to have solved this problem. Farmajo supporters refused to cooperate and allow disclosure of background information of those proposed for membership in the Electoral Commission.

These disputes have been going on since mid-2020 and turned violent in April 2021 when president Farmajo used Turkish trained-troops and loyal (to him) police to take control of Mogadishu. He continued blocking serious efforts to hold the long-delayed elections. Farjamo persuaded parliament to extend his current term, which expired in February 2021, two more years. That was something parliament did not have the power to do and Farmajo used his 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, so he agreed that the two-year term extension was illegal and made serious efforts to negotiate a settlement. Farmajo apparently believes that if elections are held, he will lose. So do many Somalis, both traditionalists and reformers, and now everyone is on the watch for Farmajo’s efforts to rig the vote.

The election 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, which 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. Foreign aid donors are fed up and threaten to withdraw aid, which is still being stolen by corrupt politicians and officials. The government pleaded for foreign aid to deal with the many internal problems. Billions of dollars in aid over the last decade has been provided but little of it has reached the people in need. Even Moslem donors are threatening to halt the aid.

Farmajo and many other Somali politicians and leaders do not believe the foreign donors will completely abandon Somalia again, as they did in the 1990s for the same reasons. A majority of Somalis apparently agree with the aid donors but Somali culture still puts clan loyalty above anything else. National government has to distribute a lot of foreign aid to clan leaders to get any meaningful cooperation. Fair elections are seen as a threat to the traditions that create and sustain clan leaders, who are often warlords. That tradition leaves it to clan leaders to negotiate how much clout their clan should have, irrespective of how many eligible voters each clan has. That tradition is now seen by most Somalis as more of a problem than a solution. Fair voting is seen as a major threat to these traditions, which groups like al Shabaab depend on.

Shabaab Stumbles

Although al Shabaab has increased its attacks this year in an effort to disrupt the elections, that has made them more vulnerable. The army, peacekeepers and pro-government militias have taken advantage of this. Since March, at least a hundred al Shabaab men have died each month.

In the south the al Shabaab losses have been repeated across the border in Kenya where al Shabaab recruiters have encountered a lot more difficulty in recruiting teenage Somalis living in Kenya to join. Worse, so far this year over 350 Kenyan members of al Shabaab have surrendered and accepted amnesty.

July 10, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomber attacked a government convoy, leaving nine dead and nine wounded.

July 9, 2021: In the north (Puntland) security forces finally tracked down the camp of a new ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) cell that was responsible for several bomb attacks since June. The attack on the camp left four Islamic terrorists dead. One was identified as a bomb builder and another had videos on his cellphone showing recent attacks. A month ago, a similar operation in the Almadow Mountains where troops sought out and captured an ISIL hideout. Most of the thirty or more ISIL men in the base camp escaped, leaving behind a lot of weapons and equipment. Among the dead one was identified as Khalid Osama, a veteran Pakistani Islamic terrorist. There were known to be a growing number of foreign ISIL veterans in Puntland, where they were seeking refuge from areas in the Middle East where ISIL was still taking heavy losses. The ISIL groups hiding out in Puntland do not carry out operations locally in return they expect to be left alone. But ISIL members have to live and will carry out attacks in nearby areas to obtain supplies. This generates demands that Puntland security forces act. With the help of tips from local civilians the ISIL cells are shut down, but ISIL keeps coming back, always in small numbers. Most of the ISIL members are from Somalia, where the more extreme Al Shabaab members seek a more extreme Islamic terror group and ISIL is the only one available. ISIL no longer really exists in Somalia but it is general knowledge that there are small ISIL groups in Puntland, which is where new members go to join and die.

July 6, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) the army regained control of the town of the town of Bacaadweyne, which al Shabaab had occupied since April. 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 took longer than usual to assemble a force of soldiers and peacekeepers to take the town back because of the election crisis in Mogadishu.

Mudug consists of territory stretching from Ethiopia to the Indian Ocean and from Puntland south to the 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 sees that as aggression and has so far retained its portion of Mudug.

July 5, 2021: The army revealed that they had confirmed the identity of an al Shabaab member recently killed northeast of Mogadishu. The dead man, known by a nickname “Tosow” was a senior, and secretive, leader of al Shabaab in central Somalia.

July 2, 2021: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked a café popular with NISA (National Intelligence and Security Agency) and ten people died in the explosion and many more were wounded.

In central Somalia (Bay region) a bomb went off in a town market, leaving one dead and three injured. Al Shabaab later took credit.

Including today’s bombings there have been fifteen al Shabaab suicide bombers so far in 2021, in addition to a few that involved planted, usually roadside, bombs.

June 29, 2021: The various political factions finally agreed on and released dates for the national elections.

In the north (Puntland) a new ISIL cell attacked a convoy, killing one soldier. This triggered a major search operation to find out where this new group was.

June 28, 2021: In the north (Galmudug) al Shabaab used two suicide car bombers to spearhead a failed attack on an army base. There were 17 soldiers and 13 civilians killed and 30 wounded, mostly by the two bombs. The al Shabaab gunmen were not able to exploit the explosion deaths and get into the base and after about an hour of gunfire, retreated with soldiers and armed civilians in pursuit. Over 40 al Shabaab were killed during the attack and during the pursuit.

June 27, 2021: In the south (Middle Juba) al Shabaab executed six local civilians (one a woman) accused of spying for the Americans who, until this year, regularly launched accurate UAV missile attacks on key al Shabaab personnel. Middle Juba is an al Shabaab stronghold and the biggest threat was the American UAV surveillance and attacks. The new (since January 20) American government ordered a halt to the American use of UAVs over Somalia. Al Shabaab gunmen are moving around confident that they are not making themselves vulnerable. 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 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.

June 26, 2021: The first of several hundred American troops have arrived in Kenya, doing so without any publicity in order to avoid any reckless efforts by local al Shabaab members to attack them.

June 22, 2021: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle) the army used mortar fire to hit an al Shabaab camp, leaving at least 17 Islamic terrorists dead. The shells can be fired rapidly (a dozen a minute) for a short period, Since mortar fire was a surprise and sustained, accurate and lasted a few minutes, the al Shabaab men in the camp did not have time to flee from the danger.

 

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