Over the last 10 years, Somalia has made tremendous improvement in building government institutions and restructuring security forces. Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s government has secured the capital Mogadishu. Banks have opened and investment is growing. The main economic activities are agriculture and the services sector.
Somalia is preparing for a presidential election next year. What are the prospects and practicality of conducting a free and fair election in the horn of Africa nation?
Conducting an election in a country like Somalia is a huge task—for government institutions and the people. Popular elections have been held in Somalia only twice in 50 years—in 1964 and 1969.
Since their first meeting in Arta, Djibouti, in 2000, Somalis have exercised a clan power-sharing model. This was a temporary measure to help the transitional government prepare the country for a one-person one-vote election. Farmajo’s election was conducted in the airport complex in Mogadishu, as it was too dangerous in the rest of the country.
Since the Arta conference adopted the 4.5 power-sharing system, Somalia’s two highest political offices—president and prime minister—have been held by only two clans. Addressing the UN Security Council on November 21, 2019, in New York, the chairperson of the National Independent Electoral Commission, Halima Ismail Ibrahim, emphasised the need to support the rights of Somali people to political participation.
“I want to remind the distinguished members of the Council that 2020 is a pivotal year for Somalia’s citizens whose rights to political participation have been denied for 50 years and also it will be a milestone for the international community who have been investing heavily in Somalia for several decades to introduce and promote democracy and good governance,” she said.
Somalia has an estimated population of 12 million, many of whom live outside the country; Somaliland is autonomous, and 2-3 million others are refugees in other countries. The Farmajo led-government has been struggling to be in the good books of the federal states of Somalia. It has yet to recognise the election of President Ahmed Mohamed Islam (Ahmed Madobe) in Jubaland.
Al Shabaab is estimated to have between 7,000 and 9,000 fighters in Somalia, according to the BBC. Al Shabaab continues to carry out attacks in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, killing civilians. The militants also continue to target the Somali state and African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces.
According to the Council of Foreign Relations, the United States has pursued a two-pronged approach in Somalia—by providing financial and logistical support to Amisom and conducting counterterrorism operations, including drone strikes and special operations forces raids, against al Shabaab militants.
It was reported that 150 militants were killed by a US strike at a training camp north of Mogadishu in 2016. The US continues to carry out airstrikes against the militants.
Given these circumstances, therefore, it would be difficult for Mogadishu to conduct a free and fair election.
Al Shabaab controls part of Bay and Bakool as well as parts of Gedo. With weak institutions and lack of properly trained electoral officials (those available have little skill in election infrastructure, let alone the capacity to do mapping), Somalia’s ability to exercise universal suffrage is still a distant mirage.
Without proper electoral laws and funds, it remains to be seen how the Farmajo led-government will conduct a popular election in Somalia. It is estimated that the National Independent Electoral Commission needs $53 million (Sh5.4 billion) for the election by December 2019.
By: Abdullahi Alas