The winner of Somalia’s tense and long-pending presidential election on Sunday loomed large amid a violent Islamist insurgency, starvation, political turmoil and a shaky economy.
– MEND FANS – Political leaders in Somalia raged over the election process, and the country’s troubled Horn of Africa country missed the February 2021 deadline to elect a new leader.
When President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmajo, extended his term to illegally seize power, the standoff turned violent.
The president appointed his prime minister to hold a new referendum, but the assignment strained relations between the two men, making the vote even more impossible.
Analysts said the crisis had paralyzed the government at a time when stability was desperately needed to meet the burning challenges.
“It has really been a lost year for Somalia,” said Omar Mahmood, an analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank.
“This long-awaited election has been divisive. Reconciliation is the most immediate challenge.
“It’s hard to move forward with some technical tasks … that require a level of collaboration if you don’t have that kind of medical and general vision from the start.”
The president of Farmajo has escalated tensions between the central government and various states, especially Jubaland, and there have been deadly clashes between his troops.
The president has been accused of misusing Somalia’s security forces for personal gain.
Divisions within their ranks will also need to be reconciled, according to Samira Said, executive director of the Mogadishu-based Hiral Institute research tank.
– Security Policy – The next president faces a familiar problem that has plagued previous governments for more than a decade: the violent and resolute insurgency of the al-Shabaab terrorist group.
In March, the United Nations renewed the mandate of a 20,000-strong African Union force that has been on the ground since 2007 to support the foreign-backed government in combating jihadists linked to al-Qaeda.
The reconfigured mission, called ATMIS, calls for a more aggressive strategy than in recent years, aiming to gradually reduce the number of troops to zero near 2024.
Gaed said a new president might consider reconsidering aspects of an agreement signed by Farmajo “at a time when the Somali leadership was not really focused on security imperatives”.
Somalia’s international supporters have warned that the long-running battle over the election has been distracted by the threat of al-Shabaab, which has fortified its rural area and intensified attacks in recent months.
Mahmood said a new leader could consider a more political approach to dealing with Islamists, and perhaps even set the mood for any possible talks with them.
“How a new administration prompts about that, the tone it presents, is very important,” he said.
“Even though al-Shabaab is not ready yet, it is opening a channel for any dialogue … to lay the foundation”.
“It’s a process, it’s a very long term thing.”
– famine forecast –
Somalia is vulnerable to climate shocks, and is currently facing its worst drought in decades.
According to the United Nations, 6.1 million people have been affected, which is about 40% of the total population, and 760,000 people have evacuated their homes.
Humanitarian organizations have warned that unless aid is significantly increased, Somalia could face a famine similar to 2011, when 260,000 people died of hunger.
The government lacks the resources to deal with the situation on its own.
According to observers, political stability in Mogadishu, however, would benefit from coordinating the emergency response and presenting a coherent demand for assistance.
– Economy on the edge –
A poor, indebted country lacking vital infrastructure, Somalia relies on foreign aid to function.
According to the World Bank, nearly three-quarters of Somalia’s 15 million people live on less than $1.90 (1.80 euros) a day.
Delaying the election threatens a vital aid package from the International Monetary Fund, which ends automatically on May 17 if a new administration does not approve major reforms.
The administration has requested an extension of the deadline by three months, though the request is yet to be considered.
The economy grew by 2.9 percent in 2019 and is expected to grow even more in 2020.
Instead it was contracted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, locust invasions and floods, according to the World Bank.
The African Development Bank has predicted a growth of 3.2 percent in 2022, which is still lower than pre-Covid estimates.
According to Mahmood, improving tax collection can help protect the economy from future shocks.
Somalia is at the bottom of Transparency International’s world corruption index, ranking 178 out of 180 countries along with Syria.