Speakers in Security Council Urge International Support to Build Consensus ahead of Critical Somalia Elections, Welcome Gains against Al-Shabaab
Permanent Representative Rules Out Return to ‘Old Destructive Ways’, Stressing Mogadishu’s Commitment to Bold Reform
Welcoming advances in Somalia’s fight against Al-Shabaab and in its planning for political and economic progress, speakers in the Security Council called today for international support with a view to building consensus throughout the East African country with the approach of critical elections in 2020.
“Progress on the ambitious agenda for 2020 will require a high degree of political consensus,” said James Swan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). Underlining the critical importance of upcoming elections, he said that in addition to specifying all modalities, there must be broad consensus at all levels.
It is of particular importance to forge cooperation between the Central Government and key federal member states after a year in which effective cooperation was absent, he continued, citing challenges in the states of “Galmudug”, Jubbaland and “Somaliland”. He urged dialogue, compromise and pragmatism to overcome differences, with the support of international partners.
Also briefing today were Francisco Gaetano Jose Madeira, Special Representative of the Chairperson and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); Halima Ismail Ibrahim, Chair of the National Independent Electoral Commission; and Osman Moallim, Executive Director of the Somalia Youth Development Network.
Mr. Madeira, speaking by video-teleconference from Mogadishu, said: “There are signs of hope radiating from Somalia and its people.” However, progress remains fragile and requires international support, he cautioned. Outlining progress against the continuing threat posed by Al-Shabaab, he said the group is finding it increasingly difficult to operate along supply routes and has been forced into hiding after months of intense activity. Outlining progress in the transfer of security responsibilities from AMISOM to the Somali Security Forces, he said the Mission has already handed over authority in several key towns. However, major force-generation gaps remain, he cautioned, stressing that military pressure against Al-Shabaab “must be relentless”.
Ms. Ibrahim reviewed preparations for the forthcoming elections, while explaining that the clan-based power-sharing model in place since 2017 facilitated previous national elections but was compromised by vote-buying, limited participation by women and the total exclusion of marginalized and minority groups. Somalis therefore support one-person-one-vote suffrage in the upcoming elections, she stressed.
Mr. Moallim also spoke via tele-conference from Mogadishu, emphasizing the importance of inclusive and credible elections through one-person-one-vote suffrage. “Somali civil society is ready to support the process when a political consensus is achieved,” he said, calling for international support in the areas of security, reconciliation efforts between the Federal Government and the federal member states, and ensuring inclusive participation, particularly by women.
As Council members took the floor, most welcomed Somalia’s progress in facing multiple challenges, while expressing concern over the continuing threats posed by Al-Shabaab and humanitarian crises. Many urged the resolution of differences between the Federal Government and the federal member states by intensifying dialogue.
South Africa’s representative, also speaking for Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, warned that political tensions may increase as the elections approach. He called upon the international community to strengthen efforts in support of Somalia’s preparations for credible polls based on the principle of one person, one vote. Regarding AMISOM, he said the Council must ensure that any future drawdown of the Mission is guided by the actual situation on the ground.
Somalia’s representative said his country’s priorities are concluding the constitutional review, preparing for elections, providing humanitarian relief and strengthening security institutions as the national army leads an offensive against Al-Shabaab. The Government is fully committed to bold reform and timely electoral preparations, he added, urging partners to redouble their support. The Government also recognizes that its goals cannot be met in the absence of cooperation and engagement with the federal member states, he said, while emphasizing that it will not recognize election outcomes in places where the voting is not fair and inclusive, and neither should its partners. He went on to stress that rebuilding trust means holding Government to a higher standard of conduct, with no place for the “old destructive ways”.
Several speakers expressed their condolences in relation to the 20 November killing, in Mogadishu, of Almaas Elman, a prominent activist whose sister briefed the Council during its open debate on reconciliation two days ago.
Also speaking today were representatives of France, United States, Dominican Republic, Kuwait, Peru, Belgium, China, Poland, Germany, Indonesia, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:01 a.m. and ended at 12:15 p.m.
JAMES SWAN, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), outlined Somali’s political, economic and security progress over the past decade, emphasizing: “Somalis want to see this progress consolidated in 2020 and, indeed, made irreversible”. He said that since his last report three months ago, the country has made progress in all areas, finding a path to debt relief, adopting a new national development plan and holding territory captured from Al-Shabaab in the face of counter-attacks. On the diplomatic front, he added, President Mohamed Abdullahi “Farmajo” and his Kenyan counterpart announced last week their plans to normalize bilateral relations strained since February.
In October, a partnership forum defined specific objectives and timelines in a mutual accountability framework agreed by partners, he reported. “Progress on the ambitious agenda for 2020 will require a high degree of political consensus,” he said, stressing the need for dialogue and compromise at all levels in that regard. After more than a year without effective cooperation between the Central Government and key federal member states, leaders must act urgently to break the stalemate. He went on to underline the crucial importance of laying the legal framework for holding the planned 2020 elections in a timely manner, commending the Government’s confirmation of an initial tranche of financing of costs related to voter registration and its appointment of an electoral security task force. He called upon authorities at all levels to foster a broad political consensus on the electoral system and to ensure that political space is preserved.
The right to speak out, travel and engage with Somalis throughout the country is essential, urging all political leaders to act with responsibility, eschew violence and protect the integrity of national institutions, he continued. With reconciliation and electoral processes at the federal member state level facing legislative competition in “Galmudug” state and tensions arising from disputed elections in Jubaland, among other challenges, he called for dialogue, compromise and pragmatism. Authorities in “Somaliland” and the Central Government should engage in open-minded dialogue and uphold respect for human rights in the context of upcoming elections, he said.
He went on to describe the adoption of an amended federal constitution by June 2020 as promised as foundational, emphasizing that it must address the central issues of the federal structure and guarantee political representation for women. The Government and federal member states must also agree on a justice and corrections model, he said, calling for the establishment of a constitutional court as well as a judicial services commission and a human rights commission. He also urged Parliament to pass the Sexual Offenses Bill in an expeditious manner.
To disrupt deadly Al-Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu, he reported, the Somali National Army began operations in April to recapture territory in the Lower Shabelle region, with support from the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and international partners, and held it against counter-attacks in August. Additional force generation is now required not only to continue those advances, but also to support related institutional reforms, he added, noting that, while the Government and partners remain committed to the longer-term peacebuilding and development agenda, Somalia continues to be hit hard by humanitarian crises.
Expressing appreciation for the Government’s humanitarian team and for the generosity of international partners, he also applauded the courage and tenacity of Somali and AMISOM forces. He went on to underline the centrality of respect for human rights in all collective efforts in Somalia, in addition to reiterating the importance of women, young people and civil society as vital partners in building the country’s future.
FRANCISCO CAETANO JOSE MADEIRA, Special Representative of the Chairperson and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), briefed by video-teleconference from Mogadishu. He expressed the regional bloc’s solidarity with those impacted by flooding in Hirshabelle and South West states, including thousands of people displaced from their homes. Describing the response, he said AMISOM troops helped to transport people from the affected areas to higher ground, and are helping the Federal Government to repair destroyed infrastructure, such as bridges, while distributing additional blankets, mosquito nets and other items. More broadly, he cited positive developments across the country. “There are still signs of hope radiating from Somalia and its people,” he said, while cautioning that it remains fragile and requires international support.
He went on to describe recent bright spots, noting that talks are under way to support a peaceful reconciliation between leaders in Jubaland and “Puntland”, which have long had a troubled relationship. Urging Council members to support those efforts, he said Somalia is now entering the second phase of its political process and called upon all stakeholders to refrain from actions that could delay it further. AMISOM supports ongoing national efforts to complete the constitutional review — hopefully by the target date of June 2020 — and to prepare for elections, scheduled for 2020 and 2021, he reported. While much remains to be done in that regard, Somalia’s partners should not lose sight of the progress made so far, he emphasized. Indeed, an electoral bill has already been introduced, a national electoral task force appointed and the selection of voter-registration sites is underway, he reported. AMISOM has realigned its work to better support electoral preparations, including by developing a communications strategy on voter security, he added.
Turning to the continuing threat posed by Al-Shabaab, he cited a recent decline in the extremist group’s activities after a broader increase throughout 2019. Among other challenges, Al-Shabaab now finds it increasingly difficult to operate along major supply routes, where it previously launched attacks more freely, and has been forced into hiding after months of intense activities, he reported. Outlining progress in transferring security responsibilities from AMISOM to national security forces, he said authority has already been handed over in several key towns. However, major force-generation gaps remain, he cautioned, while underlining that military pressure against Al-Shabaab “must be relentless”, stressing speed and surprise. To achieve those goals, better trained and equipped Somali battalions are required, and as is greater support from partners, he said, welcoming the decision to hold a conference on force generation in December, as well as the European Union’s decision to redirect some of its support to force-generation efforts.
HALIMA ISMAIL IBRAHIM, Chair, National Independent Electoral Commission, outlined the history and challenges of elections in Somalia since independence in 1960. Explaining that the clan-based power-sharing model in place since 2017 facilitated indirect elections for Members of Parliament and the Federal Presidency, she said it was nevertheless compromised by extensive vote-buying, the limited participation of women and the total exclusion of marginalized and minority groups. She went on to review the Commission’s preparations for the upcoming elections, including the provisional registration of political parties, the identification of potential voter-registration sites, voter-education messages and the construction of a data processing centre due to be completed in February 2020.
Emphasizing that Somalis support one-person-one-vote suffrage as the only avenue by which marginalized groups can regain their right to participate in political decision-making processes, she said 2020 will be pivotal for those denied the right to political participation for decades. However, such a milestone can only be realized when Somali leaders and the international community demonstrate commitment to one-person-one-vote elections, she stressed. Pointing out that the clan-based power-sharing approach was initially designed as a temporary measure to support the Transitional Government’s preparations for one-person one-vote elections, she underlined that any electoral model that denies Somalis the opportunity to exercise their right to vote contravenes the constitution as well as the human rights conventions that Somalia has ratified.
Leaders must view the upcoming elections as a constitutional obligation and a national priority, she continued, adding that they must provide the Commission with the support it needs to conduct the vote, including by adopting an electoral law by the end of 2019 and by allocating the required financing. The Commission also appeals to Somalia’s international partners for funding, she said, putting the estimated overall operational cost of the 2020 election at $53 million, excluding security expenses and the Commission’s annual running costs. Elections guided by the United Nations in other post-conflict States cost several times more, yet they took place because the international community considered them to be a vital part of peacebuilding, she recalled, warning that recent Government and international efforts to promote Somalia’s democratization will be wasted if they fail to genuinely support one-person-one-vote elections in 2020.
OSMAN MOALLIM, Executive Director, Somalia Youth Development Network, speaking via tele-conference from Mogadishu, expressed gratitude for the international attention to Somalia’s civil society. Noting the many challenges facing the country, he said that progress is reaching a precarious crossroads in which gains can be lost or advanced. Emphasizing the importance of the planned elections to a positive outcome in the political, economic, security and social spheres, he expressed concern over the tight timeline and the lack of clarity regarding critical parts of the process, including mechanisms for resolving disputes. He stressed that civil society has made clear the need for an inclusive and credible election on a one-person-one-vote foundation.
He went on to express further concern over tensions between the Federal Government and regional authorities, calling for new forward momentum in that area ahead of the elections. Recommending that the international community support the elections in the areas of security, reconciliation between the Federal Government and the federal member states and in strengthening outreach in the electoral process, he said international support is also needed to help in promoting the integral participation of women in the political process and in providing logistical and technical advice. It is crucial that the elections proceed in a consensual manner and without delay, he emphasized, declaring: “Somali civil society is ready to support the process when a political consensus is achieved.” Affirming that women are the backbone of the Somali nation, he reiterated that their involvement in all processes is essential.
ANTOINE IGNACE MICHON (France) expressed concern over the continuing deadlock between the Federal Government and various state government authorities. While welcoming the adoption of an electoral code calling for elections based on the principle of “one person, one vote”, he nevertheless voiced alarm over still-frequent attacks by Al-Shabaab, emphasizing the need for continued efforts to implement the security transition plan, with AMISOM handing authority to national forces. Recalling that the Security Council mandated the reduction of AMISOM’s troop ceiling of 1,000 personnel by 28 February 2020, he called for a phased approach, while demanding an immediate end to persistent human rights violations, including gender-based violence and attacks on children.
MICHAEL BARKIN (United States), while welcoming the strides made in combating Al-Shabaab, called for coherence in transferring AMISOM’s security responsibilities to national forces. He also welcomed the ongoing fiscal reforms and the improving relationship between Somalia and Kenya, while emphasizing the importance of the Somalia sanctions regime. Echoing expressions of concern over the political impasse between the Federal Government and member states, he encouraged all parties to resolve outstanding differences, support the holding of free and fair elections in 2020 and 2021, and allow media outlets to freely inform the public about all election-related developments.
JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa), speaking on behalf of the Council’s other African members, Côte d’Ivoire and Equatorial Guinea, warned that political tensions may rise as the elections approach and called upon the international community to strengthen efforts to support preparations for inclusive, credible and peaceful polls under the principle of “one person, one vote”. He also called upon the Council to support the work of the National Independent Electoral Commission, including its efforts to finalize voter registration. He went on to describe the constitutional review as a critical milestone as Somalia forges ahead in laying the foundations for lasting and sustainable peace and security. Noting that women occupy 24 per cent of the seats in the current Parliament, against the target goal of 30 per cent, he emphasized the important role of women and of creating the conditions for young people to participate in elections and politics. Turning to the security situation, he commended the capture by Somali security forces of the bridge towns of Sabiid, Barire and Awdegle from Al-Shabaab, pointing out, however, that the group retains its operational capacities, as evidenced by consistent counter-attacks and systematic violence against security forces and civilians. Noting that the pace of generating national security capacities has been slow and well short of expected timelines, he encouraged the African Union, United Nations and the Federal Government to undertake a joint threat assessment of the situation on the ground in order to inform the reduction of 1,000 AMISOM troops by 28 February 2020. The Mission has already been reconfigured and drew down 2,000 of its troop strength, he said, emphasizing that the Council must base any future draw down, reconfiguration or transition on conditions on the ground and on the capacity and capability of the Somali security forces to guarantee security and stability.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) emphasized the need for the Federal Government to address political tensions with the federal member states in order to make further progress in all areas. Welcoming plans for elections, he called for consensus in forging the way forward. He went on to emphasize that women must participate in politics at all levels so they can reach 30 per cent representation in the upcoming elections. Condemning attacks by Al-Shabaab, he said the humanitarian situation is also of deep concern and called upon all local actors to ensure humanitarian access for all those in need. Donors must provide adequate assistance, he added.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) called attention to the meeting of the League of Arab States on advancing Somalia’s development goals. He also condemned attacks by Al-Shabaab, calling upon the international community to fully support Government efforts to strengthen military institutions and advance transitional plans for drawing down AMISOM. Calling upon donors to further address the food insecurity situation, he commended all who delivered assistance on the ground. He went on to stress the need to respect Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) called upon the federal member states to engage in dialogue so as to reconcile differences. Affirming the importance of women’s participation in the political process, he expressed his delegation’s support for reaching the targeted 30 per cent representation quota. He went on to urge greater support for the Government’s security efforts in light of the terrorist threat posed by Al-Shabab.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) said any potential political accord will require agreement between the Federal Government and the federal member states. Calling for universal suffrage in the planned elections, he welcomed the progress made in swiftly adopting an amended national electoral law and in starting work on electoral security. “The transition plan must remain the common thread in the Government’s work,” he emphasized. Outlining the European Union’s support, he said it provides assistance to AMISOM while also deploying the EUCAP Somalia mission and the ATALANTA maritime anti-piracy mission. While welcoming renewed anti-Shabaab efforts, he stressed that the impact of climate change has exacerbated the threat posed by that group.
WU HAITAO (China), noting the impact of peace and security in Somalia on the entire continent, said that, despite recent indications that the situation in the country is largely stable, remaining threats require the international community’s attention and support. The Council must adhere to the principle of Somali leadership and ownership, while supporting enhancement of federal institutions and creating favourable conditions for upcoming elections, he emphasized. Spotlighting AMISOM’s crucial role, he called upon Member States to provide it with sustainable, predictable funding. He also underlined the need for deeper cooperation between the United Nations on the one hand and regional and subregional organizations on the other. The Council should send more positive signals regarding the Somalia sanctions regime, he said, while stressing the need for intensified efforts to address the root causes of conflict and rebuild Somalia’s economy.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) welcomed the renewed commitment to State-building with clearly defined objectives and timelines for political, security and economic reform. Against that positive backdrop, however, the persistence of tensions between the Federal Government and the federal member states pose a major obstacle to implementation of the tasks that are crucial to lasting peace, she noted. With the deadline for elections approaching, the Federal Government and federal member states must spare no effort in pursuing agreement on a political framework for fundamental electoral issues, she said, stressing also the importance of adopting an inclusive and credible electoral law so as to ensure that the federal one-person-one-vote elections are held in accordance with the agreed timeline.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said it is unfortunate that tensions between the Federal Government and the federal states threaten progress, urging support for coordination meetings in order to resolve all outstanding issues. Credible, free and fair elections in 2020 and 2021 are key, he added, stressing the need to hold them on time and the importance of one-person-one-vote representation. For that purpose, the electoral code must be adopted by the end of 2019 and all modalities must be agreed, he said. Germany has supported the National Independent Electoral Commission financially, he noted, pledging further support while underlining that timetables must be met. Expressing his delegation’s continuing concern over Al-Shabaab’s attacks, he said continued security support is crucial. Encouraging partners to address factors affecting the humanitarian situation, including the threats posed by climate change, he also asked whether a paper-based electoral system would be better than a biometric one.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) noted that the Mutual Accountability Framework requires continued international support and strong cooperation between the Federal Government and federal member states. The two must talk constructively in order to resolve all their outstanding differences peacefully, he added. Emphasizing that his delegation is very concerned about the ongoing threat of Al-Shabaab, he welcomed the gains made in AMISOM’s joint operations with the national army in Lower Shabelle to support the transition plan and recapture towns previously under the group’s control. He called for accelerated and coordinated international assistance to build a well trained and equipped force that can eventually assume responsibility for security. He went on to stress that the international community must not forget that efforts for peace and stability are taking place against troubling humanitarian situations, pointing out that more than 300,000 people have been displaced by drought and conflict in 2019 alone, adding to the 2.6 million previously displaced internally. Recent flooding has displaced tens of thousands more and 2.1 million face acute food insecurity, he said. He went on to stress the imperative of fully protecting civilians and ensuring respect for human rights and international humanitarian law.
ALEXANDER V. REPKIN (Russian Federation) pledged to support Somalia within the Council while fully respecting its sovereignty and territorial integrity. In particular, he welcomed efforts to prepare for “epochal” elections slated for 2020 and 2021, and the approval of Mogadishu’s commitment to comply with a related timeline. Outlining the challenges confronting Somalia, he called for efforts to strike a balance of interests among the parties, warning that the stalemate between the Federal Government and the regions could spiral into further conflict. Expressing concern over increased Al-Shabaab activity in 2019, he described AMISOM as the linchpin of efforts to combat the group, while emphasizing that African peacekeepers cannot remain in Somalia indefinitely. The Mission should be drawn down in a phased manner, with strong international support, he emphasized, reporting that the Russian Federation will continue to provide support and train Somali civilian personnel.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), Council President for November, spoke in her national capacity, expressing concern about recent flooding and pledging her delegation’s support. She went on to announce that the United Kingdom will spend more than $400 million in Somalia in 2020, expressing hope for progress in such areas as force generation and the transfer of security authority to national forces. Somalia is at a critical juncture in the lead-up to elections, she noted, emphasizing that an implementable electoral model must be signed into law before the end of 2019. An amended Political Parties Act should also be passed with consensus support from all parties, she added. Calling for sustained dialogue and cooperation between the Federal Government and the federal member states, she said that while international partners can lend support, the initiative must come from within.
Ms. IBRAHIM, responding to questions, said the one-person-one-vote model is crucial in combating the corruption seen in past clan voting models. In that regard, she recalled previous instances in which Al-Shabaab instructed local elders on the candidates they must support. Concerning voting methods, she pointed out that Somalia has no national census nor an official photo-identification card programme, which makes voter registration more difficult. Decades of war have eroded Somalis’ trust in institutions and, as a result, no one trusts paper ballots, she said. Recalling that the Federal Government and federal member states decided on an election modality in 2018, she emphasized that it is now up to Parliament to endorse it. She went on to thank members for their expressions of condolence upon the death, on 20 November, of humanitarian worker and rights activist Almaas Elman — whose sister briefed the Council just a day ago — stressing that such attacks are all too common in Somalia. Indeed, she noted, her own husband was murdered for his human rights advocacy.
ABUKAR DAHIR OSMAN (Somalia) said his country is making significant progress on the Federal Government’s reform agenda and vision for the future, having obtained strong support at the Somalia Partnership Forum in October. With an agreed direction for 2020, he added, Somalia’s priorities are clear: conclude the constitutional review process by June 2020 and prepare for one-person-one-vote elections in the last quarter of 2020 while strengthening security institutions as the Somali National Army leads an offensive against Al-Shabaab. The Federal Government is fully committed to its bold reform agenda and urges its partners to redouble their efforts to help it meet its objectives, he said, adding, however, that it also recognizes that its goals cannot be met in the absence of cooperation and engagement with the federal member states. The Federal Government will nevertheless not recognize outcome in places where elections are not fair, transparent and inclusive, and neither should its partners, he emphasized. He went on to state that despite ongoing political disagreements, Somalia’s partners must extend technical and financial support to enable the National Independent Electoral Commission to complete voter registration and meet other benchmarks.
Rebuilding trust means holding Government at the federal and member state level to a higher standard of conduct, he continued, stressing that there is no room to fall back on old destructives ways in Somalia’s bright future. He went on to report significant progress in improving governance and reconciliation efforts in “Galmudug” and Jubbaland, reiterating the Government’s commitment to pass an electoral law by the end of December. As for the security situation, he said military operations are continuing in Lower Shabelle with a view to better protecting Mogadishu. For the first time, the Somali National Army is capable of holding ground and repelling vicious Al-Shabaab attacks, he noted, paying tribute to AMISOM colleagues fighting alongside the national security forces. Signing an anti-corruption bill into law in September, he added, was part of a wider package of reforms designed to tackle corruption and ensure that funds are not diverted away from urgent national priorities. Reporting that 55 per cent of the $340 million budget for 2019/20, approved by the Cabinet in October, will be financed internally, he described that as another big step along Somalia’s path to self-sufficiency. He went on to underline the challenge of significant weather events and the impact of recent heavy rains on hundreds of thousands of people in central and southern Somalia, saying the Federal Government is responding with emergency support and relief efforts while putting resilience-building measures in place to deal with similar weather events going forward.