The foreign minister of Somalia says an agreement between the federal government and regional states will lead to long-delayed national elections
Mohamed Abdirizak said agreement on the three key issues to complete the deal was reached “in principle” Tuesday, culminating negotiations between the government and member states that began on May 22. He said a communique detailing the agreement will be issued Thursday at a closing ceremony.
“The negotiation process has not been easy, and this demonstrates how vital consensus remains, and without consensus how fragile peace in Somalia is, and how fragile our institutions of government remain,” Abdirizak said. “However, we have now reached an agreement that will lead Somalia to free elections, fairer elections.”
There had been growing pressure on Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed after scheduled elections on Feb. 8 failed to take place because of the lack of agreement on how the vote should be carried out. Two regional states said they would not take part without a deal.
Talks between the federal government and regional leaders that began in March broke down in early April. At the president’s request, the lower house of parliament then adopted a special law that extended the terms of current office holders for two years and abandoned a Sept. 17, 2020, agreement on indirect elections, reverting instead to a one-person, one-vote model.
Those decisions sparked widespread opposition, leading to the mobilization of militias, exposing divisions within Somali security forces, and resulting in violent clashes on April 25.
Three decades of chaos, from warlords to al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab to the emergence of an Islamic State-linked group, have ripped apart the country that only in the past few years has begun to find its footing.
The extraordinary scene of soldiers firing at each other in the streets of Mogadishu on April 25 brought back fears for many Somalis that the Horn of Africa nation could collapse back into that chaos. Alarmed, the international community worried that the al-Shabab extremist group would take advantage.
Following the clashes, President Mohamed on May 1 asked the lower house of parliament to reverse its actions that included extending his mandate for two years. He asked lawmakers to back the agreement the federal government reached with regional states last Sept. 17 on a way forward for the vote, and he asked Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble to lead the election preparations and the related security measures.
Roble chaired the meeting that resulted in Tuesday’s agreement in principle.
The foreign minister said the key outstanding issues had been the status of elections for the Somaliland representatives — which was being finalized “as we speak” — as well as election arrangements in the other regions and election committees, matters on which agreement has been reached.
Somalialand, with a population of 3.9 million, broke away from Somalia in 1991 as the country split up and descended into clan-based civil war. It has seen little of the violence and extremist attacks that plague the rest of Somalia.
U.N. special envoy James Swan, who spoke to the council shortly before Abdirizak, said the April 25 clashes risked “broader conflict” and “since then, Somalia has come back from the brink of this worst-case scenario.”
He welcomed the “”highly positive” news that an agreement was near and said it is “imperative” that participants in the summit agree to hold elections “in the shortest time possible.”
“Without such an agreement, along with the goodwill and sincerity to implement it, the gains which have been made in Somalia in recent years may be reversed, risking further instability and insecurity,” Swan warned.
In the elections, he said it is also crucial that the minimum 30% representation for women in both houses of parliament be implemented, along with representation for youth and minority groups “to ensure the development of the country and sustainable peace in Somalia.”
Swan also warned that the security situation in Somalia remains a “grave concern,” with al-Shabab still a serious threat. And he called the humanitarian situation “still dire, with 5.9 million Somalis — or more than one-third of the population — in need of aid this year,” including over 3 million “in acute need of life-saving assistance.”