A violent Islamist insurgency, impending famine, political chaos and a battered economy – these and many other major crises await whoever wins Somalia’s tense and long-awaited presidential election.
– Repair the fences –
The troubled Horn of Africa country was supposed to choose a new leader in February 2021 but missed the deadline as Somali political leaders squabbled over the electoral process.
The standoff turned violent when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmajo, extended his term in what opponents called an unconstitutional power grab.
The president appointed his prime minister to organize a new vote, but the task drove a wedge between the two men, putting the vote even further out of reach.
The crisis has crippled the government at a time when stability was badly needed to deal with the burning challenges ahead, analysts said.
“It was truly 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 of the technical work…that requires a level of cooperation if you don’t have that kind of healing and a common vision from the start.
Farmajo’s presidency heightened tensions between the central government and some states, notably Jubaland, and there were violent clashes between their respective forces.
The president has been accused of using Somali security forces to further his political ambitions.
Samira Gaid, executive director of Mogadishu-based think tank Hiraal Institute, said divisions within their ranks should also be resolved.
– Security policy –
The next president faces a familiar threat that has dogged successive governments for more than a decade – a deadly and persistent insurgency by the militant group Al-Shabaab.
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 help the foreign-backed government confront jihadists linked to al-Qaeda.
The reconfigured mission, dubbed ATMIS, calls for a more offensive strategy than in recent years with the aim of gradually reducing the number of troops to zero by the end of 2024.
Gaid said a new president might consider renegotiating aspects of an agreement Farmajo signed “at a time when Somali leaders weren’t really focused on security imperatives.”
Somalia’s international backers have warned that protracted infighting over the elections has distracted from the threat from al-Shabaab, which has consolidated its rural territory and in recent months stepped up its attacks.
Mahmood said a new leader could also consider a more political approach to tackling the Islamists, and perhaps even set the mood for possible dialogue with them.
“How a new administration signals this, the tone they present, is very important from the start,” he said.
“Even if Al-Shabaab is not ready right now, it’s kind of opening a channel…to lay the groundwork” for any dialogue.
“It’s a process, it’s a very long-term thing.”
– Famine prediction –
Somalia is vulnerable to climatic shocks and is currently suffering from its worst drought in decades.
According to the United Nations, some 6.1 million people, or around 40% of the total population, have been affected and 760,000 people have fled their homes.
Humanitarian organizations have warned that without a significant increase in aid, Somalia could soon face a famine not seen since 2011, when 260,000 people died of starvation.
The government has little ability to tackle the problem on its own.
But observers say political stability in Mogadishu would help coordinate the emergency response and present a unified call for help.
– The economy at the limit –
A poor and indebted country lacking essential infrastructure, Somalia depends on foreign aid to function.
According to the World Bank, almost three quarters of Somalia’s 15 million inhabitants live on less than 1.90 dollars (1.80 euros) a day.
Election delays threaten a crucial International Monetary Fund assistance program, which automatically expires on May 17 if a new administration does not approve key reforms.
The government has requested a three-month extension of this deadline, but this has not yet been considered.
The economy grew by 2.9% in 2019 and is expected to expand further in 2020.
But it instead contracted as the coronavirus pandemic, a locust infestation and flooding took their toll, the World Bank said.
The African Development Bank predicts growth of 3.2% for 2022, still below pre-Covid projections.
Mahmood said improving tax collection could also protect the economy from future shocks.
Widespread corruption also continues to be a problem – Somalia is near the bottom of Transparency International’s Global Corruption Index, ranking 178 out of 180 nations alongside Syria.