Mogadishu and the Federal States are on a collision course regarding different issues, especially the management of the elections to be held next year, the first since 1969. The bordering countries such as Kenya and the Arab states are fanning the flames of the crisis.
The coming months will be crucial for Somalia. In 2020, in fact, the first universal suffrage elections since 1969 are to be held. They could possibly represent the start of a new phase in the complicated and tiresome journey of emergence from the deep crisis initiated by the collapse of the regime of Siad Barre. But the country is preparing itself in an atmosphere of tension and instability.
Relations between Mogadishu and the Federal States are worsening. In the past year, five of the states into which the country is divided – the sixth, Somaliland, declared itself independent in 1991 – have formed their own ‘Council for Cooperation Among the Federal States’.
During a meeting that took place in Chisimaio, the capital of Jubbaland, last September, they declared they would call a halt to collaboration with the central government until they received a response to various important issues.
Some of these: the failure to combat the Al-Shabaab terrorists, the lack of a clear agreed mechanism for sharing resources, a poor commitment to ensure that credible universal suffrage elections are held and interference by the central government in the affairs of the Federal States. In the view of various experts in Somali politics, the real problem is the elections.
The five Federal States would aim at weakening the credibility of the Central Commission, maintaining that it would not be able to guarantee free and fair elections. The final objective would be to prevent the control of the vote in their own territory so that they may have more trump cards to play in the context of the control of power at national level. In August, there was already a dangerous trial of strength, when elections were held in Jubbaland.
Mogadishu contested the appointment of the electoral commission and of the grand electors who chose the members of the regional parliament saying it was not in line with the rules of the Constitution. But Chisimaio considered this judgement to be interference in local matters and continued the electoral process until the confirmation, for a second term, of the incumbent President, Ahmed Mohamed Islam Madobe, and leader of the federal wing of the central government. Mogadishu has not recognised the elections as valid. At the same time, a second parliament was being appointed which elected its own president. This is a potentially explosive situation.
It is such a potentially explosive situation that it risks seriously destabilising not only Somalia, but the entire region. In fact, Ethiopia and Kenya also have their roles to play in this game. Addis Ababa is allied with Mogadishu in line with its relations with the Somalia central government. In 2006, Ethiopia played a decisive role in the defeat of the Union of Islamic Courts which, in effect, was governing a large part of the country, and in reinforcing the transitional federal government, sponsored by the international community which it helped to set up in Mogadishu. Nairobi, instead, is allied with Chisimaio. It considers Jubbaland to be a valuable buffer against terrorist infiltration and Madobe an optimal ally. For this reason, Nairobi has backed him, even at diplomatic level, as well as his reasoning and his re-election.
The Kenyan foreign minister, Monica Juma, publicly contested some of the observations and perplexities concerning the electoral process expressed by the peace mission, Unisom, and of the UN commission for political affairs. The position and intervention of Kenya are especially meaningful and delicate also due to the present difficult moment in diplomatic relations between the two countries. This is due to an age-old dispute about maritime borders which refers to sovereignty over an area of the Indian Ocean where large deposits of oil and natural gas have been discovered.
Tensions have constantly increased since last February when the Somalia Oil Conference was held in London, in which, according to Nairobi, the estimates concerning deposits in the contested area of the sea were presented. Since then, Kenya has accused Mogadishu of preparing to auction off oil extraction rights in the disputed sea area, without waiting for the judgement, to be issued soon, of the court of the Hague, to which Somalia presented the case.
Turkey and the Gulf countries
The stability of Somalia is also influenced by tensions between the two Arab-Moslem blocks: that led by Saudi Arabia, of which the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are part, and that made up of Turkey and Qatar. Ankara is a major investor in Somalia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first non-African head of state to visit the country, after a gap of twenty years. Turkish Airlines is the only flag-carrying company allowed to operate in Mogadishu, the site of the largest Turkish embassy in the world and the largest Turkish military base abroad.
Qatar is also an important donor. Somalia refused to ally itself with Saudi Arabia at the start of the conflict in Yemen when it attempted to isolate Qatar. Since then, the clash between the two blocks has become weightier on Somali soil. It is a clash that is played out by fomenting problems between the Federal States and the central government, according to political analysts. The ‘public’ split was established by an accord between the United Arab Emirates and Somaliland which Somalia considers one of the Federal States, for restructuring the port of Berbera and the construction of a military base, going over Mogadishu’s head.
In this context, where internal relations are increasingly weak and competition between the various actors is continually growing, al-Shabaab has the opportunity to extend its influence over the territory, using its capacity, strengthened in recent years, of striking where it wants with impunity. There is also much evidence of a capillary presence in Mogadishu itself, evidenced, among other things, by payments of cash to avoid attacks. So terrorists have everywhere become mafiosi. But this is possible thanks to a close network of connivance that will certainly also be used to influence the elections in their favour.