posted on THU 19 MAY 2016 6:50 PM
Dispatches from the Field: Meetings in Mogadishu

Security Council members today started their visiting mission to the Horn of Africa with a day of meetings in Mogadishu. (Due to the security situation all the meetings took place at the Mogadishu airport.) A key focus of the discussions throughout the day was the electoral process and in particular on the need for the Somali parliament to endorse the agreed electoral model for the elections planned for August. It seems that there had been some hope that the Council visit would encourage parliament to vote on the model by the time members arrived in Mogadishu to meet with Somali political leaders, but this did not happen despite the UN, AMISOM, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the EU, Ethiopia, Italy, Sweden, the UK and the US on 14 May expressing their “deep concern over the protracted process to approve the 2016 electoral model”.

The Council delegation first met with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Michael Keating, and other members of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) leadership team. Keating briefed Council members on the current political situation, with a focus on recent efforts to get the Somali parliament to endorse the agreed electoral model. Among other things, this model calls for a power-sharing formula that gives an equal share to each of the four major clans with a coalition of smaller clans getting half a share; an enlarged electoral college; and the allocation of 30 percent of the seats in the parliament for women. It seems that after the Somali prime minister, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, submitted the model to parliament for approval on 30 April, some members of parliament proposed re-opening certain modalities of the model. Keating said that although the model was not perfect, it was important to move forward if elections are to be held in August as planned. It appears that UNSOM has been working with Somali political leaders to find a solution and that a compromise had seemingly been agreed the day before the Council arrived, but it was unclear whether the parliament would act on it. Keating also noted that even if the parliament moved quickly, there would still be very important logistical challenges ahead that would have to be dealt with and could cause further delays. He urged Council members to send a strong message to Somali leaders about the need to adopt the electoral model.

The electoral process was also the main subject of the discussions when the Council delegation met with the Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, as well as the regional leaders of Puntland, Galmudug, and the Interim South-West Administration. The President of the Interim Jubba Administration was initially expected as well, but did not attend. A meeting with the Speaker of Parliament, Mohamed Sheikh Osman Jawari, was canceled at the last minute, reportedly because he had to be in parliament.

The president stressed that he was well aware of the critical importance of the next few months for the electoral process and the need to implement the electoral model but noted that the National Leadership Forum had clearly stated that the electoral model would be subject to parliamentary approval. He said there was agreement on acceptable language and was confident that the remaining outstanding issues could be resolved. He added, however, that it was important that Somalis come to their own conclusion and appealed for patience from the international community. He noted that there had been similar situations in the past and expressed confidence that the elections would happen as scheduled. The president and regional leaders also expressed their support for the electoral model and their full commitment to the holding of elections according to the agreed timetable.

The president briefly talked about advances in the security sector, including progress on developing a national security policy. In this context he reiterated the appeal he made during his briefing to the Council on 19 April in New York, for the full lifting of the arms embargo. With regard to the work of the Monitoring Group assisting the Somalia/Eritrea Sanctions Committee, he said his government was ready to engage with the group, but called for a review of its methods.

Earlier in the day, the Council delegation met with the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira. Madeira confirmed that the security situation remains very challenging, with continuing inter-clan conflicts and attacks by Islamist rebel group Al-Shabaab. He noted that AMISOM is still struggling with command and control issues, poor coordination and a lack of enablers, while the Somali National Army needs better training and better infrastructure. He warned that victory over Al-Shabaab was not possible if these issues were not addressed. Drawing attention to the issue of lack of funding for AMISOM troops, Madeira noted in particular the effect on staff morale of cutting troop stipends. Another problem he highlighted was that when AMISOM takes over a town from Al-Shabaab, other actors are not moving in fast enough to help stabilise the situation and meet the expectations of the local populations for rapid improvements.

Security was also the focus of a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Mohamed Omar Arte, Minister of Internal Security Abdirisak Omar Mohamed and the Minister of Defense Abdukadir Sheikh Ali Dini. The discussion focused on the national security policy architecture including a national security plan, which was drafted with the involvement of all the federal states, and is now subject to consultations. A key challenge that was highlighted in the meeting was the lack of any funds that can be used to strengthen the security sector.

There were two parallel civil society sessions: one focusing on women’s participation with women leaders, and another focusing on humanitarian response and development with representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The meeting with women leaders focused on women’s participation in the electoral process as the electoral model states that 30 per cent of the electoral colleges shall be women and that 30 per cent of the seats in parliament shall be reserved for women. In her opening statement, Somali Minister of Women and Human Rights Zahra Ali Samantar, stressed her government’s commitment to ensuring this goal, while noting past challenges in ensuring women’s participation at all levels. The women leaders made a strong appeal to Council members to help ensure that the goal of 30 per cent is met, with some recalling that a similar provision guiding the August 2012 selection of parliament had not been adhered to. Some also highlighted the fact that there were no women in the National Leadership Forum. Other participants called for the constitutional review to enshrine the goal of 30 per cent women’s participation and asked the UN to ensure that women are consulted at all levels. Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia Peter de Clerck in his remarks in the session on humanitarian response and development noted that this was the time to explore long term, developmental solutions while Somalia was progressing on a the right path to political transition. He appealed to the international community to remain united in its support for simultaneous progress on the political, humanitarian and development tracks.

At the end of the visit to Mogadishu, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft (UK) and Ambassador Amr Abdellatif (Egypt) held a press conference with Keating and Madeira. Ambassador Aboulatta said they had sent an “extremely loud and clear” message to the Somali government about the need to move on with the elections and had urged the president to use all the constitutional tools available to him in this regard. He noted that the speaker of parliament had declined to meet with Council members. Ambassador Rycroft said that they had discussed the security situation and were concerned about the continuous attacks by Al-Shabaab. Council members agreed that the Somali national forces should be built up to become a credible force. With regard to AMISOM, he noted that the discussions in Mogadishu would feed into the Council’s upcoming decision on the extension of AMISOM’s authorisation. In particular, there was a need to ensure better command and control and perhaps assess whether the concept of operations could be refined to ensure that the mission could better respond to the threat posed by Al-Shabaab

Tomorrow morning Council members will meet with the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and members of his cabinet in Nairobi. Later in the day they will meet with UN entities to discuss humanitarian issues.