Somalia - Security Council Open VTC

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21-May-2020 02:15:11
COVID-19, severe locust outbreaks compound economic, security woes in Somalia ahead of long-awaited elections, experts tells Security Council.

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The COVID-19 pandemic poses grave consequences in Somalia ahead of long-awaited elections as the Government grapples to address terrorist attacks, floods, an extreme locust infestation and at least 5 million citizens requiring humanitarian assistance, including 2.6 million internally displaced persons, briefers told the Security Council in a videoconference meeting* on 21 May.

A range of repercussions are expected as authorities brace for a predicted 11 per cent decline in the gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 as the nation confronts the spread of the novel coronavirus, said James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), briefing from Mogadishu on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2020/398). While Somalia has benefited from COVID-19 response efforts, including support from the United Nations, World Bank and other partners, the number of infected persons is believed to be much higher than the 1,500 reported cases. At the same time, he said, the parliamentary and presidential elections so highly anticipated in February now depend on all stakeholders involved, adding that: “the coming weeks will be decisive in determining how Somalia will proceed”.

Providing an overview, he said the parliamentary Joint Ad Hoc Committee is expected to present its recommendations for resolving the issues omitted in the Electoral Law passed in February, including designating constituencies, allocating Upper House seats, and guaranteeing 30 per cent of the parliamentary seats for women. In addition, Parliament must also adopt amendments to the Political Parties Law to conform to the Electoral Code. Ahead of voting, he continued, the Chairperson of the National Independent Electoral Commission will also report to a joint session of the Houses of Parliament on plans for conducting elections within the constitutional time frame: November 2020 for the Parliament and February 2021 for the presidential elections. The National Electoral Security Task Force must also expedite efforts to put in place the necessary security arrangements for voting, and consensus-building among political leaders and across Somali society is needed to ensure the elections enjoy broad support.

Highlighting Somalia’s progress on other State-building priorities, he pointed at the formation of the Constitutional Court, Judicial Services Commission, an independent Human Rights Commission and a review of the federal Constitution. He also called on the Federal Government and federal member states to protect the rights and freedoms needed to ensure democratic competitions are fully respected, especially during this critical election year.

With regard to security, he said institutional reforms have continued in the security forces, and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) completed its troop reduction ceiling by 1,000 troops on 5 March, as decided by the Security Council. The United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) is currently providing logistics support to 19,626 AMISOM uniformed personnel, and to 10,900 Somali Security Forces, supported by donor contributions to the Somali Security Forces’ Trust Fund. While Somalia has made progress in recovering Al-Shabaab-occupied areas, liberating the strategic town of Janaale in Lower Shabelle, the group’s terrorist activities persist. A joint threat assessment conducted by the Federal Government, African Union and the United Nations concluded that the threat of Al-Shabaab is evolving, as it engages in intimidation and violence through improvised explosive devices, mortar attacks and assassinations, alongside extortion, illegal commercial activities and criminal tactics on the communities it controls.

Welcoming the Federal Government’s commitment to revise the Somalia Transition Plan accordingly, he said efforts must also focus on non-military responses, such as combating terrorist financing. Regrettably, COVID-19 has slowed international partners’ training of forces needed to fight Al-Shabaab, which may impact operations, he said, underscoring the importance of updating the Transition Plan to reflect any changes to the force generation timeline. Regarding the federal member states, he was encouraged by recent progress in Galmudug, South West and Jubaland on dialogue and reconciliation, and by ongoing talks involving Somalia-Somaliland relations. Urging all actors to commit to dialogue and improved cooperation between the Federal Government and the federal member states, he regretted to note that it has been more than one year since the President and state leaders have met, adding that achieving national priorities urgently requires all to work together.

Despite COVID-19 restrictions and challenges along with security threats to UNSOM, the United Nations stands ready to support Somalia. “We have temporarily reduced the staff working physically from Mogadishu and our field offices,” he said, “but our colleagues telecommuting remotely remain working and engaged, wherever they are in the world, and continue to demonstrate their determination to support the people of Somalia.”

Francisco Madeira, Special Representative of the African Union Commission and Head of AMISOM, said that despite the threat posed by COVID-19, Somalia is making headway in containing terrorism and building peace. In terms of economic recovery, it faces major hurdles along its path to full debt cancellation under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Debt Initiative. The Federal Government must embark on a set of short-term targets that include feeding 5.2 million people, addressing the needs of internally displaced persons, educating those out of school and creating 400,000 jobs each year. “This is a daunting task if we take into account the adverse conditions brought about by the combination of terrorism, recurrent natural disasters and the impact of COVID-19 on Somalia’s economy.” Already, there are signs that remittances, trade and household incomes are declining. If such trends continue, the Federal Government could struggle to meet some of its obligations. Somalia’s partners must find ways to help it overcome those trends and meet the conditions for full debt cancellation, he said.

On the Federal Government’s relations with federal member states, he reported “a degree of readiness” to move forward on key national issues. The President of Puntland’s intention to advance dialogue with Mogadishu, among other initiatives, will hopefully generate a common vision for Somalia. Progress is also being made on reconciliation and dialogue at the state and local levels. In Galmudug, the deployment of AMISOM troops helped to create a good environment for a successful clan reconciliation conference. In Jubaland, the state’s leader and Ogadeni opposition figures reached a settlement that led to mutual recognition and cohabitation. At the local level, similar reconciliation efforts have helped to end violent clan conflicts.

“It is abundantly clear that holding national elections is a top priority for Somalia,” he said, adding that several outstanding — and potentially contentious — issues must immediately be addressed. Those include ensuring a 30 per cent quota for women’s representation and Parliament’s adoption of amendments to the Political Parties Law. Above all, the elections will require the political support and involvement of all federal member states. Time is running out, he said, calling on all stakeholders to overcome their challenges and allow the National Independent Electoral Commission to prepare for a credible, free and fair vote throughout the country.

Turning to security matters, he reported tangible gains in degrading and disrupting Al-Shabaab’s capabilities. The recovery of Janaale represents a serious blow to Al-Shabaab, as the town was a strategic stronghold for the group in Lower Shabelle and Mogadishu. Elsewhere, targeted operations by AMISOM and Somali security forces in Bula Xaaji on 20 March considerably reduced the group’s capabilities. He warned, however, that if the process of generating sufficient, well-trained, well-equipped and regularly paid Somali security forces remains at the current pace, it may not be possible to achieve the goal of a critical mass of Somali forces capable of taking over from AMISOM by the end of 2021. “The current rate of force generation is too slow and, if not changed, will take several years to reach the threshold for effective transition,” he said.

Agnès Marcaillou, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service, provided an update on threats posed by Al-Shabaab’s increasing use of improvised explosive devices and their impact on the civilian population and efforts to mitigate the situation. From 2017 to 2019, the reported use of the devices climbed to 529 from 402, with 161 incidents reported so far in 2020, killing a total of 153 AMISOM troops and 489 Somali security forces. Without counting almost 600 people killed in an attack in October 2017 in Mogadishu, a reported 787 civilians have been killed and 1,779 were injured.

However, she attributed the drop in civilian casualties in the city this year to the positive impact of the current Mogadishu Security Plan. In addition, Operation Badbaado in Lower Shabelle has limited the infiltration of explosive devices into the capital, whereby the 2019 monthly average of 1.17 vehicle-borne improvised explosive device incidents has dropped to only one for the whole of 2020 to date. Meanwhile, military operations in Lower Shabelle since the second quarter of 2019 have seen a concomitant increase in Al-Shabaab’s attacks targeting the Somali National Army, causing an alarming rise in casualties which, in the first quarter of 2020, and for the first time, have exceeded civilian deaths. In recent years, Al-Shabaab’s manufacture of these devices has shifted from using military-grade explosives to more readily available compounds and components, demonstrating its ability to adapt and its determination to continue to use this method of warfare.

Turning to the Mine Action Service’s activities, she said that since 2017, it has trained more than 50,000 AMISOM troops, on subjects ranging from threat awareness to search, detect and deploy techniques. Training and mentoring of AMISOM Mission Enabling Units has increased troop confidence in the utilization of main supply routes and led to vastly increased consignment movements on main supply routes from Mogadishu to the sectors. The Mine Action Service provides AMISOM with a variety of services, including an explosive ordnance clearance capacity of 21 teams, working with 42 explosive detection dogs, to protect key infrastructure, such as airports, airstrips and Mission bases. While the number of incidents reported as targeting AMISOM has remained high, the Mission casualty rate per incident has decreased since 2017. Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, all Mine Action Service support activities for AMISOM are ongoing, except for pre-deployment and in-person training. To date, the Service has trained and equipped the existing 14 Somali Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams.

The Service’s action has proven, and continues to prove, that it enhances AMISOM’s force protection, mobility, and operational effectiveness, and contributes to the reduction of casualties and fatalities amongst AMISOM ranks, she said. According to Service analysis, Al-Shabaab is likely to continue its improvised explosive device attacks against national armed forces personnel, using available precursors and ever-evolving and complex designs. Effective, sustainable and accountable threat mitigation capabilities for the Somali security forces would support the transition of security responsibilities from AMISOM, she said, expressing hope that the Security Council will consider expanding the categories of the United Nations non-lethal support package provided to the Somali National Army, through the United Nations Trust Fund for Somali security forces, to include mitigation support. If so, she appealed to Member States and other partners to channel appropriate funding.

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