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23-Nov-2020 02:11:20
Agreement on indirect-voting plan for upcoming elections ended political stalemate in Somalia, Special Representative tells Security Council.

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The recent consensus among Somalia’s leaders on a plan to hold forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections through indirect voting ended a two-year political stalemate between the Federal Government and federal member states, the senior United Nations official in that country told the Security Council during a 23 November video conference meeting today, emphasizing the importance of maintaining that momentum.

“The coming months will set the course of Somalia for the next several years,” said James Swan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), welcoming the agreement among political leaders that women hold 30 per cent of parliamentary seats.

However, the model of voting, agreed in September, regrettably fell short of the constitutional requirement for direct universal suffrage in electing parliamentarians, he noted, while stressing that the agreement reflected wide political consensus and ownership. “Going forward, this broad political consensus must be preserved and indeed deepened,” he said.

According to the electoral schedule, members of the two houses of the Federal Parliament will be selected by the end of December, with the President’s election by the new Parliament slated for February 2021, he explained. However, nominations to the electoral management bodies were several weeks behind schedule and remain the subject of contention. Also to be finalized is the electoral security plan to ensure the safe holding of elections and minimize the risk of the Al-Shabaab insurgent group disrupting or influencing the process, he added.

Highlighting the need for universal suffrage elections in the future, he urged leaders to prepare a consensual road map with clear timelines and benchmarks to ensure that one-person-one-vote elections take place in 2024/2025. He also stressed the importance of enhancing political dialogue between the Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states, noting that he has initiated a series of visits to the capitals of the latter.

On the security situation, he reported that persistent attacks by Al-Shabaab remain the primary threat. Continued efforts to protect the Somali people and degrade the insurgent group’s capabilities must be the main objectives of the national security forces, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other security partners as the country enters a sensitive electoral period, he emphasized.

“Next year will be a transition year in which Somalia takes lead responsibility on security matters,” he continued, stressing the need for agreement on a strategic vision for national security involving all stakeholders. The Federal Government is drafting an updated transition plan, which must address many long-standing challenges, including the need for realistic operational objectives, credible plans for force generation, and clear coordination structures, he said, adding that it will also serve as a baseline for further discussions in the coming months to guide the role of the Somali security forces, AMISOM, the United Nations, and bilateral security partners.

Francisco Madeira, Head of the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), detailed how protracted, painstaking dialogue and negotiation yielded an important consensus to improve the indirect electoral model of 2016 for the upcoming elections. The consensus enjoyed broad support across the country as well as the endorsement of both houses of the Federal Parliament, former presidents, civil society and business leaders, he said. It also led to the appointment of a new Prime Minister, who has selected a Cabinet and worked to accelerate the constitutional review process. The African Union will offer whatever support the Prime Minister needs to conduct free, fair, inclusive and secure elections, he pledged.

He went on to underscore the need to conclude the constitutional debate and draft a shared national vision; address issues related to reconciliation, the sharing of land and natural resources; and combat radicalization, insurgency and terrorism. This will require repeated formal and informal discussions among political stakeholders like those held in Dhusamareeb and Mogadishu. Applauding the strength, courage and perseverance demonstrated by women in their contributions to peacebuilding in recent years, he stressed the importance of their full participation in the upcoming elections. The upcoming elections are a top priority for AMISOM, he added.

Detailing the Mission’s accomplishments since he last briefed the Council, he said they include increased training assistance for national security forces. AMISOM has also supported electoral security operations by mentoring its Somali counterparts in planning, coordinating and delivering security throughout the electoral process. The Mission’s civilian staff have held a series of thematic election workshops to promote the participation of women in the electoral process, he added.

Turning to Al-Shabaab, he said the group remains a principal threat to peace and security and is increasingly emphasizing the destabilization of Mogadishu by attacking high-profile targets. Underlining the emergence of a clear threat picture, he said the group is also enlisting foreign expertise as part of its transfer of knowledge from affiliated foreign groups. Bolstered by its ability to mobilize quickly, Al-Shabaab has recently begun targeting aircraft during take-off and landing in forward operating bases, he said, cautioning that, while these attacks have been unsuccessful thus far, it is important to follow that emerging threat.

He went on to detail several successful AMISOM operations disrupting Al-Shabaab’s activities, seizing weapons and capturing fighters. The Mission has also responded to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, providing personal protective equipment and delivering essential services, including clean water. He added that AMISOM has also constructed childbirth facilities to provide maternal care in Jubaland.

Zainab Hassan, Chairwoman of the Somali Gender Equity Movement, long-time civil society activist and one of the experts who developed the National Reconciliation Framework, said that although women can cross clan boundaries to promote reconciliation, they have been largely absent from peacebuilding processes. “Without women’s full presence at the table where decisions are being made, Somalia will not be able to attain sustainable peace and create a just society based on the rule of law,” she stated.

For progress, more investment in public education is needed, she said, pointing out that although girls have made significant gains in literacy, with 83 per cent enrolment in elementary education, that number drops greatly as they get older and more susceptible to working and child marriage. She cited Bar Ama Baro, a partnership between USAID Somalia and the Ministry of Education aimed at increasing the enrolment, safety and health of girls as a good model for international assistance.

She went on to stress that women’s economic contribution is very clear, particularly in micro- and small-sized enterprises. However, their absence from medium- and large-sized enterprises is mostly due to lack of access to family funds and loans. Noting that women have increasingly been making inroads into male-dominated sectors such as livestock, fishery, farming, and petroleum importing, she underlined the need for systematic support in all areas, accompanied by more data.

Somalia is at a critical juncture with the imminent end of the mandates for the Federal Parliament and executive branches. In that context, she welcomed the agreement on a 30 per cent quota for women’s participation in Government roles while emphasizing the need for an enforcement mechanism to that end. The significant increase in women’s representation achieved so far can be attributed to advocacy by women civil society groups, in collaboration with support of the Goodwill Ambassadors Committee, the United Nations and key members of the international community. She stressed that attaining the quota was the specific focus of her Movement, which has been active in the electoral process since 2016.

She went on to point out the obstacles faced by women in the current electoral process, saying they include outright opposition to the quota by some religious leaders, traditional elders and male politicians, as well as lack of access to financial resources. Empowering women economically is pivotal to positioning them well to compete in the political arena, she said, stressing that the steep decline in the number of women’s seats in all state parliaments except that of Jubaland demonstrates the urgency. Calling upon the National Consultative Council to honour its agreement on the quota, and on the Federal Government, political parties, opposition groups and civil society to work together towards a fair and free election, she urged the Security Council to closely monitor and exert pressure on them all.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates broadly welcomed the agreement on the electoral process, calling upon leaders to resolve outstanding issues and to hold the parliamentary and presidential elections as scheduled. They also agreed that Al-Shabaab remains a major threat to Somalia’s security, highlighting the role of the United Nations in helping to strengthen the capacity of national forces.

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