Written by Eugene Satanovskiy; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Alice Decker exclusively for SouthFront
Since the 1990s, when a bitter “war of all against all” began in Somalia, replacing the long confrontation with Addis Ababa, Mogadishu has been counting on using the internal problems of its neighbor in the Horn of Africa to facilitate its “reunification” with neighboring provinces of Ethiopia, inhabited by Muslims who are related both ethnically and by language. The authorities acted according to the idea of building a “Greater Somalia” (part of the great-power project that is so widespread in the Near and Middle East, having afflicted most of the countries in the region, and some are still infected with it). As a result, the country has become a classic example of a failed state.
“The international community” in all the diversity of this concept can’t do anything about this area of continuous crisis. The international peacekeeping forces in Somalia in the 1990s were defeated, with serious losses. The African states whose troops periodically come to the aid of the official government (not without advancing their own geopolitical interests) cannot beat the radical Islamists. Based on the clan-tribal foundations of Somali society and support from the Arabian Peninsula, they regain power after every defeat.
At the same time the country’s problems have long affected those beyond its borders. The Somali diaspora in North America and Western Europe has become a rear base for local pirates, whose potential is underestimated by global players (although they have been reduced thanks to the actions of the maritime states that have been battling them for many years in the Red Sea and the Western Indian Ocean). Somali refugees in neighboring African countries, especially Kenya, have become a breeding ground for Islamist terrorism. In the Arabian monarchies, the natives of this country are kept under control, but in civil war-ridden Yemen, where they are very many, they represent a potentially significant effect.
Somalia, which long since disintegrated into stable (Somaliland and, to a lesser extent, Puntland) and unstable territorial entities, formally remains a democratic state, represented at the United Nations and having embassies in many countries — a sign of just how adequate international policy may be in problem areas, including in Africa. What such a policy leads to is clear in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and the countries of the Sahara and the Sahel. Somalia differs from those countries in that it is remote from the main theaters of military operations in the Near and Middle East, and stays focused on its own internal conflicts. But understanding what is happening in this country, especially with regard to the division of powers and positions between the tribes and their constituent clans, is important if we are to assess the situation in the Horn of Africa and all that is going on in the Middle East.
This article is based on materials by IPM experts SV Aleynikov, AA Bystrov and VV Kudeleva.
Somalia is nearing completion a long, multi-step process of parliamentary and presidential elections which began in October 2016. Of the 54 deputies of the upper house of parliament, 49 are known, and the lower house is in place — The National Assembly (NA). At the end of 2016, the National Assembly started work by adopting the Regulation on the Election of Leadership of the Federal Parliament and the President of Somalia. The Deputies of the 10th convocation have started to perform their functions and took over the powers of the extra-constitutional National Leadership Forum that usurped power in the country last May.
In accordance with that Regulation, the Chairman of the National Assembly and his two deputies were elected on January 10–11 in Mogadishu, Somalia. Of the four candidates for the post of chairman, the representative of the Rahanwein tribes Professor Mohamed Osman Javari was re-elected by secret ballot, supported by 141 of the 259 deputies who took part in the vote. His first deputy was the representative of ethnic minorities Abdiweli Ibrahim Ali Sheikh Muudey, who held the post in 2010–2012. Second Deputy was Dir tribal representative Mahad Abdalle Awad, who worked in this position in the 9th convocation Parliament, 2012–2016. They won in the second round, receiving 164 and 171 votes respectively. Farah Sheikh Abdikadir, leader of “Dam-ul-Jadid,” the group that is dominant in Somalia’s central government, aspired to the post of first deputy chairman of the parliament but he was defeated.
These National Assembly electoral results partially clarified the balance of political forces prior to the presidential campaign scheduled for the end of January. The re-election of Mohamed Javari as Chairman of the National Assembly torpedoed the plan of the president of the Southwestern region of Somalia, Sharif Hassan, who sought to become the new Federal President, as the representative of the Rahanwein tribes had already won one of the highest public offices and so, by tradition, only a representative of the other three large Somali ethnic groups — the Hawiye, Darod and Dir — can claim the presidency. Since most of the Dir tribes (Isaac et al.) live in Somaliland, the real struggle for the presidency will be between the candidates of the Hawiye tribes (primarily Abgal) and Darod (primarily Majeerteen).
Farah Abdikadira’s defeat in the elections to the leadership of the National Assembly, with only 94 votes, shows that most of the deputies were opposed to strengthening the position of the group “Dam-ul-Jadid” and the re-election of Sheikh Hassan Mahmoud as president. However, given the corruption factor in the Somali elections, we cannot rule out the possibility that Mahmoud Sheikh will be re-elected president.
The most likely candidates for President of the Republic of Somalia are:
- the former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (who comes from the Abgal / Mudulod / Hawiye tribe), campaigning under the slogan “For real political change!”, financed by big Somali businessmen;
- his fellow tribesman President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is running under the slogan “ finish what we started.” He is actively supported by Ethiopia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia;
- a kinsman of Sheikh Hassan Mahmoud, the relatively young politician Jibril Ibrahim Abdulle, proclaiming the slogan, “For fair authority and a single nation,” supported by the United States and other Western countries;
- their kinsman Osoble Abdulkadir Ali, a big businessman, the leader of the political opposition of the current government; his slogan is “Unity is power!”;
- and Acting Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali “Sharmarke” (from the Mahmoud Osman / Majeerteen / Darod people), who is projecting political stability while receiving financial support from the United Arab Emirates;
- and to a lesser extent, former Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo” (of the Marehan / Darod tribe), who returned from the United States. He is a politician popular in Mogadishu and proffers the slogan of “The interest of the Somali people and Somalia.”
Among the presidential candidates, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has the greatest financial capacity, while Mahamed “Farmajo” has the least. In total, more than 20 candidates are participating in the presidential race. Most of them are calling for regime change and real political reforms. These candidates have entered into an alliance, providing support to those who pass the second or third round of voting in the presidential election. They have called on Parliament and the Central Election Commission for honest elections and warned against foreign interference in the election process, in order to avoid falsification of the results, a boycott, and a new political crisis.
The Somali elections are being conducted in a complex military-political and social environment. They are accompanied by numerous scandals related to gross violations of the rights of voters and candidates. Certain MPs are under pressure from both the government and the terrorist group “Al-Shabab” that threatens their lives. Militants from this group arranged a major terrorist attack on January 2 near Mogadishu airport. Two car bombs killed at least 15 people and injured dozens, and destroyed several buildings including the Peace Hotel where members of the government of Somalia lived, as well as parliamentary deputies and foreigners.
A new hotbed of political tension in Somalia has appeared in the federal region of Galmudug. On top of the fact that his government’s conflict with Puntland and the Sufi military-political organization “Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah” (ASUD) is still not resolved, the local parliament decided, at an extraordinary meeting, to remove from power the president of Galmudug, Abdikarimov Hussein Gouled, for dereliction of duty and violation of the constitution. Fifty-four out of 89 deputies voted for his removal. President Gouled called the parliamentarians’ decision illegal and refused to leave his post. On January 11, he returned to Adad, announced a state of emergency in Galmudug, and appointed a new governor of the province. Mass demonstrations were held in Adad in support of the Parliament. Additional security forces loyal to Gouled were sent to the city.
Somalia’s Acting President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has supported Gouled’s actions as his protégé and ally in the struggle for the presidency. The heads of Somalia’s federal regions also took a stand against these parliamentary decisions as they could destabilize the country. At the same time, on the territory of the central provinces controlled by ASUD, a regional parliament has been formed and sworn in for central Somalia with 65 deputies representing the Galgudud, Mudug and Hiran provinces. Earlier, the ASUD leadership announced that they do not recognize the legitimacy of the authorities in Galmudug or the election of deputies to the Federal Parliament held in Adad.
Thus, the central provinces of Somalia remain divided into zones of influence between the administrations of Galmudug, ASUD and “Al-Shabab”. Military tension is rising in the region and could escalate into a new armed conflict both between political groups and between local tribes. This may affect the results of the presidential elections. This situation is compounded by another drought in Galmudug, a traditional scourge in Somalia and other countries in the Horn of Africa, bringing a massive loss of population from starvation and epidemics.
The protracted process of parliamentary and presidential elections in Somalia has an extremely negative impact on the situation in the country. For more than a year, the federal and regional authorities have been caught up in political intrigues, ignoring problems in the areas of security, the economy and social welfare. In the confrontation between the leaders of the warring factions and their supporters, money is spent not only from the private funds of the candidates but also public funds. The majority of Somali politicians and public figures have advocated regime change.
Chaos and Business
Some Western experts have noted that Somalia could see a renewal of armed confrontation between various factions of the Islamist group “Al-Shabab” who differ in their views on “Al-Qaeda” and the “Islamic State” (banned in Russia), although this division seems artificial. This movement has no classic supporters in Somalia. The local tribal groups publicly present themselves as supporters or affiliates of one or another movement to make the tribal fight appear to have global overtones. The Western intelligence assessment suggesting that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s supporters lost their beachhead in Somalia to supporters of Ayman al-Zawahiri is dubious. In fact, they were only minimally involved in the fighting within “Al-Shabab” in Somalia between the “elders” and the “youth wing,” whom the US unwittingly helped by using drones against their groups.
Wariness over the return to Somalia of “IS supporters” intensified against the backdrop of a security alert about “Al-Shabab” (“Jaish al-Amniyat”) in connection with the expected expansion of Somali supporters of Omar Abu Obeida, who liquidated American UAVs in 2012. After that, for reasons including the financial (as a result of this confrontation, they lost their usual funding sources in the form of racketeering and smuggling), the members of his faction had to flee Somalia and relocate to Yemen. Neither here nor there did they encounter any obstacles.
Given the chaos in Somalia, it is not surprising. In Yemen itself, the people of President A. Saleh warmly welcomed them. There are plenty of Somali colonies in Yemen and they have always been under the protection of the authorities. This became especially noticeable during the rule of Saleh, who used these contacts to organize channels for the mass smuggling of alcohol and migrants from Yemen to Saudi Arabia. From Yemen and across Somalia, khat (a mild narcotic), fuel and weapons were flowing. Virtually all the Somali Islamist leaders were involved in these operations in one degree or another, and many lived in Yemen. President Saleh also used the Somalis to intimidate and get rid of his political opponents. Thus, in the midst of a “revolution,” Somali mercenaries burned a protesters’ camp in Sanaa.
President Saleh’s main contractor was the Somali from the Comoros Islands, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, who created an underground network in Yemen, recruiting Somalis into the ranks of the “death squads”. He ended up in close contact with the Iranian secret services (IRGC), carrying out joint operations to transfer weapons from Yemen through Eritrea to Sinai. Later, with the assistance of Saleh, he extended his activities to the territory of Somalia, positioning himself “as a supporter of the IS” — The Yemeni president needed a foothold in the country to maintain the smuggling channels. Iranian weapons that were sent to Hamas and “Islamic Jihad” in the Gaza Strip were bought by the Iranians in Yemen with the assistance of the Yemeni leader.
These attempts have been one of the grounds for factional struggle, and in 2011, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed was eliminated in the US drone strike — clearly on a tip from his former followers. After this, as well as in connection with Saleh’s removal from power, “the Yemeni group” began to lose influence and moved from Somalia to Yemen. There, under the auspices of the IS, and orders from Saleh, it began organizing attacks on mosques in areas under Houthi influence, and in Aden. Then the “Yemeni supporters of IS” popped up and published several videos. They were Somalis, whom Saleh was using for subversive war, and the mere presence of IS in Yemen was to create the desired effect on the Americans. The implication was that the only force that could keep the danger in check was Saleh’s Republican Guard forces and his allies, which at that time were the Houthis.
The risk of “Somali IS supporters” showing up in Somalia, where part of them intended to move from Yemen, is related to the fact that they’ve got some money. According to the leaders of “Jaish al-Amniyat”, there is talk about financing the Houthis and Saleh to set up arms transfers from Somalia to Yemen. The intermediaries in this case were, once again, Iranian Revolutionary Guards operatives, who got in touch with the arms dealers in Somalia through their connection to the Eritrean government. “IG supporters” are expected to arrive in Somalia from Yemen to ensure their security.
In this regard we note that Asmara, despite a relationship of trust with Abu Dhabi, is secretly maintaining relations with Iran, including on issues of arms smuggling. That is, Eritrea is following a multi-vector policy, as has always been customary in the East. Note also that the attempt to revive Somali–Eritrean channels is directly related to the fact that Oman, which is experiencing growing pressure from Riyadh, decided to tighten control over the logistics channels for smuggling Iranian weapons to Yemen through the Dhofar. Sultan Qaboos promised this to the heir of the Crown Prince and KSA Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman. In this situation, his appeal to Iran to freeze such operations for the time being is only logical. Hence the urgent resuscitation of old Somali ties by the Iranians and their Yemeni allies.
The UN’s November report acknowledged that the authorities have made progress in controlling the export of charcoal, the basis of Al-Shabab’s “economy”. After this loss, the jihadists are trying to take over the sugar market and to impose a “tax” in rural areas on agricultural products. The sugar gives them a revenue of $18 million a year, the “tax” — $9.5 million. Part of the charcoal market has also remained under the control of “Al-Shabab”, the total volume of which 120–160 million euros. It is alleged that Kenyan soldiers from AMISOM are accessories in this trafficking. Every year, bypassing the UN Security Council embargo, up to six million bags of charcoal at 25 kilograms each are sent from the ports of Kismayo and Buur Gaabo to the Arabian Peninsula. In Kismayo, the Kenyan military gets two dollars for each.
On November 12, the African Union called on the EU to reconsider its decision to pay Burundian soldiers in Somalia for their work directly, rather than through Bujumbura. The Burundi Contingent is the second largest in AMISOM after the Ugandans, at 5400 soldiers. In total, AMISOM has over 22,000 troops. First Vice-President of Burundi Sindimvo Gaston did not rule out the withdrawal of Burundi troops from Somalia, if the EU continues to pay it directly. So the triumph of “law and order” in the country obviously will not be coming soon.
president of the Middle East Institute
Published in issue number 3 (667) of 25 January 2017