Although it has taken almost two decades since the formation of a transitional government was agreed in 2000, progress towards stability in Somalia is being made. While the situation is far from being considered peaceful and stable, the building of relatively sound foundations has provided some hope that Somalia might progress to becoming a functioning state. Somalia continues to receive significant military, political, financial and humanitarian support from the international community, including Australia. Since 2016, Australia has provided $17 million in humanitarian support.
Since the first Somalia conference in London in 2012, Somalia has faced many political challenges but managed to continue moving forward, most recently in the form of federal elections. Parliamentary elections occurred in October–November 2016 but conditions were not right to conduct a ‘one-person, one-vote ballot’. As such, an indirect electoral process was developed that involved the regional areas.
While the 2016 election process was far from problem-free, it did result in the creation of two houses of parliament for the first time in Somalia’s history. The new federal parliament now has 275 clan-based members of parliament in the House of the People and 54 members in the newly established Upper House, the latter of which were ‘elected by their respective State Assemblies’. Fifty per cent of the new parliament is made up of new members, the representation of women has increased from 14 to 24 per cent, and around 18 per cent of members are under the age of 35. The next election, scheduled for 2020, is expected to be universal (one-person, one-vote) and conducted by Somalia’s new National Independent Electoral Commission.
On 8 February 2017, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’ was elected as Somalia’s ninth President. The parliament endorsed Farmajo’s 68-member Cabinet on 29 March and approved the country’s new Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Kheyre. Farmajo acknowledges ‘the enormous challenges’ still facing Somalia and vows to fight against ‘three major enemies: terrorism, corruption and poverty’. Terrorist group Al-Shabaab remains a critical threat to Somalia’s security; corruption on many levels is historically endemic; and insecurity, drought and potential famine have impeded Somalia’s ability to overcome poverty.
The new government is implementing the Somalia National Development Plan 2017–2019 (NDP), the first of its kind since 1986, which was endorsed at the Somalia conference in London in May 2017. The NDP seeks to provide strategic direction to alleviate poverty and better manage development aid. The conference also facilitated agreement on a new Security Pact.
Central to the new Security Pact is the transfer of security responsibility from African Union (AMISOM) forces to Somali security forces ahead of the planned withdrawal in 2018. It is expected that by the next federal election, Somalia will have taken the lead on overall security.
The Pact states the transition of security responsibility is to be conditions-based ‘with clear target dates linked to the security sector reform milestones’ set out in the Pact. Some of the ambitious milestones to be completed by December 2017 include:
maintaining Somali National Army (SNA) personnel strength of 18,000
establishing a national air force and navy/maritime forces
increasing federal and state police personnel numbers to 32,000
building and strengthening the Coastguard
distributing SNA forces as needed across the country and
establishing 500 Danab Special Forces positions in each SNA sector (totalling around 3,000–4,000).
AMISOM is predominantly made up of forces from Burundi (5,432), Djibouti (1,850), Ethiopia (4,395), Kenya (3,664) and Uganda (6,223). The UK and the US also have military personnel on the ground in Somalia. The UK deployed around 70 military personnel to Somalia in 2016 as part of a UN mission to support AMISOM with medical, logistical and engineering expertise. It became evident in May 2017 that US forces are operating in Somalia when a US service member was killed on an ‘advise and assist mission’ not far from the capital Mogadishu. The European Union Training Mission Somalia has been training local forces since 2010 and EU naval forces conduct counter-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.
Enormous challenges ahead
Overcoming the terrorist threat is crucial to Somalia’s long-term stability. The UK Government recently stated that Al-Shabaab ‘remains a vicious threat to security in Somalia, and indeed to the region’. A June 2017 US statement suggested Al-Shabaab ‘has cemented its control’ in southern and central Somalia and has developed enough capability to overrun three AMISOM Forward Operating Bases in the last eight months. Daesh extended its presence into Somalia in 2015 but has struggled to expand its influence. The majority of Al-Shabaab elements have not aligned with the group and remain loyal to al-Qaeda.
Tackling corruption in Somalia will be very difficult given that the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 ranked Somalia as the most corrupt nation. Effective institutional reform will be key to this process.
At the moment, the greatest threat facing Somalia is the deteriorating humanitarian situation due to the recent drought. The UN deemed some parts of Somalia at risk of famine. The World Food Programme reported on 28 June 2017 that so far ‘Somalia remains free of famine, but the risk persists. Vulnerable households continue to struggle to cope with the impact of protracted drought, insecurity and disease outbreaks’. The UN reported that acute malnutrition is increasing, measles and cholera have broken out, and since the drought started in November 2016, around 761,000 people have been displaced. Although the UN is assisting, an additional burden on Somalia’s fledgling infrastructure is the return of Somali refugees, approximately 2,000 of whom arrive from Kenya each week after the Kenyan Government announced the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp after some 26 years of operation.
Australia’s connection to Somalia dates back to 1992–94 when up to 1,500 military personnel deployed on a UN humanitarian mission. When Somalia deteriorated into civil war, Australia began to settle Somali refugees. In the 2016 Census, around 7,688 people registered as Somali-born and 16,175 as having Somali ancestry. As Somali-based piracy became a major problem for international trade, the Royal Australian Navy joined coalition counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. While Australia has also provided financial support to AMISOM, it has no in-country military presence. Despite attending the first Somalia conference in 2012, Australia was not represented at the 2017 conference.