The United Nations envoy for Somalia urged the country to build on last week’s election of a new president by working on national reconciliation, improving relations between the central government and states, and confronting the al-Shabab terrorist group’s growing danger.
Last week’s conclusion of Somalia’s “unduly long and acrimonious” electoral process was hailed by James Swan as “a huge milestone for the country,” and he told the United Nations Security Council that authorities must address those and other serious challenges.
The envoy said he visited with Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Somalia’s new president, three days after his election on May 15 to learn about his plans. Completing a constitutional review and judicial changes, finalising electoral laws, assuring compliance with debt relief terms, and giving urgent attention to the “dire drought,” he said.
Calling this “a moment of opportunity,” Swan said the entire U.N. system in Somalia is ready to work with the new government to support these goals.
The election of Mohamud, who served as Somalia’s president in 2012-2017, ended a long-delayed electoral process. Political tensions and insecurity concerns had increased after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired in February 2021 without a successor in place.
Mohamud defeated Abdullahi Mohamed in secret balloting by members of both chambers of parliament.
No sitting president has ever been elected to two consecutive terms in the Horn of Africa nation, where rival clans fight intensely over political power. And no former Somali president had ever staged a successful return to the office until Mohamud’s election.
After three decades of upheaval brought on by warlord conflict, al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist violence, and the development of Islamic State-linked extremist groups, Somalia has only recently begun to rediscover its footing.
Swan described the country’s present security situation as “extremely unpredictable,” claiming that domestic political tensions had empowered al-Shabab, which had undertaken attacks in Mogadishu, South-West State, and Hirshabelle in recent months.
The day following Mohamud’s victory, US President Joe Biden signed an order to dispatch hundreds of US troops to Somalia to fight al-Shabab, the al-Qaida extremist organization’s largest and wealthiest affiliate. President Donald Trump’s late-night decision, according to US military leaders, impeded this attempt.
African Union special representative, Francisco Madeira, told the council that in his electoral manifesto, Somalia’s new president “placed emphasis on liberating the country from al-Shabab,” opening up the main supply routes, and ensuring that the security forces do not interfere in politics.
The peaceful transfer of power creates conditions for advancing a national political dialogue and deepening reconciliation, Madeira said in a video briefing. He added that he was pleased the new administration is already engaging regional leaders on critical national issues.
With a newly elected parliament and president, Madeira said, “the doors are now open for a new chapter in the history of Somalia to be written.”
He said the Somali people have the opportunity to reconcile among themselves, end war and bring peace to the country, promote its economic development “and restore Somalia to its former glory and beyond.”
Swan warned, however, that Somalia faces a worsening humanitarian situation following the failure of the fourth consecutive rainy season, another key issue.
He said 6.1 million people are now affected by drought and six communities face a risk of famine if food prices continue to rise and humanitarian aid falters.
He called for urgent contributions, saying almost halfway through the year the U.N. humanitarian appeal for $1.45 billion for Somalia is only 15% funded.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that after more than four years of political infighting, reconciliation between the new government and states is vital to tackle serious challenges. She said that includes facing the “menacing threat” of al-Shabab, which means “alleviating the horrific humanitarian conditions that inspire extremism.”
he also urged the new government and international community to ensure that Somalis don’t go hungry or thirsty, warning that the the country could be pushed “over the brink of famine” if Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to prevent wheat and other food from reaching Somalia.