Four years after the formation of a federal government in Somalia, the country has built nascent institutions, but it will need years of financial and security support to make the new state effective, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said April 20 at USIP. The country’s next critical step will be to hold national elections before September, a vote that Mohamud said will be less democratic than he and other Somalis had hoped—but an improvement in a country that has not elected any government since 1969.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

“The world after all these long years is getting fatigued” by the challenges of helping Somalia rebuild. – Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, President of Somalia

Largely because of continued disagreements among Somalia’s traditionally strong regional clans, “it was not possible to achieve the goal, which was one person, one vote” in this year’s election, Mohamud told an audience of diplomats, U.S. officials and Africa specialists. Under a compromise, the clans are to choose a total of nearly 14,000 people to form an electoral college that will select a new parliament. Somalia’s leaders chose to “do pragmatically what we can do right now” to hold this year’s vote on a basis that will be as broad as possible, while agreeing on a “road map” to achieve universal suffrage for the following national election, in 2020, he said.

In his speech at USIP, and in a separate videotaped interview with Ambassador Johnnie Carson, a USIP senior advisor and former assistant secretary of state for Africa, Mohamud made several other points:

  • Somalia needs a different kind of security help against Al-Shabab. “The challenge is still there,” Mohamud said. “The insurgents’ war is still there,” including terrorist attacks by al-Shabab militants that have increased this year, killing 150 people in January and February. The African peacekeeping force, AMISOM, has pushed al-Shabab to the margins of the country, he said, but further improvements in security will rely on greater international support for building Somalia’s own police and armed forces.
  • Somalia’s clan leaders remain divided on details of the new federation. What was a “highly centralized governance system is now … highly decentralized,” Mohamud told the audience. But regional leaders remain divided on the number and shape of constituent states in the federation. “There are chapters of the constitution that need a lot of consensus-building around them,” he said. And mistrust among the clans remains high following a half-century of war. “The wounds of the civil war have not been healed completely,” he said in response to a question from Carson. “Trust is not a commodity that can be purchased from the supermarket. It has to be built.”
  • The new Somali state remains weak. The federal Somali structure agreed to in a 2012 accord now has “nascent institutions … in place,” but “they need nurturing,” the president said. “They lack capacity, they lack enough resources to implement the real federation.”
  • Somalia’s weakness has made it a toxic dumping ground. Somalia has the longest coastline on the African continent,” but cannot protect it from environmental abuses such as over-fishing and the dumping of toxic waste. For years, ships from abroad have dumped “unmarked shipping containers” into Somalia’s coastal waters, their contents unknown. “We fear toxic waste,” he said.

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