In an ambush in Mogadishu – Somalia – Al Shabaab militants killed (January 22nd) former Hiraan Governor Abdirahman Ibrahim Ma’ow, who was running for HirShabelle MP. An explosion also took place in the Bakara market – the largest in Mogadishu; two people were killed (January 24th). This action was not claimed. Another explosion took place near a Turkish mosque (January 29th) in Mogadishu.
Other violent events punctuated in the Middle Scebelli, still the first political assassination is a noteworthy event. The objective of the Al Shabaab and ISIS terrorists – in competition with each other – is the control of the economy. To be able to impose bribes on legitimate activities is useful to guarantee cash flows which in turn support the violent activities of both movements. This appears to be the meaning of the intimidating gesture of the Bakara market – where local traders then decided on a lock-out.
9 MPs were elected between Puntland, Somaliland and Galmudug, confirming the progress of the voting operations one month before the deadline (25 February); 43 MPs will soon be appointed in Jubaland, 21 in Galmudug. The events in Beledweyne were an exception to the general calm. The announced visit of local Governor Gudlawe generated armed resistance, which was later quashed by the airborne arrival of Somali special forces. There were no clashes, but the visit was cancelled.
Local clan balances remain disturbed and the elections are a further source of tensions. The stakes are very high – this area considered to be close to President Farmajo appoints 25 deputies – and this brings the dispute up to the federal institutional level. The competent Ministers of Defence and of Security claim that they did not authorise the intervention of the special troops. Rather, they were not informed at all.
It is a paradox: a military action that is effective and acceptable in itself, where qualified national soldiers ensure the safety of a Governor, becomes a symbol of the personalistic use of the State’s tools. The large-scale deployment of resources according to the specific wishes of the President sets a dangerous precedent in the electoral context. The occasion also highlights PM Roble’s weakness. A Council of Ministers ordered the withdrawal of troops, which did not take place according to the orders issued.
As for regional policy, after withdrawing the designation of the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front, an Ethiopian organisation critical of Prime Minister Abyi) as a terrorist group, the Somali Foreign Minister met his Ethiopian counterpart during a mission to Addis. Meetings also took place in Mogadishu with the Chinese Ambassador in Somalia, Fei, with whom political and security cooperation was also discussed. It is no mystery that the ties that have been good so far may become closer, given Somalia’s position at a crucial junction of the Chinese BRI (Belt & Road Initiative), which is currently focused on Kenya and Djibouti.
It is no coincidence that the new US Ambassador Larry E. Andrè, who arrived in Mogadishu on 24 January, has now taken up his post. A career diplomat, he fills a gap of more than eight months. A relaunch of the political exchange is necessary: in the Horn, the United States does not intend to give up the Somali side, which has been neglected in recent years to the advantage of other governments in the region. One of the topics that could be discussed is the training of the military and the reconstitution of an Air Force, activities that would allow the US to recover ground on Turkey. In addition, air raids could be intensified again.
There are no evident developments of Roble’s openness to the UAE, which are perhaps still undecided on which candidate to bet on. The call between Farmajo and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim (January 27th) is hence noteworthy. It suggests positioning is in place ahead of the presidential vote, which will follow the completion of the legislative process. Talks underline the personal, even more than diplomatic, ties.