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Somali political crisis deepens

Presidential elections are scheduled for 8 February
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REUTERS/FEISAL OMARAR  -   Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo

On January 25, forces from the Jubaland region clashed with Somali army troops near the Kenyan border, killing 11 civilians. Somalia has accused Kenya of being behind the attacks, claiming that Jubaland's the militia was “trained, fed and supported by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF)”. The diplomatic crisis between Kenya and Somalia has worsened in recent months. On December 15, Somalia, which accuses Kenya of constant interference in its internal affairs, especially in Jubaland province, severed diplomatic relations with the Kenyan nation for good.  

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta invited Somaliland President Muse Bihi to his country last December. This visit was seen as another attempt at interference similar to that in the Jubaland region. Somalia has asked the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to investigate Kenya's alleged interference in Jubaland; however, following investigations in January, IGAD decided that the interference that Somalia accuses the neighbouring country of having committed has not taken place. This decision has led to the Somali state threatening to leave the regional bloc on Wednesday 27 January. The Somali foreign minister, in declarations after learning of the result, accused that the "IGAD investigation was “biased, partisan, unfair and sought to exonerate Kenya".  

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REUTERS/FEISAL OMAR - African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers in an armoured vehicle in Mogadishu

Somalia and Kenya have a close relationship in several areas. On the one hand, in the area of security, AMISOM troops, the African Union's peacekeeping mission to assist in the fight against terrorism, has around 3,500 soldiers from Kenya. Following the outcome of the IGAD investigation, the federal government issued a statement saying it no longer has confidence in the Kenyan forces that are part of the AMISOM mission. Since the US decided to leave the field, the fight against terrorism, especially in Jubaland province, has become even more dependent on AMISOM. On the other hand, at least 3,000 students cross from Somalia to Kenya to receive their education, in addition to the 8,000 cross-border workers. In addition, according to the government spokesman, there are 270,000 Somali refugees in refugee camps in Kenya, of whom approximately 80,000 live in towns and conduct business. 

Somalia has three autonomous regions, two in the north, Puntland and Somaliland, and one in the south, Jubaland. All three regions have a complex relationship with the central government. Presidential elections should have been held last year but, due to the health crisis, the locust plague and Al-Shabaab violence, they were delayed to 2021. In order to hold the legislative and presidential elections, on September 17 the regional and central authorities reached an agreement stipulating how the elections would be organised so that they could take place with all the necessary guarantees. This agreement stipulated that the parliamentary elections should be held in October and December. The presidential elections are due to be held on February 8, but in recent weeks there have been doubts as to whether they can be held on time since part of the process to ensure the smooth running of the elections, such as the election of the members of the electoral committee, had not yet taken place, less than two weeks before the elections were scheduled to take place.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Soldiers of the Somali Armed Forces

Although the international community has sought to have these elections held under the one-person-one-vote system, the system for these elections will be, as in previous occasions, indirect suffrage, in which representatives are chosen, usually based on clan power structures. Following international pressure last week, Puntland and Jubaland have nominated the eight members of the election committee. On January 30, Somalia's president decided to convene meetings with regional leaders on 1-3 February, for the second time in six months, to ensure the smooth conduct of the February 8 elections. He will report the outcome of these talks to the Houses of Parliament on February 5. Since Jubaland and Puntlanda nominated the election committee last week, there seems to be renewed hope that the elections will take place; however, we will have to wait until February 5 to see whether they will actually take place at all and under what guarantees.