The anticipated fighting between forces loyal to Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (nicknamed “Farmajo”), whose term in office expired in early February, and clan militias and elements of the security forces loyal to other clans and opposition political leaders finally broke out in Mogadishu last Sunday evening.
The fighting came after weeks of tense and ultimately inconclusive discussions around the long overdue Somali national elections, which should have happened in September 2020. Mogadishu has now become a series of political and clan-aligned enclaves. The Hawiye clan, which is the largest in Somalia and which also dominates Mogadishu, have also summoned forces from elsewhere in south/central Somalia.
The trigger for the fighting appears to have been the re-location of an entire, Hawiye-dominated Somali National Army unit from Middle Shabelle, a region just outside the capital. (Al-Shabaab has notbeen able to re-take the abandoned towns because of the presence of African Union troops.) At the time of writing neither side appears to have the upper hand, with Turkish-trained elements of the security forces remaining loyal to Farmajo, along with units dominated by his clan (the second largest clan in Somalia, the Darod).
Casualties are unknown due to internet and cellphone outages but they can be expected to be high, both amongst combatants and civilians. The President appeared on television on Tuesday and many expected him to resign – but, instead, he called for calm and a return to his original concept for the election, which caused to a furore in the first place. He will address the Somali parliament on May 1st, but for the moment at least the gunplay has been halted.
To compare the current situation to the early 1990s, when the Mogadishu centre did not hold and plunged the whole country into a quarter-century of chaos, is not Mogadishu map to exaggerate the seriousness of the current situation. The opposition is not a unified block and if it were to seize power from Farmajo, immediate infighting can be expected, as happened in the 1990s.
But there are differences as well. The edges, the Federal Member States of Jubbaland to the south and Puntland to the north, are much stronger and supported respectively by Kenya and UAE. They will try to avoid being dragged down with Mogadishu and the central states, as Somaliland managed to do in the 1990s.
The balance of international power is different as well. Condemnation of Farmajo’s self-extension of term prompted strongly-worded responses from the UN and the western elements of the international community.
20,000 African Union Troops
But there are now alternatives: the actions of Ethiopia, Turkey and Qatar (and their rivals) are worth watching and it is also interesting to note that the Russian Ambassador visited Mogadishu last week. While the African Union (which has over 20,000 peace-keeping troops in the country) condemned the extension, troops often act in line with national agendas, not on direction from the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.
The challenge in the short term for Farmajo will be to hold on to the centre and, at a political and physical level, survive. Inevitably, though, it will be the population who suffer, as collateral damage in fighting in the short term, and as vital international support is effectively halted in the medium and longer-term.