UN envoy urges Somalia’s new leaders to tackle urgent issues

By Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. envoy for Somalia urged the country Monday to build on last week’s election of a new president and work on national reconciliation, improve relations between the central government and states, and confront the growing threat from the al-Shabab extremist group.

James Swan called last week’s conclusion of Somalia’s “unduly protracted and contentious” electoral process “a major milestone for the country,” and told the U.N. Security Council it is past time for leaders to address those and other pressing issues.

The envoy said he met with Somalia’s new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, three days after his May 15 election to hear about his goals. They include finishing a constitutional review and judicial reforms, completing electoral laws, ensuring compliance with conditions for debt relief, 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.

Only in the past few years has Somalia begun to find its footing after three decades of chaos from fighting among warlords and violence brought by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group and the emergence of Islamic State-linked extremist groups.

Swan called the current security situation in the country “highly volatile,” saying al-Shabab had been emboldened by domestic political tensions and staged attacks in recent months in the capital Mogadishu, South-West State and Hirshabelle.

U.S. President Joe Biden signed an order the day after Mohamud’s election to redeploy hundreds of U.S. troops to Somalia to counter al-Shabab, which is considered the largest and wealthiest affiliate of the al-Qaida extremist organization. U.S. military leaders said this effort had been hampered by President Donald Trump’s decision late in his term to withdraw forces from the country.

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.”

She 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.

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press

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