While global attention is focused on the pandemic and its effects, developments in political and security dynamics continue to unfold across the world. Truer now than before Covid-19, global attention on developments in Africa is sidelined. This article aims to provide a brief insight on current security and political developments in the Horn of Africa; it will be followed up by an additional insight aimed to provide a regional appreciation.
SOMALIA – Political Situation
Somalia, already facing considerable security, economic and health challenges, is now dealing with a constitutional crisis that could have significant short- and long-term implications. In September 2020, the political elite struck a deal to modernise the voting system and to hold fresh democratic elections on 08 February 2021. Instead, no election was held and President Mohamed “Farmaajo”’s presidential mandate expired, leaving Somalia in further political turmoil. Political opponents declared Farmaajo’s authority invalid and that his administration had reneged on crucial political agreements. Farmaajo blames the opposition and some of the Federal Member States of Somalia (FMS) – specifically Puntland and Jubaland – for having withdrawn from the September 2020 agreements and thereby prevented the election. In the ensuing weeks, civil unrest and violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces have been reported nationwide.
SOMALIA – Complication
The likelihood of further violence during this power-vacuum almost certain. Al-Shabaab, Somalia’s largest destabilising group, has taken advantage of the political crisis. As in the 2017 presidential elections, it conducted a series of attacks against political and military targets throughout the campaign, such as the Dhusamareeb roadside bomb that killed 14 Somali soldiers in February 2021 and the Elite Hotel attack in Mogadishu in August 2020 that killed at least 16 civilians. Clan elders, civil servants, political officials and civilians have been directly or indirectly threatened by insurgents during the campaign. Given the electoral delegate base is expected to be almost double that of 2017, voting hubs require additional security, and further stresses on the already-overextended Somali National Army and its allies will provide Al-Shabaab fresh opportunities to attack civilians.
These security issues are further compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 locust invasions. Current WHO estimates of the virus’ impact in Somalia stand at approximately 7,400 registered cases with 243 confirmed deaths. However, this is vastly underreported given Somalia’s inefficient state institutions, which lack capacity to track and record cases. At least 4.8 million Somalis are classified by the United Nations as “food insecure” and lack access to sufficient food and water: the locust invasions affected food sources for at least 20 million people across East Africa, and drought has exacerbated the nationwide famine. With underlying issues remaining largely unaddressed, Somalis have expressed frustrations with the inability of political leaders to reconcile.
SOMALIA – Outlook
Since 08 February, numerous protests have taken place in Mogadishu. On 19 February, at least 1,000 people marched on the presidential villa, clashing violently with security forces. President Farmaajo indicated that the heavy-handedness of security forces was to enforce COVID-19 restriction rules against public gatherings; but he has since apologised for the violence while the opposition accused the administration of preventing legal demonstrations. On 25 February, a meeting between the government and the opposition resulted in the postponement of further organised demonstrations. However, no new election date has been set and violent demonstrations will likely resume in the short term should discussions not lead to political action. Equally, Al-Shabaab will maintain its current offensive momentum to further diminish popular trust in Somali authorities, through continuous targeted strikes on civilian and military targets in Mogadishu and southern Somalia.
ETHIOPIA – Situation
While the Tigray insurgency has receded from a conventional civil war to an asymmetric conflict, the severity of the regional humanitarian situation remains uncertain. Refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced within Ethiopia and at least 60,000 refugees have fled to neighbouring Sudan.
ETHIOPIA – Complication
Relations between Addis Ababa and its federal regions have historically been tense. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s attempts to maximise the federal government’s influence met with opposition from leaders in Tigray. When Tigray pushed to carry out regional parliamentary elections in September 2020, Addis Ababa argued these were illegal (ostensibly for breaking COVID-19 restrictions) and Tigray officials accused the federal government of attempting a power grab. Tensions rose and in November 2020, the federal government deployed the military to Tigray to quell “a rising insurgency”. The military campaign has resulted in the TPLF being almost defeated; however, low-level conflicts continue, and it appears the TPLF has adopted a more guerrilla-style approach.
Addis Ababa has been proficient in regulating the flow of information. International media coverage of the conflict has been mostly speculative. Since January, more international observers have been granted limited access to the region, but they face extreme security risks. Several journalists were detained in February for breaking “local standards” by the interim Tigray administration. International aid workers have been reportedly shot at by federal forces for “going where they were not supposed to go”. Yet stories from observers have provided accounts of mass atrocities, rape, executions, lootings and destruction of regional infrastructure. International watchdogs and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International maintain it is likely that federal troops are responsible for a majority of incidents.
The severity and extent of the humanitarian crisis in the region remains unclear. At least 60,000 refugees have been recorded in neighbouring Sudan. This has further damaged relations between the Sudanese and Ethiopian governments. The number of internally displaced persons remains unaccounted but estimates suggests that 2 million people are displaced within Tigray and hundreds of thousands have fled elsewhere. In Tigray, roughly 4.5 million require humanitarian support such as food, water, shelter and access to medical supplies. Currently unreported is the potential impact of COVID-19 on these refugees. Ethiopia’s reported 161,000 cases and roughly 2,300 deaths are likely to be substantial underestimates, given the lack of essential infrastructure to track the virus and the government’s unwillingness to provide accurate statistics.
ETHIOPIA – Outlook
The conventional phase of the war has evolved into a low-level conflict protraction that could remain in this stage for years. This, as already demonstrated, will continue to impact international travellers and staff of international organisations. With mounting pressure on Prime Minister Ahmed to provide access to international organisations to document and provide conflict relief, reports of how severe the humanitarian situation is will likely surface in the medium term.
How NGS can assist
In both Ethiopia and Somalia, it is evident that rapidly changing security conditions can affect business operations. Companies and international organisations need to maintain situational awareness of these conditions in order to make efficient and cost-effective decisions. Northcott Global Solutions can provide operational assistance (including tracking, emergency evacuation, remote medical support, security and risk management), to facilitate sustained business activities in these insecure environments. A case study published on 22 January regarding a successful NGS-led evacuation of clients in Somalia remains available on the NGS website.
In the next article, NGS will build on these operational risks by considering the wider strategic impact to provide a more extensive understanding of the region.
AUTHOR: Emil Thor Wilson, Tracking Operations
NGS is an emergency evacuation company that runs tracking, remote medical and security operations for global clients.
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