In a statement released on April, 13th 2021, EU Commission Vice-President Josep Borrell Fontelles expressed deep concern about the ongoing political and constitutional crisis in Somalia. In his words, the European Union “could under no circumstances accept an extension of the government mandate” without the parties agreeing to their previous electoral deal. He asked to resume talks for a new round of elections among Somali political actors, threatening “concrete measures” and a possible imposition of sanctions against the government.
The stalemate in Mogadishu – which turned into open violence – has further added instability to a country already wounded by deep factionalism, a serious economic situation, violent extremism, and terrorist attacks by Salafi-jihadi insurgents. The head of state, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmajo’, justified his decision to stay in power until a new round of elections in two years – a scenario unanimously rejected by opposition stakeholders – citing the need to avoid leaving behind a political vacuum. However, his political strategy has only worsened social divisions and contributed to the disruption of the already fragile political balance between clans and regional entities in the country.
Having provided support to Somalia’s political stability over the last years, the European Union has seen President Farmajo’s postponement of elections and prolongment of his own mandate as a way to erase the country’s political progress in terms of state building, institutional legitimacy, and security.
The European Union is an important partner for Somalia in the development and security fields, and one of its largest international donors. Mogadishu’s stability is essential for European member states for a number of reasons, ranging from maritime security to violent extremism, from climate shocks to migrations. This is why the EU should have carried out a far more important role in the crisis.
Somalia is among the beneficiary countries of the EU Trust Fund for Africa, which was established at the Valletta Summit in November 2015 to address the root causes of forced displacements and irregular migrations, create job opportunities, ensure support to IDPs (internal displaced persons) and returnees, and prevent conflicts and radicalisation processes. Eight projects are currently active throughout the country, amounting to over €312.700.000. Part of the funds provided by the European Commission to Somali institutions was instrumental in empowering the government’s authority, building administrative structures, and strengthening the security sector, ultimately sustaining Farmajo’s leadership and power. Nonetheless, little progress has been made with regards to the economic situation and the delivery of social services to local populations. From a humanitarian angle, the European Commission is funding aid organisations to provide life-saving assistance to vulnerable people affected by conflict (2.9 million internal displaced persons), drought, food insecurity – which was aggravated by last year’s locust outbreak, which affected the livelihoods of local communities. In order to tackle the social and humanitarian consequences of this multi-layer crisis, in 2021 the EU has allocated €42.5 million in projects offering relief to some 5.9 million Somali people in need of assistance.
Security is framed through a comprehensive approach linking it to political and development issues. First, the EU’s role as a security provider in Somalia is defined by the support ensured to the African Union peacekeeping mission in the country (AMISOM). From March 2007 to date, the EU has provided over 2 billion euros to AMISOM under the African Peace Facility (APF), the financial pillar of AU-EU cooperation in the field of peace and security, which has been essential in assisting the development of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA) and in stabilizing the country’s political situation. It was replaced by the new European Peace Facility (EPF) in March 2021 with a global geographical scope. Additional funds (20 million euros) were recently mobilized to supply non-lethal equipment to Somali security Forces.
One of the key instruments adopted by the European Union to assist the Somali government in restructuring and reforming the national security sector is capacity-building. The launch of the EU training mission in Somalia dates back to 2010; it is now made up of approximately 203 units from seven EU member states, and it had trained about 7.000 Somali soldiers by mid2020. EUTM Somalia was deployed to deliver tactical training support to the Somali National Army (SNA) in a context of poor state control over the national territory. The mission’s mandate has been prolonged since then and revised several times. It is now based on a three-pillar approach: training, mentoring, and advising Somali defence forces in order to “increase their proficiency, effectiveness, credibility and accountability”.
EUCAP (European Union Capacity Building Mission) Somalia is one of the civilian pillars of the EU crisis management architecture in Somalia. In 2016, it replaced the previous EUCAP NESTOR, a European regional mission launched in 2012 and designed to support Horn of Africa’s countries in improving their maritime security. EUCAP Somalia, instead, was established explicitly to focus on Somalia and Somaliland and is currently based in Mogadishu. The mission aims to develop coast guard functions and enhance Somali police forces’ capabilities to enforce maritime law and to counter piracy, trafficking networks, and illegal fishing.
The last component of the European security architecture in Somalia is the European Union Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR) – Operation Atlanta. It was established in 2008 under the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) framework to deter, prevent, and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast, in the Southern Red Sea, and the Gulf of Aden and to protect World Food Programmes and other vulnerable vessels in the area. Its mandate was last renewed in January 2021 until December 2022 in order to include secondary tasks such as monitoring fishing activities off the Somali coast, monitoring arms and drug trafficking, illicit charcoal trade, and illegal fishing, contributing to enforce the country’s weapon embargo, and cooperating with regional actors and missions. Operation Atlanta addresses a crucial interest of the international community at large – and European states in particular – to secure maritime circulation countering piracy activities in an area of strong geostrategic importance for naval trade routes.
Undoubtedly, the European Union has invested important resources in terms of aid, debt relief, and security in Somalia, despite mixed results. What has probably been missing is the EU’s capacity to play as a more influential actor on a political side. The electoral crisis has offered the opportunity to step up its political commitment in the country, leveraging on its negotiation potential to broker a peaceful solution to the conflict. This would have been coherent with the ambition to build a ‘geopolitical’ Commission, which should be able to take the lead in shaping processes and political initiatives in Africa; ultimately emerging as a global actor willing to cooperate (and compete) with regional and external players, while promoting rule of law, a fair and accountable justice system, and democratic values.
The violent escalation in Mogadishu has finally pushed Farmajo to retrace his steps, calling for elections as required under the September 2020 agreement, as a way to ease tensions. The EU’s diplomatic pressures do not seem to have had an impact on Villa Somalia’s decision. However, a new window of opportunity is currently opening: EU institutions should make sure all parties involved in the crisis are committed to restoring the political legitimacy of Somali institutions to the benefit of the Somali people.