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Election needed to secure debt relief for fractious nation

An election banner for Somali presidential candidate, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, and former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam are seen in Mogadishu, this week. Under Somalia’s indirect electoral process, clan elders selected the 275 members of the lower house, who in turn will choose the president. Picture: Feisal Omar/Reuters

An election banner for Somali presidential candidate, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, and former foreign minister Fawzia Yusuf Adam are seen in Mogadishu, this week. Under Somalia’s indirect electoral process, clan elders selected the 275 members of the lower house, who in turn will choose the president. Picture: Feisal Omar/Reuters

Published May 15, 2022

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By Dr Mustafa Mheta

The consequences of delayed elections across the African continent have indeed been the source of plenty of instability which has culminated in coups and bloodshed. And Somalia is no an exception.

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While Somalia is still fighting a war against the Islamist insurgents of al-Shabaab, it has managed to rebuild from when it was on the brink of melting away as a country. The East Africa country has the capacity to become more self-sufficient, but its progress is impeded by unstable politics and security threats.

Hence the delayed presidential election is a major obstacle for the country. Somalia’s indirect presidential election was due to take place last year after President Mohamed “Farmaajo” Abdullahi Mohamed’s mandate expired on February 8 last year.

But disagreements on the implementation of a new electoral model have pushed back the poll on numerous occasions. It was only at the beginning of this year that parliamentary elections finally started. Somalia has its issues and its problems. And, of course, it’s a fragile country, and anything can happen. But we all now agree that the day has finally arrived, and an election is taking place.

The presidential elections in Somalia are well over a year behind schedule, marred by deadly violence as well as a power struggle between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, left, and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. Picture: AFP

The delay in having elections has kept Somalia’s economy hanging on by a thread. According to agreements it has with donors, the country must have a president after May 15 to be able to get access to the financial support of the international community.

Otherwise, there will be serious cuts in financing and therefore, a serious impact on Somalia’s ability to continue the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme. Then there is the issue of the cost of the election itself. Elections cost money and in the case of Somalia, the agreement from the start was that 10% of the cost is to be paid by the federal government, a large percentage by the candidates and the rest by international partners.

The elections, however, need to be held before a critical deadline for debt relief. Politicking and election delays nearly brought the country to the brink of civil unrest, scaring off many donors. Last year, there was a reported 30% cut in donor funding.

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Once the polls take place, then the international institutions, mainly the EU and the World Bank will start releasing funds. In 2020, the IMF and the World Bank approved Somalia for assistance through the Enhance Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative. Under the terms of the programme, the country’s debt could fall from $5.2bn to $557m. But the electoral delays have put the country at risk.

A new administration may not be voted in time to endorse the planned reforms in time for a review on Tuesday. If the review is not completed by then, the programme automatically terminates. Russia’s war against Ukraine highlights Somalia’s reliance on imports.

Despite Somalia being a country that imports so much, it doesn’t import anything from Ukraine and Russia. That said, the war is hitting Somalia indirectly. And so, things like fuel prices picking up, prices of items, and staple foods, will become the order of the day.

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That alone is enough to worry Somalia and one can only wish that the war ends soon. And ways of mitigating (indirect effects) are not very easy. Somalia could cut its import bill in the longer term since the country is blessed with all the potential you can think about. It has human resources, natural resources, and plenty of other resources that support their livelihood.

One area with potential is farming. The country simply has to produce what it eats, and there is no reason why it cannot do that. This should point to the next government’s investment in farming systems, along with support for social sectors, health, and education. But undercutting the most potential for progress is the problem of security.

Much of the insecurity is in the main food-producing basket areas in the country. The government has tried to fight insecurity, but it remains a palpable and daily threat. An attack on March 23 by al-Shabaab north of Mogadishu killed 48 and wounded more than 100.

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Another problem tied to insecurity is climate change, namely droughts and locusts. The country has experienced its worst drought in 30 years, and the Horn has been hit by locusts that have destroyed crops. Somalia is used to drought, but it is the only country remaining on the face of the earth (where) drought happens, and people die. That is the ultimate fragility.

The African Development Bank’s department of agriculture and agro-industry notes that the government is trying to manage its resources to mitigate such extreme effects. The Indian Ocean nation receives plenty of water every 24 hours and upstream people are starving. It’s an anomaly that has to be put to an end.

Somalia simply needs to develop the resources that it has, and that will require three or four more years of big investments. And some of them may be a public-private partnership on the irrigation systems, the establishment of several factories to process the food and the livestock industry.

It will take a while, but the process has already been started by the outgoing government. So, in the case of Somalia, the repercussions of delaying elections have had a serious bearing on the economy and security of the country.

There has been a lot of bickering between the politicians and this has often led to crushes and bloodshed between different opposing groups.

* Mheta is a senior researcher and Head of the Africa Desk at the Media Review Network

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