Marking UN day, top officials reaffirm commitment to Somalia’s state- and peacebuilding efforts
Source: UNSOM, Thursday October 26, 2023
Mogadishu – Marking the recent United Nations Day, the world body’s top officials in Somalia today reaffirmed its support for the Somali government and people as the country continues with its state- and peacebuilding efforts.
“As you will all be aware, there are many, many challenges in the world at the moment… [including] numerous challenges on the continent of Africa and some of the challenges we face in Somalia – but the United Nations stands there ready to support in all these challenges,” said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Catriona Laing.
“We have been here in Somalia pre-independence. We have been here through some of the very tough times that Somalia has faced,” added Ms. Laing, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).
The UN Special Representative was speaking at a news conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
She was accompanied by the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representatives for Somalia, Anita Kiki Gbeho and George Conway, with the latter also serving as the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, and the Head of the UN Support Office for Somalia (UNSOS), Aisa Kacyira.
Celebrated annually on 24 October, UN Day marks the anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter. With the ratification of this founding document by the majority of its signatories, the United Nations officially came into being.
“It is an important anniversary, and it is an occasion to recommit with hope and determination to build a better world for all of our aspirations,” said Ms. Laing, who recently returned from UN Headquarters in New York City, where she had briefed the Security Council at its latest meeting on the situation in Somalia.
In her remarks to the media in Mogadishu, she highlighted various developments that are currently among the top areas of focus for the United Nations in Somalia.
On the political front, the UN Special Representative flagged issues surrounding the National Consultative Council (NCC), which brings together the leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and its Federal Member States (FMSs).
In May this year, the NCC had set out four specific proposals for a future electoral system with moves to: a presidential system, a two-party system, a ‘one person, one vote’ electoral model throughout the country, and dates for local council elections and alignment of FMS terms of office. The proposals continue to dominate political debate.
“We are at quite a crucial moment where we need to agree collectively, under the leadership of the Government, [on] the way forward on elections, the kind of models that Somalia will pursue, the timeline, the sequencing of elections, and of course, very importantly, to try and bring Puntland back into this process because it will be very hard to complete not just elections, but the whole legislative framework and the process around developing a constitution for Somalia,” Ms. Laing said.
She stressed the importance of Somalia’s Constitutional Review Process continuing.
“Without a constitution, a country will find it very hard to move forward. A constitution [is] essentially the ‘rules of the game’ which govern how a country is legislated, is governed. And Somalia really needs that constitution to be nailed down; as you know, it is still working on a draft constitution,” the UN Special Representative said.
The conflict in Laascaanood also figured in the top UN official’s remarks. She noted that the situation remains difficult and tense, despite the situation on the ground being relatively calm and displaced people starting to return home.
“The underlying drivers of this conflict, which resulted in a number of people killed and a number of prisoners taken, need still to be resolved,” Ms. Laing said, while flagging that the United Nations has been engaging with all parties involved in the conflict.
“The three messages are, number one, please make progress on the detainee exchange as a confidence-building measure. Secondly, it’s important for everyone to commit to no more violence, and thirdly, of course, to find a peaceful solution to the disputed territory,” she added.
Addressing developments on Somalia’s security front, the UN Special Representative noted that the FGS recently requested a three-month technical pause to the latest stage of the drawdown of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), while it engages in a major military effort against the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.
“This is in recognition that the Government was facing challenges conducting the counter-offensive while also generating enough troops to take over the Forward Operating Bases that are held by ATMIS. This time is being used wisely to do some reconfiguration, some resetting, and to replan the military strategies,” Ms. Laing said.
According to Somalia’s security plans, ATMIS will be drawing down its troops over the next 14 months before completely departing at the end of 2024, with the Somali Security Forces (SSF) assuming prime responsibility in this area. A high-level conference on Somalia’s post-2024 security architecture and its needs is scheduled to take place at UN Headquarters in December this year.
While on security matters, the UN Special Representative spoke about the importance of what happens in areas where the SSF drives Al-Shabaab terrorist out.
“It’s important to note that reclaiming areas from Al-Shabaab is, of course, only step one, although a very important step. Those areas need to be stabilised, and people need to see the benefits of the Government returning to provide services for the people to enable their livelihoods to progress, to ensure justice is delivered – and that work is called stabilisation. The United Nations is providing the coordinating forum around stabilisation. It is very important to consolidate those security gains,” she said.
In her remarks to the media, Assistant Secretary-General Kacyira said UNSOS expects to continue its wide-ranging, steadfast support to ATMIS and the SSF throughout the remainder of ATMIS’ time in Somalia, and with a focus on leaving the SSF well-prepared for its responsibilities.
“It is of key importance that they are trained and equipped accordingly – through the UNSOS-administered Trust Fund in support of the SSF, we do our very best in implementing priorities set by the Somali Government in this regard. We are, for example, training Somali Security Forces in the spheres of aviation operations, aviation security and medical, evacuations and management of other logistics-related fields,” she said.
UNSOS’s logistics support throughout the security transition includes the handover of ATMIS’ Forward Operating Bases to the SSF, along with equipment at these locations. The latter includes water points, generators and water treatment plants.
“All this is done in the spirit of building capacity and sustaining operations and supporting security,” the Assistant Secretary-General added. “As we go through this transition, I would like to take this opportunity to say that UNSOS remains committed to carrying out its role as a strategic enabler for its clients, for the ultimate benefit of Somalia.”
When speaking about the UN’s support for increasing Somali women’s participation in society, including in peacebuilding and decision-making processes, the UN Special Representative emphasised that women play a very important role in security, and there can be no lasting peace unless women are involved in resolving underlying tensions and drivers of conflict.
“I’ve heard directly myself from many of the female leaders here in Somalia – brave women who stand up for women’s rights, who are doing pioneering work – and they urged me strongly and my team to continue to advocate with the Government, with Parliament and so on, on the importance of women having their rightful place at all the top tables, including crucially in politics, because women need to see other women in strong political leadership roles,” Ms. Laing said. “Let’s all commit to work together to continue on ensuring that women have their rightful seat at the table.”
The top UN official also drove home the importance of achieving the target of a quota of at least 30 per cent for women’s representation in parliament “to break this cycle, to get enough women at the table, for women to represent the views and rights of other women.”
At Somalia’s last federal electoral process in 2022, the target of the 30 per cent quota was not achieved. The final percentage of parliamentary seats held by women was just 21 per cent, down from 24 per cent in the previous electoral cycle in 2016.
On the issue of human rights in Somalia, the UN Special Representative welcomed recent legislative achievements, such as the Federal Government’s approval of a Disability Rights Bill, a Child Rights Bill and a Juvenile Justice Bill.
“A very important issue in Somalia is the age of a child. We now have for the first time an age verification policy, which is the first formal procedure for age assessment in the country to confirm that a child is actually under 18. The UN has provided technical support to all these bills,” Ms. Laing said.
“But there is more to be done,” she continued. “So, on the age of a child, for example, the next step is to harmonise all the legislation and policy around embedding formally that a child is under 18, and that affects things like child marriage, the age at which a child can legitimately join the military, and so on. So that is a really important next step.”
In her remarks to the media, in relation to the Disability Rights Bill, Deputy Special Representative Gbeho highlighted the UN’s support for the National Disability Agency over the last two years – including support for its first-ever disability needs and perceptions survey.
“We supported them to undertake a perception survey, so they can understand the issues that people with disabilities face in Somalia,” she said. “When I was in school, I had a professor and he used to tell us: ‘If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.’ If we do not understand the challenges that people with disabilities face, there will be no way we can support the Government to resolve these issues.”
In August 2019, following extensive consultations and advocacy, the FGS ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This momentum resulted in the fast-tracking of a national mechanism, with the inauguration of the National Disability Agency (NDA) in 2021. Subsequently, the NDA led and consulted on the drafting of the Disability Rights Bill which was promulgated in July 2023.
Despite its recent creation, the National Disability Agency is a fully functioning institution and UNSOM has been its main partner supporting its capacity building, facilitation of donor funding and technical assistance.
Within human rights, on the topic of freedom of expression, UN Special Representative Laing noted its importance to the world body.
“This is an area we keep a very close watch on. We’ve done three reports on ensuring that the Government adheres to its obligations to ensure that all of you as journalists can do your jobs freely and report so that people understand what is going on and without any intimidation,” Ms. Laing said.
The right to freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and it is widely considered to be essential to any functioning democracy.
On economic development, the UN Special Representative welcomed Somalia’s progress within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank’s Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.
“I am pleased to say that the final piece of the jigsaw was met recently, and Somalia should be moving to the completion point in December. This will enable Somalia to access much larger soft loans and grants, and that will be important for Somalia’s economic development,” Ms. Laing said.
“So, investment, for example, in your coastline, your very important coastline, which will enable you to drive forward from an economic perspective,” she added.
The IMF and World Bank launched HIPC Initiative in 1996 to ensure that no poor country faces an unmanageable debt burden.
In 2005, to accelerate progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the HIPC Initiative was supplemented by the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. This allows countries completing the HIPC Initiative process to receive 100 per cent relief on eligible debts by the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Fund.
Rule of law
In her remarks to the media, Deputy Special Representative Gbeho also elaborated on the UN’s support for Somalia’s rule of law, justice and corrections, which includes supporting the strengthening of police and community policing throughout the country.
“We have also worked very closely with Government, with civil society, with our sister UN agencies on the Joint Justice and Corrections Programme. This has so far supported the provision of legal services to close to 18,000 beneficiaries in Somalia – the majority of these beneficiaries have been women,” Ms. Gbeho said.
“We have also supported the establishment of 16 alternative dispute resolution centres throughout this country and 13,000 cases have been resolved as a result,” she added.
Somalia’s dire humanitarian situation figured prominently in the news conference.
The Horn of Africa country has been experiencing a long and severe drought – its worst in 40 years – which has also involved significant risks of famine. At the height of the humanitarian response over the past two years, more than 6.3 million Somalis were receiving some form of UN assistance. This support included assistance with food, hygiene, water, sanitation and more.
“It was an important part of preventing the country from falling over the brink from a protracted drought into famine conditions,” said UN Deputy Special Representative Conway.
In 2022 and early 2023, the UN and its partners engaged in a robust humanitarian response, which helped. However, while recent rains have ameliorated the situation and food insecurity across the country has improved, challenges remain.
Currently, there are millions of people who are still food insecure and in need of assistance. The situation is projected to deteriorate further until December, mainly due to the enhanced Deyr rains exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon.
El Niño is expected to cause flash and riverine floods in large parts of the country.
“We estimate right now about four million Somalis are living at different levels of food security crisis. And that is a lot. That is a very high number. And 3.8 million Somalis are internally displaced across the country. That number itself increased by a million people over the course of the protracted drought,” said Deputy Special Representative Conway.
“So right now, today in addition to the baseline of humanitarian need in the country, we are very concerned about the impact of El Niño on the Deyr rainy season,” he continued. “We have already in the past two weeks seen flash flooding happening in a number of cities throughout the country. We have seen river levels rising… The estimates that we have right now are that the rains are likely to be the worst that we’ve seen in at least 20 years, with the most recent worst rains in 1997.”
According to estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), around 1.2 million Somalis could be impacted by flooding over the course of the next three months, with 1.6 million hectares of land also inundated as a result. Somalis in camps for internally displaced people, and the host communities for those camps, are expected to be disproportionately affected.
Mr. Conway noted that UN humanitarian agencies have been working with the FGS, in particular its Somalia Disaster Management Agency, and also with FMS-level humanitarian affairs ministries on preparedness measures to try to reduce the impact on Somalis.
“We’ve done a lot of work to help government, local governments and state governments identify evacuation areas, in high ground areas, provided maps and provided data. We are doing monitoring of river levels in support of the Government in order to give early warning notice to communities so that they can be informed if they have to move,” Mr. Conway said.
“And we are providing packages of early response support to those communities that are directly impacted in the areas of food or cash or hygiene or water or sanitation or the other areas that that we are focused on,” he added. “It’s important to note that we have allocated significant resources to this response. Right now, we have $50 million allocated immediately towards the rapid response.”
However, the UN’s humanitarian support faces hurdles.
Somalia’s 2023 Humanitarian Response Plan, seeks more than $2.6 billion to meet the priority needs of 7.6 million people. Currently, the plan has received less than half of the sought-after amount, and partners are having to prioritise the most vulnerable in areas with the greatest severity of needs.
“It sits at about 39 per cent funded, as of today. And that is compromising our ability to scale up the response as much as we would have preferred and we are appealing to donors to come in with their generous support to enable us to ensure that we’re responding to the needs as they are likely to manifest over the course of the next months,” Mr. Conway said.
Away from humanitarian issues, the Deputy Special Representative also addressed Somalia’s broader development, including the need to find long-term solutions to recurrent crises caused by climate shocks, such as flooding and drought.
“These are cyclical in Somalia, and the cycles are getting shorter and shorter and the impact is getting higher and higher. And what that necessitates from the Somali authorities, supported by the international community, including the United Nations, is to invest in solutions to reduce the risks for the future, to reduce humanitarian needs for the future through targeting the types of development deficits that have been a structural challenge for the country over recent decades,” Mr. Conway said.
“There’s been far more money spent on humanitarian response than on investment in development in the past two decades,” he added, while also welcoming progress on the HIPC Initiative.
Mr. Conway noted that completing the HIPC Initiative process will enable an expansion of the development agenda in Somalia – one that addresses the underlying drivers of cyclical crises and risks and builds greater resilience of Somali citizens and Somali institutions to be able to better manage these crises in the future.
“We are seeking to rebalance our engagements from principally humanitarian to much more developmental engagements to reduce, again, risk for the future. We do have a development cooperation framework that we’re supporting the Government across multiple areas. Much of the work that we do is directly joined with the Mission structures in support of the state-building agenda, justice, the rule of law and others,” the Deputy Special Representative said.
“We’re making increased investments into climate adaptation, into environmental management, into certainly the stabilisation agenda and expanding basic service delivery systems into newly-accessible areas where people have not had access to recurrent service delivery, some for a very long time – over a decade,” he added. “And we have opened a new funding window called the Somalia Joint Fund, which has now become operational.”
The aim of UN Day is to amplify humanity’s common agenda and reaffirm the purposes and principles of the UN Charter that have guided the organisation for the past 78 years.