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Coronavirus, locusts and flooding: Will Somalia be ready for its polls?

By Morris Kiruga
Posted on Wednesday, 3 June 2020 18:44

Somalia Floods
People wade through a flooded street in Beledweyne, central Somalia on May 17 2020. (AP Photo)

The United Nations has appealed for support for Somalia, as the Horn of Africa nation faces a triple threat of: locusts, COVID-19 and flooding. The challenges are compounded by what the international body has called inherent weaknesses in coping mechanisms.

Somalia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases now stand 2089, one of the highest in the East and Horn of Africa region. The pandemic and public health response measures have complicated the country’s existing security and food challenges, in what the UN views as a looming humanitarian crisis.

  • The UN estimates that the current rainy season has displaced half a million people, but the floods are expected to ease as the season ends in June. A heavy storm in the autonomous region of Somaliland on 29 May resulted in flash floods that killed three and destroyed property.
  •  The floods have also led to an increase in opportunistic diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera. On 28 May, Somalia’s South West state’s health ministry reported 121 cases of acute diarhhoea and four deaths.

Triple combination spells political and security disaster

“[…]The impact of floods, locusts and COVID-19 is not simply humanitarian but has the potential to reverse some of the political and security gains that the international community has invested in over the past decade,” Justin Brady, head of Office for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia said in early June.

READ MORE Hopping to another crisis: Locusts and coronavirus in East Africa

While the end of the rainy season  will offers some relief for Somalia, holding elections will likely complicate the situation. The country is set to hold its first one-man one-vote polls in five decades later this year or in early 2021. But the challenges it has been forced to face will make it harder to hold the historic elections.

  • While both Somalia’s government and its regional and international allies are preparing for an election with universal suffrage, some opposition groups prefer the clan system and there is some evidence that the clan-based power-sharing system will survive.
  • A parliamentary committee recommended on 31 May that a southeastern region of Somalia be given seven seats in the Upper House according to the clan-based 4.5 system.
  • Some opposition groups are also pushing for the clan-based system, saying that the current challenges and lack of time make it the best option for the country.

The global pandemic has also hit hard Somalia’s economy, particularly with dwindling diaspora remittances, a critical source of income for the Horn of Africa country.

Added to the mix: terrorism

Further complicating the situation are continued terror attacks, including the most recent roadside bomb that exploded near the capital on 31 May, killing 10 and wounding 12 others. A few days before that, eight people including seven health workers were abducted and executed.

While a local elder told the Voice of America Somali that the victims were abducted by men in military uniform as revenge for an earlier attack that left nine soldiers dead, Somalia’s government has blamed the executions on terror group Al-Shabaab.

READ MORE Al-Shabaab’s attacks come amid backdrop of West’s waning interest

Meanwhile, African Union forces in Somalia will stay on until February 2021, after the United Nations Security Council voted to extend AMISOM’s mandate on 30 June. The next eight months will be challenging for AMISOM, which will have to balance between helping Somalia cope with multiple challenges as it prepares for its elections, and the pressure on individual country’s forces to go back home and support public health measures.

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