Keating briefs UN Security Council on Somali situation

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Briefing the Security Council on the situation in Somalia, the United Nations envoy for the country noted today that the recently concluded election was a “mirror” to Somalis, showing them the good and the bad regarding how power is exercised, relations between elders, clan power brokers, politicians, business, ordinary citizens, women and men.

“They do not like everything they have seen, least of all the levels of corruption, and the absence of institutions that can ensure legal and financial accountability,” said Michael Keating, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia.

Mr. Keating’s briefing follows an extended parliamentary electoral process and comes less than two weeks ahead of presidential polls. It also comes against the backdrop of increased Al-Shabaab militancy aiming to disrupt the elections, as evidenced by a series of recent attacks.

Stressing the importance that the last stage of the electoral process is conducted transparently and according to the agreed rules, designed to ensure free and fair elections, he noted: “The election of a President accepted as legitimate by the population and by the international community will set the stage for Somalia to tackle the serious challenges ahead.”

However, he added: “If voting […] is seen as compromised by corruption, coercion or external interference, then the country could face a protracted period of uncertainty.”

In his briefing, Mr. Keating, who also heads up the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), told Council members that despite the problems seen in the recently concluded elections, the process also had “very encouraging” outcomes, marking an important milestone in the country’s evolution and post-conflict transformation.

For instance, the number of voters had increased significantly and the electorate was expanded from 2012’s 135 male elders to over 13,000 individuals (30 per cent of them female). It was also particularly notable that almost a quarter of the members of parliament are now female.

“A truly remarkable achievement, the result of effective political mobilization of women, supported by the UN and the international community and some Somali leaders,” noted the Special Representative.

“The new Parliament is younger, more diverse and is likely to be more responsive to the electorate than the previous one. In short, this Parliament is more legitimate and representative than any since the last elections were held in 1969,” he noted.

Humanitarian plight adding to human suffering

Turning to the humanitarian challenges facing the Horn of Africa country, he reported that about five million people are estimated to be in need around the country and an estimated 320,000 under-five-year-olds are acutely malnourished.

“Coping capacities have been eroded to the point of collapse,” he noted.

The week before last, the humanitarian community in Somalia had launched an $864 million to reach 3.9 million people with urgent life-saving assistance in 2017, $300 million of this amount is required in the first quarter of this year.

Further, noting the political and security implications of the drought, Mr. Keating said that a perceived inability of the federal and local governments to respond will damage their legitimacy – something that will be exploited by Al-Shabaab.

“In a nutshell, failure to support the drought response could halt and even undermine the pursuit of key state-building and peace-building objectives,” he cautioned.

‘It is the Somalis who will determine their own fate’

Reiterating that progress is fragile and reversible, and fraught with complexity, he said the stage is nevertheless gradually being set for Somalia to move to a new phase in sustaining peace, preventing and resolving violent conflict, and in building a functional, federal State.

“Ultimately, it is the Somalis who will determine their own fate – but your support is central to their chances of success,” he concluded.

Also briefing the Council, Francisco Caetano Jose Madeira, Special Representative and Head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), stated: “The political environment is that of hope and confidence.” National priorities are focused on completing the constitutional review, forming political parties, establishing local governments, continuing dialogue with Somaliland, strengthening revenue collection and building State institutions, among other things.

AMISOM had been called upon to support Parliament’s pursuit of those goals and the enhancement of its role as the forum for political debate. Noting that 15 per cent of new parliamentarians are aged between 25 and 35 years, he said 24 per cent of them are women — two social categories representing the majority of Somalia’s people.

The past four months also saw sustained international engagement in a political process aimed at ending the Federal Government’s four-year mandate in 2016, he noted, cautioning that such gains could be compromised if the current political unease in regional states was not tackled, since such tensions could activate armed groups wishing to exploit such convoluted environments.

‘Substantial and unprecedented achievement for Somali women’

In her remarks, to the Council, Asha Gelle Dirie, Founder and Executive Director of the Asha Gelle Foundation and Chairperson of the Committee of Goodwill Ambassadors, said that, as the Committee Chair tasked by the President with helping women secure 30 per cent of the seats in Parliament, she had found the advancement of women’s political empowerment challenging.

Working towards that goal entailed mapping the distribution of seats per clan and launching “an advocacy campaign involving civil society actors, political lobbyists, as well as Federal and state Women’s Affairs Ministries, to secure the buy-in of political leaders and clan elders,” she explained, thanking the UN and the international community for their support.

“This is a substantial and unprecedented achievement for Somali women, and for Somali society as a whole,” she said, noting at the same time the numerous serious challenges they had faced, and that despite real progress “a massive structural transformation is required to advance women’s representation in politics and the democratization process.”

Ms. Dirie said the absence of a legally binding provision had made it extremely difficult to enforce the political decision to reserve 30 per cent of parliamentary seats, which made it critically important to secure such a provision in order to further advance political equality for women.

While women had presented a unified position during the electoral process, a lack of funding and logistical support posed a significant challenge during the campaign period, she said, stressing that provisions for adequate support and the creation of a level playing field would be critical for the future success of women candidates.