May 5, 2015
Somalia has long been characterized as the classic “failed
state,” plagued for more than two decades by seemingly
chronic instability and humanitarian need. Since the
collapse of the authoritarian Siad Barre regime in 1991, the
country has lacked a viable central authority capable of
exerting territorial control, securing its borders, or meeting
the needs of its people. Terrorism, piracy, illicit trafficking,
chronic food insecurity, and mass refugee flows have been,
in part, symptoms of Somalia’s political disorder.
After numerous attempts to reunite Somalia’s regions,
clans, and sub-clans within a credible central government,
the international community has rallied behind a new
Somali federal government. The election of President
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in September 2012 by a new
federal parliament followed the approval of a provisional
constitution through an internationally facilitated political
process. U.S. and U.N. officials viewed that process as the
most credible, inclusive, and representative effort to date to
reestablish central governance. In January 2013, the United
States officially recognized the Somali government for the
first time in 22 years. Diplomatic recognition sought, in
part, to highlight fragile improvements in the country’s
stability, reflecting both political developments in the
capital, Mogadishu, and significant regional military
advances against the violent Islamist insurgency led by Al
Shabaab (an “affiliate” of Al Qaeda designated by the
United States as a foreign terrorist organization in 2008).
This progress has increasingly led donors to focus on
development assistance, including efforts to increase
stability; bolster access to government services, economic
growth, and political reconciliation; improve governance
and the rule of law; expand critical infrastructure; and build
resilience to drought and other humanitarian emergencies.
The United States, European donors, and the U.N. (with
member state funding) also provide substantial support for
the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and for
the nascent Somali National Security Forces.
The year 2013 was a critical time in Somalia’s engagement
with international donors, and U.S. recognition was
important in building international support for Somali
efforts. The International Monetary Fund and the World
Bank adjusted their positions on Somalia, making the
country eligible for technical assistance and policy advice.
Donor governments, regional organizations, and
international financial institutions gathered in Brussels to
endorse a New Deal Compact with the Somali government;
donors pledged more than $2.4 billion, including $69
million from the United States, to support its
implementation (2014-2016). The Compact provides a
strategic framework for coordinating peace- and statebuilding activities and sets governance arrangements for
various multi-donor financing mechanisms.
Figure 1. Somalia Facts
Recent Security Developments
Challenges to stabilizing and rebuilding the Somali state are
substantial. Military offensives led by AMISOM and allied
Somali and regional forces facilitated critical gains against
Al Shabaab in 2011-2012, pushing the group out of
Mogadishu and other major southern cities and ports and
depriving it of key revenue sources. More recent offensives
have reclaimed additional towns, including the port city
Barawe, a key Al Shabaab base until October 2014. The
insurgents continue to control some rural areas, though, and
AMISOM and Somali forces struggle to provide security in
liberated areas and along main supply routes, impeding the
delivery of humanitarian and development aid. Al Shabaab
is not the government’s only rival; some local militias have
also resisted efforts to expand central authority.
Al Shabaab continues to attack government, civilian, and
international targets, primarily in Somalia, but also in
Kenya, and periodically elsewhere in East Africa. The
group released a video in February 2015 calling for attacks
in Kenya and abroad, and naming several shopping malls in
Europe and the United States as potential targets, including
Minnesota’s Mall of America. The threat was a reminder of
the 2013 Westgate mall attack in Nairobi, in which at least
67 people died. The English-language message reflects Al
Shabaab’s successful efforts to recruit and raise funds
abroad—several American foreign fighters, some but not all
of Somali descent, reportedly have been killed in Somalia.
The United States has provided substantial support for
AMISOM and Somali efforts against Al Shabaab. The
United States has also taken direct action in Somalia against
members of Al Qaeda, including those members of Al
Shabaab “who are engaged in efforts to carry out terrorist
attacks against the United States and our interests,” as
described in White House reports to Congress. U.S. strikes
have resulted in the deaths of several senior Al Shabaab
operatives, including its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane in
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September 2014, and at least three key figures reportedly
responsible for coordinating operations outside Somalia
(including the Westgate attack) in early 2015. Other
countries have also conducted strikes against Al Shabaab.
After Godane’s death, Al Shabaab announced Ahmad Dirie
Abdikadir Umar (aka Abu Ubaidah) as the group’s new
leader. Divisions under Godane, whose highly centralized
leadership style provoked dissent, led several commanders
to surrender to local authorities; some additional defections
have occurred since his death. The Somali government has
offered amnesty to those who surrender and renounce
violence. In March 2015, the United States removed a $3
million reward for Al Shabaab’s former intelligence chief
after he surrendered to Somali authorities.
from the Central Bank were made for private purposes,
rather than for running the government, representing “a
patronage system and set of social relations that defy the
institutionalization of the state.” The most recent U.N.
report suggests that the systematic diversion of funds
continues, undermining efforts to build an effective public
financial management system. The report also suggests that
in some cases funds are used “for partisan agendas that
constitute threats to peace and security.” The Group has
reported on violations by senior Somali officials of the U.N.
arms embargo, which was modified in 2013 to allow the
government to buy light weapons. The Group has raised
serious concern with the diversion of government arms and
ammunition, including to arms markets in Mogadishu and
to clan-based militias, and has implicated a former advisor
to the president in the leakage of weapons to Al Shabaab.
The government faces major challenges in extending its
authority beyond Mogadishu and overcoming contentious
clan dynamics. After more than 20 years without central
authority, the sharing of power, revenue and resources
remains subject to considerable national debate. Most clans
favor a decentralized system of governance as the best way
to achieve power-sharing among clans and sub-clans.
Untapped petroleum resources complicate revenue sharing
discussions. Gaps in the legal and regulatory framework
governing the hydrocarbons sector are a potential flashpoint
for conflict. The nation building process is also complicated
by pervasive corruption, insecurity, and spoiler networks
working against the consolidation of state authority.
Federalism is enshrined in the provisional constitution, but
the document is vague on how it will work in practice. The
state building process is proceeding—two interim federal
states, Jubaland and Southwest, have been formed since
2013 (semi-autonomous Puntland in the northeast is widely
considered the first federal state). These processes have
been controversial, however, and there is significant tension
around efforts to create a state for central Somalia. The
government’s relations with Puntland resumed in October
2014, after being suspended for over a year, although
underlying questions about power and revenue sharing
remain. Another major challenge for the government is the
incorporation of clan and regional militia into the army. The
government is still seeking to define its relationship with
the autonomous northwest region of Somaliland, which
declared itself independent from Somalia in 1991.
The government is behind schedule on benchmarks it must
meet before its mandate expires in 2016. Political infighting
between the president and former prime minister delayed
action on key tasks in 2014, notably the approval of laws
establishing institutions for state formation and elections.
President Mohamud named Somalia’s then-ambassador to
the United States, Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, as the
new prime minister in December. A constitutional review is
underway; a draft is to be approved via national referendum
to pave the way for elections in 2016.
According to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia,
corruption is a “system of governance” in Somalia. The
Group reported in 2013 that at least 80% of withdrawals
Humanitarian conditions remain extremely poor in much of
Somalia, with some 3 million people in need of aid and
more than 730,000 Somalis facing acute food insecurity.
One million people remain internally displaced. By U.N.
estimates, 1.7 million children are not in school; 1 in 12
women die in childbirth; 1 in 10 children die before their
first birthday; and only 1 in 3 Somalis has access to safe
water. Insecurity constrains humanitarian access—this is
one of the most dangerous operating environments in the
world for aid workers. Funding shortages also threaten
relief programs. Advocacy groups have criticized the
decision by U.S. and British banks to close the accounts of
Somali money transfer businesses: many Somalis rely
heavily on remittances from family abroad, which are
estimated to represent one third of Somalia’s total income.
U.S. Policy and Foreign Assistance
The Obama Administration’s Somalia strategy is based on
three key elements: security, governance, and development.
The United States has been a key supporter of AMISOM
and coordinated diplomatic and military responses to the
threat of Somali maritime piracy. In late 2013, the U.S.
military, which had maintained a small contingent of
personnel in Somalia for several years, deployed a team of
military advisors to liaise with the Somali security forces
(previously, engagement had been focused on advising and
sharing information with AMISOM). U.S. diplomats based
in Kenya travel frequently to Mogadishu, but the State
Department has yet to reestablish an embassy there. In
February 2015, President Obama nominated the first U.S.
ambassador to Somalia since 1991; in May 2015, John
Kerry became the first Secretary of State to visit
Mogadishu. Efforts to promote stability through governance
and economic aid are increasing. The FY2016 foreign aid
request for Somalia is $209 million, over half of which is
focused on security assistance for AMISOM and Somali
forces. Humanitarian aid in FY2014 and FY2015 has
totaled over $230 million. The United States has provided
more than $1 billion in training, equipment, logistics
support for AMISOM since 2007 and almost $200 million
for Somali forces.
Lauren Ploch Blanchard, email@example.com, 7-7640
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