US and Danaab forces repel Shabaab attack on Baledogle airbase
On 30 September 2019, Al Shabaab launched an attack on the Baledogle military airbase in Lower Shabelle, the primary base for U.S. special forces in Somalia and also reportedly for US drones. Two trucks carrying bombs and AS fighters were spotted by members of the Danaab commando force as they approached the base. One truck bomb was triggered outside the perimeter and about ten armed fighters deployed from the second truck, but the bomb was too far to incur significant damage and the fighters were all killed by Danaab and US forces before they could reach the fence.
Commentators speculated that the incident, coming amid increased AS attacks in recent months, was meant to bolster morale among AS fighters and weaken foreign militaries’ resolve to intervene in Somalia. On the same day, AS launched another attack on Italian peacekeepers in Mogadishu, showing that AS maintains formidable capacities for coordinated operations. The US Africa Command immediately announced that it had launched two airstrikes on Al Shabaab positions in response to the attack.
Two days after the attack the US reopened its embassy in Somalia for the first time since 1991, within the Mogadishu International Airport. U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto hailed the reopening as a “significant and a historic day that reflects Somalia’s progress in recent years.”
Galmudug tensions flare up over election concerns
Tensions escalated this month in Galmudug between the federal government and the Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah (ASWJ) Sufi militant group, related to the formation process of a new government for the emerging Federal Member State, and in particular ASWJ’s opposition to the federal Ministry of Interior’s appointment of a technical committee to choose members of the state parliament. In late October, Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre visited the state capital Dhusamareb in late October amid reports that troop deployments had been seen in the city.
This dispute threatened to derail the significant progress made during September’s Galmudug reconciliation conference and the events surrounding it, including amicable meetings held by ASWJ leaders with both PM Khaire and President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo (see September’s SOMHUB Summary). On 21 October, Galmudug Reconciliation Committee Chairman Dr. Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow published a commentary in Wardheer News on the success factors and lessons learnt from this reconciliation process. He highlighted the conference’s inclusive involvement of a broad range of political, civil society, clan and religious actors, extensive community-level consultations, skillful use of a range of publicity outlets, careful balancing of clan representatives and interactive approach of dialogue and experience sharing as crucial factors in achieving positive outcomes.
ICJ delays hearing of Somalia-Kenya maritime dispute
On 17 October, the International Court of Justice approved a request by Kenya to delay a hearing of the country’s maritime dispute with Somalia, made in early September. This dispute, which emerged in 2014, involves the maritime boundary between the two countries. Kenya considers the sea border to continue due eastward from the coastal border point at Kiunga; Somalia considers the border to follow the diagonal direction of the land border, reducing Kenya’s maritime territorial claim by about 100,000 km square and removing four offshore oil blocks from Kenya’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
The ICJ set a new start date of 8 June 2020, with no further postponement to be considered. Kenya had originally pressed for a year-long delay to allow time to assemble a legal team and prepare its case. Former Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud criticized the Somali government’s lack of transparency on the delay, asking “What happened to our maritime case in the ICJ? Our people has (sic) the right to know why and how the case was postponed?”
Kenya and Somalia have long differed over how this dispute should be handled, with Somalia insisting that the ICJ is the suitable body to make a definitive ruling and Kenya arguing that the Court is not equipped to handle the sensitive political and diplomatic concerns surrounding this situation. Somalia has denied Kenya’s proposals to resolve the disagreement through the African Union.
Following the ICJ’s postponement, US Ambassador to Kenya Kyle McCarter revealed in an interview that the US was urging Somalia to withdraw the case and engage in talks with Kenya. McCarter was quoted as claiming that “I’ve been to Mogadishu to speak to the Somalia president. I told him to pull off the court case.” However, Somali ambassador to Kenya Mohamud Ahmed Nur Tarsan denied that any such meeting had happened. The US embassy clarified that McCarter had only spoken to US Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto and advisers to President Farmajo, not to the President himself.
On 20 October, Kenyan political consultant and maritime dispute expert Victor Ndia published a commentary criticizing the Somali government’s “dogmatic” rejection of negotiations and claiming that “Mogadishu is using the dispute to divert attention from its many internal problems.” He speculated that President Farmajo was gambling that having the case decided by the ICJ, whose president Abdulqawi Yusuf is a Somali national from Farmajo’s clan, is more likely to result in a favorable outcome for Somalia than negotiating with Kenya. However, Ndia noted, if the ICJ rules in favor of Somalia it may “upset the delicate balance” of interstate maritime boundaries across the continent.
On 30 October, Horn of Africa security analyst Abdullahi Abdille Shahow analyzed the dispute in African Arguments, arguing that any ICJ ruling could be detrimental to the two countries’ security and bilateral relationship. First, Shahow pointed out, the ICJ is unable to enforce its rulings, so even a court-ordered settlement could be ignored and could lead to further negotiations or even confrontations. A ruling in favor of Somalia could lead to Kenya’s withdrawal of its troops from Somalia, which would weaken AMISOM and benefit Al Shabaab. It could also spur Kenya to contest its southern maritime border with Tanzania, which could cascade to countries throughout the East African coastline. A ruling that favored Kenya, on the other hand, could damage the already weak prestige of the Somali federal government and drive Al Shabaab recruitment. All of this is unfortunate, Shahow asserted, because “Kenya and Somalia both need each other much more than they need the contested triangle of maritime territory.”
More concerns voiced about press freedom in Somalia
International and domestic media associations continued to decry moves by governments at various levels to punish journalists and tighten the space for media oversight of government authorities.
On 14 October, freelance journalist Abdiaziz Hassan Moalim was briefly arrested in Jowhar for covering a violent protest against mass arrests following a grenade attack that killed the deputy governor of Hirshabelle State. The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) reported that the Jowhar Police Commissioner had advised his officers to shoot any reporters found taking pictures of the protest.
On 15 October, SJS reported that officers from Puntland’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) raided the offices of the independent RTN TV station without a warrant following its broadcast of a vox-pop report criticizing the state president’s attendance at the inauguration of Jubaland’s state president.
On 17 October, SJS reported that police in Puntland arrested former director of Radio Daljir Ahmed Sheikh Mohamed (also known as Tall Man) on charges of “incitement and public order disturbance” related to the radio station’s September 2019 reporting on the death by torture of a prisoner in police custody. He was later released after five days in jail when he agreed to record a video admitting his guilt and stating that the station’s reporting was false. Radio Daljir’s journalists refuted the video as “a new level of state propaganda against the independent media” and claimed that the police had forced Tall Man to recant “to create embarrassment and confusion to our audience.”
On 27 October, five Journalists were arrested in Mogadishu for covering a protest by bus drivers against new federal taxes and road closures. Some of the journalists told the Federation of Somali Journalists (FESOJ) that they had been tortured and had their equipment confiscated or destroyed during their detainment by police. They were quickly released after the intervention of the city’s mayor.
Also on 27 October, FESOJ reported that three journalists from the Hadhwanaag website had fled to Mogadishu from Hargeisa in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland amid harassment and threats based on their critical reporting on Somaliland’s political leaders. At a press conference, the journalists stated that they had “lost all the space to work freely within our rights in the law” and that they had each been imprisoned and tortured by police in Hargeisa. Soon afterward the independent Somaliland Sun website denounced Hadhwanaag as a propaganda outlet supported by the federal government in Mogadishu and accused the journalists of being complicit in “information warfare” against Somaliland.
On 18 October, the International Press Institute (IPI) released a statement decrying the “worsening climate of arrests and threats against independent journalists in Somalia.” It highlighted “a pattern of arrests, intimidation and censorship of media outlets” including arrests of reporters, police raids on media outlets and other actions to prevent public access to unfavorable reporting. IPI’s Director of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad called on Somali federal and state authorities to “refrain from carrying out further arbitrary arrests and halt the forced closure of radio and TV stations.”
Jubaland Security Minister arraigned in Mogadishu as Dollow airport is renamed after him
Tense relations between the federal government and the Jubaland State administration continued following the arrest in late August by federal security forces of Jubaland state security minister Abdirashid Janan. At that time, federal government officials noted that Janan had been sought by Interpol for crimes against the people of Gedo Region, where he remains a powerful political figure. The UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG), in its 2016 and 2017 reports, had accused Janan of significant human rights violations including the obstruction of humanitarian assistance.
On October 6, Janan was arraigned at the Banadir Regional Court in Mogadishu on charges of crimes against humanity, together with Bulle Adan Mohamed, the army commander of Dolloq and Beledhawo towns. On October 23, the Jubaland administration announced that it would rename the Dollow District Airport after Janan, and held a ceremony attended by the district commissioners of Dollow, Beledhawo and Luuq to inaugurate the “Abdirashid Janan Airport.”