Why is Somalia taking so long to hold its elections?

Somalis should have elected a new parliament and president by now. Parliament’s term expired in December 2020 and the president’s in February 2021. But to the people’s frustration, elections have not followed. To understand why, let’s try to make sense of the complex Somali political situation.

A Background of Violence

Until 1991, Somalia was ruled by a military government. Following its collapse in 1991, the country entered a two-decades long civil war. Eventually, a new constitution was passed in 2012, but violence continued. In particular, a terrorist group called Al-Shabaab remained active, with a strong presence in the countryside. They conducted many terrorist attacks. In 2017, the current president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (known as ‘Farmaajo’) was elected, and promised to get rid of Al-Shabaab. He did not succeed.

A ‘clan-sharing’ system

The Somali president is not elected directly by the people like in many other African countries. Instead, he is elected by the elders of the different clans in Somalia. The clans share power between them in what is called the ‘4.5 model’. Many believe this system of clan dominance is undemocratic and deepens divisions. These divisions have proven important during the current political crisis.

Federal tensions

As well as privileging the role of clans, Somalia’s constitution also includes federalism, meaning that power is shared between the central government in Mogadishu (the capital) and several regional governments. Unfortunately, under President Mohamed, the Somali government has had poor relations with some regions. In particular, it rejected the results of elections in Jubaland, one of the five regions. Another region, Puntland, supported Jubaland in the dispute. Both regions are semi-autonomous and do not want to be controlled by the government in Mogadishu. And thanks to this dispute, Jubaland and Puntland refused to take part in fresh indirect elections. 

A biased electoral commission?

Somalia’s electoral commission delayed elections because of ‘significant technical and security challenges’. But opposition figures have accused the electoral commission of bias, arguing that it is controlled by the president. Clearly, if true, this would be a major problem. If controlled by the president, the electoral commission could make sure that only representatives who supported the president were elected. This would mean an unfair election victory. 


The Somali people have suffered a lot of violence, and with the current crisis, some fear that the country could go backwards towards the violence of the past. They recognise that to deal with security threats, their political system has to start working again. But having endured so much, Somalis are also resilient and hopeful that this challenge can be overcome, allowing Somalia to move towards greater democracy.



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