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Over 500 dead as al-Shabaab attacks surge amid constitutional reforms

Friday April 26, 2024

Mogadishu (HOL) — Somalia has been embroiled in a severe crisis this past month marked by political instability and increased militant activity. During this period, the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) reported over 205 incidents of political violence, resulting in at least 539 fatalities. The most affected areas were the Lower Shabelle and Mudug regions, where al-Shabaab's intensified attacks on security forces have led to the highest casualties.

As Somalia grapples with these security challenges, the country also faces significant political turbulence due to a controversial effort to amend the provisional constitution, which has been in place since 2012. The latest round of amendments, ratified by Parliament on March 30, seeks to enhance presidential powers, abolish the prime minister's position in favour of a vice president, and transition from a clan-based indirect voting system to universal suffrage. These amendments also propose extending the terms of the president and Parliament from four to five years, while shifting some powers traditionally held by Parliament to the presidency.

The constitutional amendments have ignited a firestorm of opposition, particularly from the Puntland administration, which temporarily declared its independence from Somalia on March 31. The bold move by Puntland came a day after the amendments' ratification, marking the second time it has asserted independence over similar grievances. Puntland said it would recognize the federal government and the constitution if the latter were approved by a nationwide referendum.

The situation was further complicated when Puntland engaged in trade discussions with Ethiopia on April 3 without coordinating with the Somali federal government. This action prompted diplomatic fallout, including the expulsion of the Ethiopian ambassador from Mogadishu.

On the security front, al-Shabaab has exploited the political disarray to intensify their assaults, particularly in the Hirshabelle region. Noteworthy was a U.S.-backed airstrike on April 2, targeting a high-level al-Shabaab meeting in Lower Shabelle, which resulted in over 20 militant deaths and several injuries among the group's leaders. Despite such decisive actions, the pace of government-led counterinsurgency efforts has been uneven, mainly due to internal factional divisions, allowing al-Shabaab to regain strength in strategic areas.

The federal government has attempted to engage all political stakeholders to address the unrest and discuss the controversial amendments. However, the Puntland administration boycotted a planned meeting on April 16 and instead opted to organize a meeting to deliberate on the future of federalism in Somalia. The federal government eventually postponed the NCC meeting.


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