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UN envoy urges Somalia's leaders to work together

CAMEROON, Cameroon — The U.N.

CAMEROON, Cameroon — The U.N. envoy for Somalia urged the country’s leaders on Monday to take “bold steps” to ensure that 2020 sets the fragile Horn of Africa country on a trajectory to peace and stability, not more political division and increasing extremism.

James Swan said Somalia and its international partners agreed in October on the priorities Somalia “must not fail” to achieve in 2020. They include achieving debt relief, holding one-person one-vote elections, finalizing the federal constitution, advancing the fight against al-Shabab extremists, and consolidating the federal state.

He told the U.N. Security Council there has been “good progress” on economic priorities.

The executive boards of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank recently confirmed Somalia’s eligibility for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, Swan said, and key legislation has been passed to strengthen the country’s fiscal framework.

But Swan said that for Somalia to achieve “its ambitious priorities,” the country’s leaders and key stakeholders must work together and that isn’t happening.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed met with some party leaders in November but not since then, the U.N. envoy said, and tensions between the federal government and regional states continue.

“The protracted absence of a broad political consensus on the way forward in 2020 remains a threat to further progress,” Swan warned.

In December, Swan said, he led representatives of the African Union, European Union and regional group IGAD in talks with federal and state leaders and civil society groups. He said he emphasized to president Mohamed “the urgent need to resume dialogue.”

After three decades of civil war, extremist attacks and famine, Somalia established a functioning transitional government in 2012 and has since been working to rebuild stability. But U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said it must still tackle violent extremism, terrorism, armed conflict, political instability and corruption.

In 2020, Swan said, “Somalia will face a critical test of its state-building progress through the holding of historic one-person, one-vote elections,” a potential milestone for citizens who have been denied the right to political participation for 50 years.

An electoral law has been approved by the legislature and signed by the president that is “an important step,” he said. But it doesn’t address key questions including locations of constituencies, how to guarantee 30% of seats for women, and methods to enable Somalis across the country to participate.

Swan urged the federal parliament and electoral officials in consultation with the federal government, states and others “to resolve these issues urgently so that technical preparations can get under way.”

The federal government has committed to adopting an amended constitution by June, and elections are expected to be held in the last quarter of the year.

On security, Swan said that “there has been steady, commendable progress in rebuilding Somalia’s security institutions.” But he said military operations have slowed since mid-2019 and the government hasn’t generated enough troops to carry out needed operations against al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremists and to reopen main supply routes.

Despite efforts by Somali troops and the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, al-Shabab retains the ability to carry out large-scale attacks in the capital of Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country and to generate significant revenue through extortion, Swan said.

Somalia’s U.N. ambassador, Abukar Dahir Osman, told the council the federal government “continues to build an inclusive political process across the country.”

Osman also assured the council “that we are bound and will respect the principle of holding elections on time and the peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”

Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press

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