Opening remarks at UN in Somalia’s virtual press conference, from Mogadishu, Somalia

27 Jan 2021

Opening remarks at UN in Somalia’s virtual press conference, from Mogadishu, Somalia


  • James Swan, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM)
  • Adam Abdelmoula, UN Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia / Humanitarian Coordinator / Resident Coordinator
  • Lisa Filipetto, UN Assistant Secretary-General, and Head of UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS)

JAMES SWAN: Good morning and welcome. My name is James Swan, I am the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia. As we began to do last year, we plan periodic meetings with the press to update you on UN family activities and answer questions that you may have.

Before turning to the work of the UN, I first want to begin by paying tribute to the courage and resilience of Somali citizens who have persevered through some of the toughest conditions in any country on the planet over the past three decades.

While enormous challenges remain and the road ahead, at times, looks long and hilly, it is important to acknowledge the progress that has been made. If we look at a range of measures – governance, the functioning of national and Federal Member State institutions, private sector investment, public financial management, delivery of services, to name a few – Somalia begins 2021 in a better place than 2011, and a better place than 2001, and a better place than the end of January 1991.

The United Nations in Somalia is engaged across many areas in support of the Somali people. There are more than 20 UN agencies, funds and programmes working shoulder-to-shoulder with Somalis on long-term development and immediate humanitarian needs.

Many of these organizations are well-known to you. From World [Food] Programme assistance through food [and] cash vouchers to those in need, to World Health Organization support for COVID-19 support over the past year, to United Nations Development Programme aid for district councils, justice and corrections and human rights initiatives and many, many others.

I’m pleased to be joined today by Deputy Special Representative, Adam Abdelmoula, who is also Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, to discuss these development and humanitarian efforts in further detail.

The United Nations in Somalia also includes the UN Support Office for Somalia [UNSOS], which provides logistical, transport, medical and other support to AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] and designated Somali security forces. It is a key UN contributor to security in Somalia. I’m pleased to be joined by Head of UNSOS, Lisa Filipetto, who will speak more to the work of this entity.

Finally, there is the United Nations Assistance Mission for Somalia, which is a special political mission. It is mandated by the UN Security Council, among other tasks, to support the development of Somali institutions, help Somali authorities coordinate international security support and provide ‘good offices’ to help Somalis resolve differences and continue progress on democratic reforms.

In recent months, our ‘good offices’ work has been focused particularly on advancing inclusive and credible elections. Along with other international partners, we have urged that Somalia’s political leaders pursue compromise and dialogue to agree on the implementation of the September 17th electoral agreement.

In collective meetings with other international partners, and in bilateral meetings, we have stressed the importance of reaching a common understanding on next steps prior to February 8th, in order to avoid any uncertainty.

In the statement issued January 12th and in subsequent meetings, international partners have underscored the importance of respecting the September 17th agreement. They have expressed their opposition to parallel or alternative processes, and they’ve made clear that there must be no violence.

We continue to urge Somali leaders [to show] goodwill, to redouble their efforts to resolve the outstanding issues of implementation of the electoral process and resolve those issues through dialogue and to reach agreement on the way forward for the good of the country.

Thank you very much, and now I turn the microphone to Adam Abdelmoula.

ADAM ABDELMOULA: Thank you, SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] Swan, and good morning everyone. I would like to begin by giving you an overview of where Somalia is on the humanitarian front and the impact of the work we do together with our partners.

Somalia began this new year with a number of similar challenges that afflicted it in 2020. These are the so-called “triple shock” of climate change, regarding floods and droughts, a desert locust outbreak and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.

On climate change, when Cyclone Gati struck in November, 120,000 people were affected in Puntland. People lost their homes and livelihoods, all of which had a knock-on effect on their health and well-being. We provided help to some 78,000 of them through nutrition supplies and food assistance.

The desert locust infestation has lived up to its biblical connotations. This so-called plague has affected almost 700,000 people and close to 300,000 hectares of land across Somalia. We have so far provided support to about 25,900 farming households and sprayed more than 110,000 hectares of land with biopesticides.

On the COVID-19 response, Somalia has a fragile health system which is still developing. We were able to buttress the government’s health machinery with testing laboratories, specialized isolation centres, the training of more than 5,000 frontline health workers and the distribution of thousands of PPE sets.

All of these steps have also had a longer-term impact. They have helped build and reinforce the health system – both improving the health of Somalis and helping train health ministry and medical personnel for the longer-term.

Education was another hard-hit system that was already fragile, to begin with. In October alone, the UN responded by reaching out to at least 93,785 children of whom 44,911 were girls with education-in-emergency assistance, bringing the total number of children reached to 538,676 – of whom, 201,492 were girls.

These are just some of examples of where we have been able to make a small difference. But this is not about patting ourselves on the back or resting on any laurels.

The factors that went into the “triple shock” have not gone away – in fact, they will exacerbate humanitarian needs this year. With our partners, we will need to step up these efforts in reaching the most vulnerable people affected.

On the economic front, the ‘triple shock’ has disrupted the trajectory of Somalia towards economic recovery.

For example, reflecting gender inequalities in the country, women-owned businesses have been especially hard hit, with 98 per cent reporting reduced income. But there are signs of hope. Somalia continues to make steady progress under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries – or HIPC – Initiative. Somalia’s debt stood at $5.3 billion at the end of 2018. This debt will be reduced to $557 million if Somalia achieves the Completion Point expected in 2023.

A very welcome and appropriate guiding document for the UN family’s overall support for Somalia this year and beyond is the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework that we signed in October last year. This is the UN's multi-year strategic plan to guide our collective contribution to the realization of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development in Somalia.  This framework is built around four strategic priorities, which mirror the pillars of Somalia’s National Development Plan Nine – NDP-9 – and those pillars (1) Inclusive Politics and Reconciliation, (2) Security and Rule of Law, (3) Economic Development, and (4) Social Development.

The UN remains steadfast in providing support to Somalia in 2021 in order to achieve a stable, peaceful, and prosperous society. I look forward to any questions you may have.

JAMES SWAN: Thank you very much Adam, and now if I could invite Lisa Filipetto, Head of UNSOS, to make her opening remarks and then we’ll go to questions.

LISA FILIPETTO: Thank you very much, SRSG. Greetings to all participants – happy new year, I think I can still say that as it’s January. I’m Lisa Filipetto, Assistant Secretary-General, and Head of UNSOS, as the SRSG has just said, and I’d like to give you a quick overview of what we are doing in Somalia and the impact on Somalis.

For those of you who don’t know, UNSOS was established 11 years ago by the UN Security Council to provide logistic support to AMISOM when they were new in the field, as that was a big challenge. But, since then, we’ve received additional responsibilities, including to the Somali security forces and also to UNSOM, and more generally, to the UN family and international community.

Our prime role, really, is to support Somalia’s efforts to achieve peace, stability, and development for its people, with a particular focus on our contribution to the security space. So, we have a range of mandated clients.

The Somali security forces have been designated as one of our key clients. We currently support 11,000 Somali National Army [troops] in the field, with logistical support that includes food, fuel, water, some defensive construction equipment, tents, communications, and we’re hoping to add another 3,000 to this number in the coming months, including 1,000 police.

We also help them with medivacs [medical evacuation] and casevacs [evacuation of casualties by air] from the battlefield, so we know the sacrifice they are making in the field. And recently, we started a programme on counter-IED training for them.

Secondly, of course, we retain AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] as a key client. We support nearly 20,000 AMISOM military and police in the field. As I said, on the logistic side – the non-lethal logistic side – and that has been a collaboration over many years, which we value.

We also provide support to UNSOM, to the SRSG’s mission – logistic and administrative support – and that’s always a great honour to help the UN family, and, on occasions, we also help our development and humanitarian partners and also the international community.

So where would most Somalis see the impact of UNSOS come in?

We contribute to the successes of AMISOM and the SNA [Somali National Army] as well, but it you see a UN plane flying, that’s an UNSOS effort. We maintain and manage all our fleet. The fleet conveys cargo and people around the country. We also do the medical evacuations, including from the battlefield – so that’s an important function that we play.

And, as occasion arises, we have supported humanitarian efforts. For example, last year with COVID-19, we transported medical equipment for the Federal Government of Somalia when they were a little bit stuck, and also we do it for humanitarian agencies, including last year with the Belet Weyne flooding.

So we are, I guess, the providers of, if not always the ‘first resort,’ then sometimes the ‘last resort’ when there are no other capabilities, our aviation fleet assists.

You may have also seen the impact of our efforts in construction. We have built the AMISOM sector hubs around the country, the UN facilities and offices in various parts of Somalia, we maintain those facilities, which are also enjoyed by the international community, who travel around. For example, if you’re travelling to Baidoa, you may travel on a UN plane; if you’re a member of the international community, you’ll probably have meetings in the UN facilities which we manage. So, the construction aspect of our work is a big one.

And on the aviation front, we’re also upgrading a couple of runways – the Baidoa and Belet Weyne airstrips. We are upgrading them although we’re not responsible really for developing those runways; we acknowledge that we are users of them, and we hope that in upgrading those airstrips, commercial operators can also use them, which will benefit Somalis. 

Our camps are located in all of the states where AMISOM is, which does not include Puntland, and we travel regularly not only to the six sector hubs of AMISOM but also, we provision 76 other locations around the country.

Finally, we wouldn’t be able to do this without very strong partnerships that we have with the Federal Government of Somalia, with Federal Member States, with AMISOM, the African Union, and our UN colleagues. It’s very much a collaborative effort to heavy-lift all the logistics that’s required for nearly 30,000 troops in the battlefield. We see ourselves as part of transition; eventually, we hope that there won’t be need for our services, when Somali security forces take over the lead for security, they’ll manage this themselves.

I’m very proud that all of the UNSOS staff are very committed to their work in contributing to peace and security in Somalia. I look forward to questions. Thank you.

JAMES SWAN: Let me make just one final comment, picking up on Lisa’s point. There’s a heavy emphasis on partnership in all that we’re doing with the Somali authorities, at the national level, the Federal Member State level and in communities in many areas. I also want to stress that, ultimately, the work of the United Nations is an expression of objectives communicated by the broader international community.

The two missions, UNSOM and UNSOS, are both UN Security Council-mandated missions that, again, express the intent, the will, and the expectations of the Security Council on behalf of the international community. Most of the programmatic work is funded through generous contributions by donor countries that have expressed eagerness to contribute to progress in Somalia and use UN entities as a vehicle for channelling that support to Somalis. So, really, while we speak of the United Nations, in this case, it genuinely does represent a broader commitment of the international community, through our Organization, to help the Somali people.