Transcript of the UN in Somalia’s virtual press conference in Mogadishu

27 Jan 2021

Transcript of the UN in Somalia’s virtual press conference in Mogadishu


  • 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 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 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.



(edited for clarity)

EVELYN KAHUNGU, AL JAZEERA: Good morning, my question is to the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General], and is about the election which was meant to happen on the 8th [February] or by the 8th.  Are you confident that Somalia can hold credible elections? We have been hearing a lot about clan movements around the candidates of their choice and threats by political players to hold parallel election if President Farmajo and his government do not hold one. Are you confident that we will see a peaceful election on the 8th?

JAMES SWAN: First of all, there has been great effort by the UN system but also by many international partners to engage the full array of key Somali political leaders in recent months. I have recently travelled to a number of the Federal Member States for direct conversations with their leaders.

We've had bilateral meetings with senior Somali officials, including the President, the Prime Minister, ministers [and] key opposition figures. In addition to those bilateral contacts, we have met collectively as international partners with many of them; also visited Federal Member States with AU [African Union], EU [European Union] and IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development]. So there's been a serious effort to engage all the players, encourage them to seek common ground, encourage them to pursue dialogue and compromise, encourage them to be imaginative in finding ways to overcome obstacles to proceeding with implementation of the electoral process.

I believe there are many Somali political leaders of goodwill who are actively exploring ways that they could reach agreement on proceeding with implementation. As I noted, the international partners have been vocal in their eagerness for an agreement on the way forward. Not a parallel process; not alternative means of advancing.

In this regard, I do want to emphasize, I think what is eagerly desired is agreement on the way forward prior to February 8th. I think it's evident that because of the multi-stage system for organizing Somali elections, in which there must be, initially, electoral processes to select the Senate, an electoral process to select delegates, who in turn elect Members of Parliament and then both the Senate and the Lower House – the House of the People – are to come together to choose the President, it seems very likely this will extend for some additional period of time. What's important, we think, is to have an agreement on the way forward so that everyone can be confident in what the process entails, and that's very much what we are encouraging. Fundamentally, it will be up to the Somali leaders to make those determinations, but we very much hope they’ll continue to pursue dialogue, pursue compromise and seek to find a solution. That will also be the best way to reduce the risk of violence or disruption by those who may feel disadvantaged or left out of the process.

REUBEN KYAMA, VOICE OF AMERICA: My question goes to the Special Representative. In your bilateral meetings, did you discuss the tensions between Kenya and Somalia and what is your message to the leadership of these two nations?

JAMES SWAN: We certainly share views that have been expressed by others in the region, including senior leaders from the African Union that de-escalation and restraint would be desirable along the border between Somalia and Kenya.

International partners have in fact communicated over the past year on several occasions, urging restraint, urging de-escalation in Gedo, along the border, and in regard to potential regional aspects of differences in that area. We have obviously seen the reports of recent incidents. We are, of course, alarmed at the news of civilians who have been killed or injured in these incidents. I would note that in December there were concerns raised by the Somali authorities. These were then taken up at the Heads of State and Government summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. That summit meeting charged President Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti with organizing a fact-finding mission to examine those concerns and to return with both details and an assessment of what had happened, and also recommendations for the way forward.

So we look forward to hearing from IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority on Development] on these issues. It is being addressed by a sub-regional organization, in this case IGAD, and we believe that's a helpful way to try to understand the details of what occurred and also hear a recommendation from this organization on how to proceed.

NICK PERRY, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE: I have a question for Special Representative Swan, as well. You mentioned that it’s expected that the election process could extend for a considerable period of time because of the complexity of the electoral system in Somalia. Is it fair to say then, Sir, that you don’t expect there to be a vote before February 8th? And if not, could you give us some idea of a timeline for when you think that we could see an inclusive vote, recognized by the member states?

JAMES SWANAs I explained, this is a multi-stage process which starts with the election of Upper House seats, as well as the Lower House – or House of the People – seats. But this is a somewhat complicated endeavour.

No elections have yet been scheduled at those levels and even once they are completed, additional time would be required to seek the members [to] swear in everyone for the House of the People and the Upper House.

I do not know exactly how long that will take. And, only after that, would the second stage of the process, that is the indirect election of the President by the Upper House and the Lower House, meeting in [a] joint session. My point really is that what is most important is not ensuring that the electoral process is fully completed by February 8th, which seems unrealistic at this time, but rather to ensure that there is a common understanding by key Somali leaders about how this process is going to unfold and how it will proceed until it reaches its conclusion. And that’s where international partners have spoken very clearly with one voice on the importance of an agreement that includes the key stakeholders that is based on the September 17 model signed by the President and the five Federal Member State leaders so that this process can go forward.

I think that's what we are placing greatest emphasis on at the moment – reaching agreement on how the process will advance so that any uncertainty can be minimized.

CARA ANNA, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Again for Mr. Swan: Will the UN recognize the results of an election in which all regional states don’t take part, and what kind of punishment might follow if the vote goes ahead as incomplete?

JAMES SWANAgain, I think partners have been quite clear: that they believe that it is important that there be an agreement on the way forward. As the statement issued on January 12th noted, it is important to proceed with a credible electoral process.

I think we would have to see what develops in terms of the specifics of this going forward. We continue to urge all possible efforts and, indeed, redoubled initiatives and creative thinking to ensure that there is an agreement that everyone can subscribe to, that would allow for the elections to proceed with a collective commitment to the rules of the game, and to the outcome that will emerge from that.

But we’re not at a place right now where international partners have taken a stance in terms of what would be the specific response to different scenarios. But we are actively urging, encouraging and supporting the parties to reach an agreement, so that all can participate in the electoral process. 

MOHAMED DUALE, HORN DIPLOMAT: [inaudible] … Somalia and Somaliland… What is your position?

JAMES SWAN:  I am not sure I heard the full question, but what I think you are asking is about the status of discussions between Hargeisa and Mogadishu.

I would note only that Muse Bihi and Mohammed Abdulahi Mohammed ‘Farmaajo’ met in Djibouti last June, hosted by President Ismail Omar Guelleh, with support from other regional leaders and some key international partners.

We welcomed that meeting as did many, many other international actors. There was a subsequent programme of discussions planned as an outcome of that. However, for a variety of reasons, that programme of discussion does not appear to be continuing at this point.

We would continue to support discussions and dialogue between those entities so that some agreements can be reached on the way forward for them. We think this is a useful initiative and that continued communication would be very helpful. That is the status at this point.

You obviously could ask the Somaliland authorities or the Government of Somalia for their views on the next steps, but our understanding is that those discussions are on hold at the moment.

But we would certainly welcome a continued communication to find a way forward.

Nick Perry, AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE: Mr. Swan, if the indirect presidential election does not occur by February 7th as expected, could you explain what that means in terms of President Farmaajo’s mandate? If it expires, does that mean he continues to hold office until election occurs, and does UNSOM see this as creating a credibility issue or risk of insecurity in Somalia?

JAMES SWAN: In October, the Parliament adopted a resolution that even at the expiry of mandates, both for Parliament and for the President, the incumbents would remain in place until successors are elected. This would perhaps be subject to some discussion by legal scholars, but there appears to be a strong legal basis for continuity in office.

I think the concern is more what the political reaction may be. And I can tell you that in discussions with a very wide range of actors here, within government circles, Federal Member States – both those more critical of the central government and those more tightly aligned with the central government – with political candidates, presidential candidates and others, [including] civil society, I think there is concern that going beyond February 8th without a clear agreement takes us into unpredictable territory, and that it would be far preferable to have an agreement prior to the 8th of February so that everyone is on the same page, has the same vision, viewpoint and agreement on the rules of the game as this process continues. So, our concern is less a legal concern but more one of avoiding an unpredictable political situation in a country where we certainly don't need any more of that.

Ali Hussein Sahal, Horn Connect: In case every option fails in the current process for Somalia’s election and disagreements between parties stand, what clear actions could the UN in Somalia take?

JAMES SWAN: We are focused at the moment, along with other partners, on making every effort to support Somali initiative to resolve the current political impasse. I have been in very frequent consultation with Federal Member State leaders, and I am encouraged that several of them are working hard to look for solutions. These are their initiatives. These are their ideas. These are their solutions. But what we are trying to do is encourage that.

We are trying to offer suggestions, we're offering, obviously, support should good ideas emerge that can be embraced by all of the key Somali political stakeholders. We've also continued to maintain very frequent contact with the senior levels of the federal government to continue to urge also efforts and initiatives to overcome these continued impasses in moving ahead with the electoral process.

So, we really are seeking to give every opportunity and encourage every opportunity by the Somali leadership to overcome these differences and take action, really, in the coming few days, so that answers and solutions can be found well before the 8th of February.

That's our emphasis right now. We're very eager that this continues to be what it has been: a Somali-lead process. This is a sovereign country; this is a set of Somali initiatives. The September 17th agreement represented a Somali political consensus on how to move forward. We're very confident that they, within the Somali political leadership, should be able to do this and that's very much what we are encouraging at this time.

CARA ANNA, ASSOCIATED PRESS: What are the leaders who refuse to participate in the election telling you? What exactly do they want to see before taking part in it?

JAMES SWAN: There are three specific baskets of issues that are in the process of being discussed. One involves the selection of the committee that is to choose the seats for the communities from Somaliland who would be represented in the national parliament.

The second is a set of issues around the appointment of the election management bodies, and some accusations that certain appointees do not meet the appropriate criteria for inclusion in those election management bodies. The third set of issues [is] around the conduct of the electoral process in Garbahare, in [the] Gedo region of Jubaland.

There are many informal discussions that have gone on over a number of months and are continuing over how to resolve these three baskets of issues. From our consultations with a wide array of actors, we believe that, in fact, solutions on these three issues remain within grasp and, indeed, are quite close if it would be possible for the key actors to come together and reach a final decision on these topics.

So those remain the specific issues that are under discussion, and that have continued to hold up forward movement. I think more broadly, sadly, there is a current climate of mistrust among many of Somalia’s top political leaders. The challenge to some degree is how to overcome that mistrust at this time [and] allow everyone to move forward together, address these specific issues that have solutions, and be able to move forward collectively on an agreed plan to get to the completion of the electoral process based on rules that everyone supports.  

Evelyn Kahungu, Al Jazeera: Again to the SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General]. In my first question, I had asked about elements arming themselves ahead of the elections. Some think-tanks and researchers have been warning that clan militias are organizing around the elections. Are you worried about this? And yesterday the government [of Somalia] issued a statement claiming that some people are trying to bring in high-caliber weapons. Is this worrying to you and your team?

JAMES SWAN: We've seen those reports, and I think this underscores why there’s a strong message from ourselves, and from other international partners, discouraging recourse to violence, discouraging use of violence to pursue political aims.

We don't want to see that happen and we are urging that those approaches not be pursued. It underscores that it is important that there be broad political agreement on how to move forward, and that in the absence of political agreement on how to move forward, additional risks will multiply.

That's why we are eagerly encouraging the Somali political leadership to seek solutions, to be creative, to make compromises, to pursue dialogue and to reach an agreement that will get us through the coming period without violence.

MOHAMED DUALE, HORN DIPLOMAT: [inaudible] We have regions that are remote and difficult to access yet they are in need of humanitarian support. What is being done to ensure delivery of humanitarian support to the communities?

JAMES SWAN: It was a little bit difficult to hear, but if I understood correctly, you were asking about the delivery of humanitarian support to remote areas or difficult to access areas, and what is being done to ensure that that gets through. Is that correct? I’m going to invite Adam Abdemoula, who is also the Humanitarian Coordinator, to respond.

Adam Abdemoula: Well, it depends on the type of humanitarian assistance that we deliver in those hard-to-reach areas or inaccessible areas because of security. For certain activities, such as vaccination for instance, we use local partners who know how to negotiate their way to those remote areas and hard-to-reach or insecure areas. For others, we establish centres where the beneficiaries themselves come to the areas that are relatively accessible and secure.

Also, we employ imaginative ways of delivering aid directly to the beneficiaries, such as cash transfers through mobile phones. That also includes connecting the beneficiaries who receive that kind of mobile money with traders, who then deliver the aid directly to the beneficiaries, and it is only upon delivery that the beneficiaries pay the traders.

So, there are so many different ways of reaching the communities and the beneficiaries in those areas. Other times, we use the mediation of community leaders and clan elders to facilitate the work of our local partners who are in the front lines.

CARA ANNA, ASSOCIATED PRESS: How will COVID vaccines be administered in areas held or controlled by Al-Shabaab?

JAMES SWAN: Somalia is one of the countries that will be that will be covered by the COVAX global programme which will authorize shipment and delivery to Somalia of vaccines to cover 20 per cent of the population, which is approximately three million people.

We're in the process now within the UN system of organizing ourselves to be prepared to receive these upcoming vaccine shipments, which are unlikely to start before March at the earliest. We've also been in touch with the Somali government to emphasize that there'll be a need for very close coordination and, indeed, leadership on the Somali government side, but it has been raised at senior levels of the Somali government.

A plan for delivery is being developed, and it will no doubt target as beneficiaries those who can be accessed. Those who are in areas difficult to access will likely be in a more challenging circumstance in terms of receiving the vaccine. Unfortunately, this is a problem that extends across our humanitarian support efforts here. But, indeed, this is moving forward. Somalia is eligible under COVAX and we are working with the government on preparing plans for receipt of the vaccine, delivery and distribution.

JAMES SWAN [closing remarks]: I want to thank everyone for participating. I should emphasize that one of our core messages surrounding the upcoming electoral process is also the critical importance of protecting political space. And that means freedom to organize, it means freedom to speak. It obviously entails the ability of media organs to continue to function and to broadcast issues that are of interest and concern to them. So, we also do think that it's important to have these sorts of exchanges also to underscore the importance of openness to the media and the significant role the media organs will be playing during this upcoming electoral process.