Budget Pressures Spur Somalia to Resolve Political Crisis

Somalia will expedite elections in a bid to quell instability and coax donors into releasing funds needed to pay the nation’s security forces and other state employees, Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdirizak said.

The prime minister is scheduled to meet representatives from political parties and other interested groups in July to agree on the voting process, Abdirizak said. The authorities will then announce dates for parliamentary and presidential votes.

“It could happen within 90 days” from when they set a date, Abdirizak said in a May 3 interview.

Somalia is proceeding with the elections after President Mohamed Abdullahi reversed a decision to extend his mandate without holding a vote as scheduled in February. The planned delay stoked violence in the Horn of Africa nation, which has been battling an Islamist insurgency for 15 years, and led the U.S. to threaten sanctions.

Somalia is dependent on donor funding, with domestically generated revenue contributing less than half of its annual budget. The government has received less than half of the 100 million euros ($120 million) the EU pledged in a three-year budget-support program that ends this year.

The government has warned there’s a risk of increased unrest if funding gaps leave it unable to cover its wage bill.

“If the government is not able to continue to pay salaries to civil servants, and particularly the security forces, that could create enormous damage,” said Abdirizak. “We are in talks to get those funds released.”

The EU didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Somalia is struggling to rebuild after two decades of civil war and amid an insurgency by al-Shabaab, an al Qaeda-linked group that the federal government is fighting with the help of neighboring states, the U.S. and the EU. While the group is concentrated in the Middle Shabelle and Lower Shabelle regions, they have recently increased attacks on the capital, Mogadishu.

New militant groups have also sprung up, with the government blaming opposition politicians for exacerbating the security situation. Some soldiers abandoned their posts in the Middle Shabelle region on April 25 and went to the capital where they clashed with troops loyal to the president. The violence came after two former presidents-turned-opposition leaders, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, accused the national army of raiding their homes in the capital.

“A number of political opposition in Mogadishu have mobilized clan militias, which pose a threat,” Abdirizak said. “Those militias are still in Mogadishu. They need to stand down.”

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble office said he’d reached an agreement late Wednesday with the National Salvation Forum, the main opposition umbrella group, to de-escalate tensions in Mogadishu.

Both sides agreed that all forces who had entered the capital to respond to the recent violence should return to their bases within the 48 hours, it said in a statement. The prime minister also agreed to issue a decree ordering military commanders not involve themselves in politics and that the security forces not be deployed for political reasons.

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