Impasse in the 2021 Somali Elections: A Grave Threat to Somalia’s Fragile Democracy

Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo wide crop scaled

In the capital city of Mogadishu, at least 20 people were killed or injured due to conflict between government forces and protestors that took place in the morning hours of February 19, 2021.[i] The protestors led by opposition candidate and former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire were demonstrating against the indefinite delay of the 2021 Somali presidential elections.[ii] The previous night, a hotel where many opposition candidates were staying came under fire by pro-government forces supposedly under the orders of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo.[iii] These recent incidents demonstrate the growing violence in Somalia as political talks about the reinstatement of the elections continue to hit dead ends.   

The parliamentary and presidential elections were originally intended be held in November, 2020 and February, 2021 respectively. However, the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), an independent body mandated by the 2012 Constitution to establish a fair electoral framework, in June 2020 concluded the logistics of holding a popular vote would be impossible by the given deadlines.[iv] COVID-19 concerns compounded with recent famine and the growing threat of al-Shabaab were cited as the main causes for the delays.[v] This decision was met with outrage from the Forum of National Parties, a coalition of six opposition parties, who accused the NIEC of siding with the current government to grant an unfair term extension.[vi] An agreement was reached by Farmaajo and 5 regional leaders in September, 2020 to hold parliamentary elections in December and the presidential election in February, 2021. In this agreement, there was the reinstatement of indirect voting for the parliamentary elections which recanted the previous historic decision to hold direct parliamentary elections for the first time since 1969.[vii] Despite the September agreement, neither the parliamentary election nor the presidential election came to pass as election planning came to a halt over continued arguments between Farmaajo and regional leaders. In the face of these delays, there have been numerous demonstrations that were met with violent pushback from government forces including the most recent one in February of 2021.

Many international organizations and governments including the UN and the African Union released statements urging the continuation of talks among Somali leaders to reach a peaceful and speedy decision on the elections.[viii] Yet, it is important to note the obstacles that stand in the way of these talks being successful. Since President Farmaajo’s term expired on February 08, 2021, many opposition leaders refuse to acknowledge him as the President of Somalia and call for his resignation from office.[ix] Many also doubt the willingness of President Farmaajo to cede from power. President of Puntland, an autonomous region within Somalia, Said Abdullahi Deni accused Farmaajo of plans to rule by force through the use of military force in a February, 2021 speech.[x] This was followed by a string of arbitrary arrests of journalists for coverage of the speech, severely limiting media freedom.[xi] Thus, it is no surprise that the most recent two-day conference in mid-March, 2021 hosted by the president failed to reach any agreement.[xii] Opposition members and leaders from the key regional states of Puntland and Jubbaland did not attend as they claimed Farmaajo had no constitutional mandate to hold such a forum.[xiii]  

The impasse in the 2021 Somali elections is worrying for several reasons. The insecurity of the hard-won peace in Somalia after 25 years of civil war is clear as Somalia remains second on the Fragile State Index as of 2020.[xiv] These elections will serve as a major test for both the relatively new Federal Government of Somalia inaugurated in 2012 and the future of democracy in Somalia.


[i] U.S. Embassy in Somalia | 19 February, 2021 | Topics: Alert. “Security Alert for U.S. Citizens.” U.S. Embassy in Somalia, February 19, 2021.

[ii] Bearak, Max. “Clashes in Mogadishu Throw Somalia’s Political Crisis into Dangerous New Phase.” The Washington Post. WP Company, February 19, 2021.

[iii] Bearak, “Clashes in Mogadishu”

[iv] “Somali Elections Won’t Take Place on Schedule.” Voice of America. Accessed March 28, 2021.

[v] News, Bloomberg. “Somalia Says Elections Set for Early 2021 Despite Virus Risk – BNN Bloomberg.” BNN, May 30, 2020.

[vi] “Somali Elections”

[vii] “Somalia Names New PM, Revises Election Plan.” Voice of America. Accessed March 28, 2021.

[viii] “UN, African Union Urge Somali Leaders to Resume Talks to Overcome Political Impasse | | UN News.” United Nations. United Nations. Accessed March 28, 2021.

[ix] Al Jazeera. “Somali Opposition Leaders ‘No Longer Recognise President’.” Al. Al Jazeera, February 10, 2021.

[x] “Puntland’s President’s Explosive Speech Reveals Farmajo’s Dark Side.” Garowe Online. Accessed March 28, 2021.

[xi] “Somalia: Authorities Must End Arbitrary Arrests and Persecution of Journalists in Puntland.” Amnesty International. Accessed March 28, 2021.

[xii] “Somali Elections Still Delayed After Failure of President-Hosted Talks.” Voice of America. Accessed March 28, 2021.

[xiii] “Somali Elections Still Delayed”

[xiv] “Global Data.” Fragile States Index. Accessed March 28, 2021.