Somali MPs come under attack at swearing-in ceremony

Al-Qaeda-aligned militants al-Shabaab fire shells at event in crises-stricken country

More than 200 new Somali MPs were sworn in on Thursday following a security panic, when mortar shells fired by al-Qaeda-aligned militant group al-Shabaab hit close to the venue of the event.

The Halane Base Camp at Mogadishu airport has been on a week-long "lockdown" in preparation for the event, with markets closed and extra patrols and checkpoints set up by peacekeepers and local security forces.

Somalia has faced a protracted political crisis which has distracted from the Horn of Africa country's other ongoing issues, including a devastating drought and widespread insecurity.

Despite having a population of roughly 16.3 million, only a few thousand people vote for parliamentarians through a power-sharing electoral system that is divided between clans, with the 275 MPs and 54-member Senate then voting for the president.

Elections for about 30 MPs have yet to take place.

Presidential term

The term of the current president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, known as Farmajo, expired more than a year ago. The 60 year old came to power in 2017. In April 2021, he signed a controversial law which extended his mandate for another two years but he faced widespread calls to step down.

Foreign donors increased the pressure and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) threatened to halt financial support for Somalia by mid-May if elections were not finished.

"The swearing-in of MPs is certainly a major step whose significance goes beyond symbolism," said Crisis Group senior analyst for eastern Africa Omar Mahmood. "Yet it does not fully resolve the fundamental political divisions that have characterised the process – rather it may even aggravate them – meaning that there is bound to be further contestation ahead of fully completing the protracted electoral cycle."

. The current electoral system means four major clans hold most of the power, with the remaining clans forced together as one group and only given half the seats of the others. Efforts to deliver a one-person, one-vote system by next year look unlikely to be seen through.

Fortified zone

Thursday's swearing-in ceremony took place in the Halane camp, where African Union peacekeeping forces, as well as many diplomats and international organisations are based.

Last month, several people were killed when militants attacked the fortified area. That same day, opposition MP Amina Mohamed Abdi was targeted and among at least 48 people killed by a bomber as she campaigned in the town of Beledweyne in central Somalia.

Al Shabaab controls large swathes of Somalia's countryside, with some Somalis saying they prefer living under the group's brutal version of Islamic law instead of dealing with the corruption and incompetence they experience in other regions.

Somalia’s new parliamentarians will be forced to respond to a devastating drought, in which roughly six million people are thought to be experiencing food insecurity.

Three consecutive rains have failed and the fourth – due to start soon – is expected to be poor as well. The country is said to be one of the most vulnerable to climate change.