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Somalia’s Return to the Global Stage: Implications of its UNSC Seat and Regional Challenges

Storyline:Columnists, Opinions

Somalia was ealy this month elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council for a period of two years-2025-2026. This election marks Somalia’s return to the Security Council after more than 50 years, with its last tenure dating back to between 1971 and 1972. Foreign Minister Ambassador Ahmed Fiqi lauded the election noting, ‘the country would now take up its position on the global stage, and stand ready to play a vital role in promoting peace and security in the world.’

Somalia’s candidacy received strong backing from the African Union (AU). At the 44th Ordinary Session of the AU Executive Council in February 2024, Somalia was endorsed as the sole candidate for the African seat. This endorsement led to the withdrawal of other contenders, including Mauritius and Madagascar. This underscores the intensive and aggressive lobbying by the Federal Government of Somalia since 2018, developing effective strategies to secure this seat and also gaining the respect and trust of the international community. This is a testament to Somalia’s unwavering commitment to global peace and security.   

During its previous term (1971-1972), in the Security Council, Somalia supported global decolonization efforts and presided over a historic high-level meeting in Addis Ababa, the first to be held in Africa. During this period, Somalia’s relationship with the UNSC was influenced by several factors. First, Somalia faced significant challenges including hostilities with neighboring Ethiopia over territorial disputes, particularly in the Ogaden region. These tensions escalated into the 1977-1978 war. At the time Somalia, was grappling with internal political instability and economic difficulties.

The UNSC is arguably the most powerful organ of the United Nations, responsible for maintaining international peace and security. As a non-permanent member, Somalia has the opportunity to bring its perspective to the global stage and contribute to the decision-making processes that shape our world at this most critical moment. Somalia has been facing constant threats from Ethiopia since it signed the controversial MoU with Somaliland to annex part of the country.  In a televised speech to the Ethiopian parliament on 13 October 2023, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told lawmakers that access to seaports is “an existential matter” for Ethiopia and added “a population of 150 million can’t live in a geographic prison.”

Ethiopia’s demand for ‘access to the sea’ risks adversely affecting the stability in the already burdened Horn of Africa by attempting to redraw African boundaries while Addis Ababa is the headquarters of the African Union. Ethiopia’s adventurism, which was highly condemned by regional bodies and neighboring countries, would set a dangerous precedent in Somalia and the continent. Africa declared seventy years ago that colonial borders should not be tempered with and should be regarded as sacrosanct, because changing them could ignite nationalist and religious conflicts, plunging the continent into chaos.

Ethiopia’s aspirations to expand its territory into parts of Somalia, pose a significant threat, not only to Somalia’s sovereignty and stability, but also to the region. Ethiopia’s strategic interests in accessing the Red Sea have fueled tensions, leading to concerns over potential incursions into Somali territory. These miscalculated actions have further convulsed the political landscape in Ethiopia, turned the geo-political calculus of the Horn of Africa topsy-turvy, and re-set broader international relations.

Somalia’s position at the UNSC will give it more political muscle and lever to make its stance known on these critical issues affecting the region and leverage lobbying power to bring on board more countries to support them. Additionally, Somalia’s dual membership in the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) positions it as a strategic mediator in regional conflicts, particularly the red sea waters.

This provides Somalia with a unique platform to address pressing regional issues, such as Ethiopia’s utopian ambition towards Somalia’s territorial waters. The Red Sea, a vital maritime corridor linking the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, holds strategic importance for global trade and security. However, it has also become a hotspot for geopolitical competition, with various regional powers vying for influence and control.

Recent research conducted by Reire (2021) suggests that the limitations of small powers on the UN Security Council are outweighed by the examples of Lithuania and Estonia on the UNSC which show that despite legal and procedural limitations, small powers can be successful at influencing the Council. This can be done by setting clear foreign policy aims, strengthening the multilateral international order, engaging in agenda setting and using informal consultation opportunities. This all can be achieved in a favorable international environment.

As a member of the UNSC, Somalia carries diplomatic weight to address these territorial disputes and safeguard its sovereignty. The UNSC provides a forum for Somalia to raise awareness of its concerns and advocate for international support in upholding its territorial integrity. By leveraging its position in the Council, Somalia can garner diplomatic pressure on Ethiopia through the African Union (AU) to respect international law and refrain from any unilateral actions that can undermine Somalia’s sovereignty.

Moreover, Somalia can utilize its UNSC membership to promote dialogue and mediation efforts aimed at resolving territorial disputes through peaceful means. Engaging in diplomatic negotiations and multilateral initiatives can help defuse tensions and foster cooperation between Somalia and Ethiopia, thereby reducing the risk of tension and conflict in the region. To ensure this, Somalia must have a group of seasoned professionals/diplomats to make its voice heard at the United Nations and to influence resolutions effectively.

In addition to addressing external threats, Somalia must also focus on strengthening its internal governance structures and security capabilities. Building institutional capacity and fostering inclusive governance are essential for effectively managing domestic challenges and external pressures. By enhancing its governance capacity and promoting socio-economic development, Somalia can bolster its resilience against external interference and assert its sovereignty more effectively on the international stage. As the saying goes “Charity begins at home”.         

Furthermore, the UNSC membership presents a significant opportunity for the country to share its experience and expertise in fighting terrorism and other forms of violence. Somalia’s past experiences in combating terrorism and rise of the Islamist militant Al-Shabab over the years places it in a unique position to contribute to the Security Councils’ deliberations on international peace and security. Somalia, since the fall of the government in 1991, has made significant strides towards peace. This was evident when the United Nations lifted its long hold of arms embargo in Somalia in December 2023, and with the expected exit of the ATMIS troops in December 2024, Somalia will officially hold its UNSC seat with full control of its internal security.

Somalia, a nation defined by bravery and resilience, now stands at a critical juncture poised to address radical challenges that have been sidelined for a long time. The Security Council, whose mandate is to uphold global peace often falters due to the self-serving vetoes of its P5. Their inaction has failed to halt crises in Gaza, Sudan, and DR Congo. Somalia should during its tenure at the UNSC endevour to disrupt and challenge the status quo- it must lead the charge for a more inclusive and effective Security Council by advocating for the continent’s pressing issues such as climate change and terrorism. Somalia can advocate for international support, promote peaceful resolution of disputes, and strengthen its governance capacity to effectively assert its sovereignty in the Red Sea region and beyond.  The world watches, as Somalia steps into the spotlight ready for change.