COVID-19 in Somalia: A Public Health Emergency in an Electoral Minefield

With one of Africa’s most fragile health care systems, millions of internally displaced people and a bureaucracy still recovering from state collapse and civil war, Somalia might be less prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic than almost any other country in the world. The coronavirus’s onset risks undermining Somalia’s recent progress toward debt relief, and it could also tempt the Al-Shabaab insurgency to step up attacks. To make matters worse, the virus broke out at a particularly inopportune time in Somali politics: tensions are running high among the central government, opposition groups and the country’s semi-autonomous regions, or federal states, including over preparations for elections (parliamentary polls are due by November 2020 and a presidential vote by February 2021). The Somali government should take care not to add a political crisis to the public health emergency. The authorities should resist the temptation to unilaterally extend the electoral calendar or amend voting rules, steps their rivals would almost certainly contest, perhaps violently. Instead, they should forge consensus on how and when to conduct the vote and call a truce in their other disputes with federal states.