Somalia

Not Free
7
100
PR Political Rights 1 40
CL Civil Liberties 6 60
Last Year's Score & Status
7 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.

header1 Note

The numerical scores and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Somaliland, which is examined in a separate report. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.

header2 Overview

Somalia has struggled to reestablish a functioning state since the collapse of an authoritarian regime in 1991. Limited, indirect elections brought a federal government to power in 2012. By 2016, it had established five federal member states, though these semiautonomous regions are often at odds with the central government. The government’s territorial control is also contested by a separatist government in Somaliland and by the Shabaab, an Islamist militant group. No direct national elections have been held to date, and political affairs remain dominated by clan divisions. Amid ongoing insecurity, impunity for human rights abuses by both state and nonstate actors is the norm.

header3 Key Developments in 2020

  • The country experienced an initial wave of COVID-19 cases from April to June, followed by an apparent second wave later in the year, though testing and reporting of cases were limited and inconsistent. About 4,700 cases and 130 deaths had been reported by year’s end. The authorities harassed journalists who published critical information about the government’s response.
  • In August, the president signed legislation that granted the government increased oversight of the media sector and included vague provisions criminalizing the publication of content that is deemed false, contrary to the national interest, or incitement of clan divisions.
  • Federal and state leaders agreed in September to hold the next parliamentary elections using a clan-based voting system, setting aside plans for direct popular voting. While the elections were initially set for December, ongoing political disagreements about the process led to a postponement, and a new date had yet to be selected at year’s end.

PR Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Under the 2012 provisional constitution, the president is elected by a two-thirds vote in the Federal Parliament to serve a four-year term. In February 2017, legislators who were not freely elected themselves chose Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, also known as “Farmaajo,” as president.

The president shares executive power with a prime minister, who must have the support of Parliament. In September 2020, Parliament confirmed the appointment of Mohamed Hussein Roble to replace Hassan Ali Khaire, who was ousted as prime minister in a July no-confidence vote amid disagreements with the president on a timeline for elections.

A series of indirect elections for state-level executives have been held in recent years, though none were rooted in free or direct legislative elections. Lawmakers in South West State selected a president in 2018, and the parliaments in Puntland and Jubaland chose their state presidents in 2019. The federal government called the Jubaland outcome “unconstitutional” due to problems including registration barriers for some candidates; in June 2020 it recognized the reelected incumbent as an “interim” president with a two-year mandate, while Jubaland authorities insisted that he had a full four-year mandate. Separately, lawmakers in the state of Galmudug elected Ahmed Abdi Kariye as president in February, and the Hirshabelle legislature elected Ali Gudlawe Hussein as that state’s leader in November.

A2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 0.000 4.004

Somalia has not held direct legislative elections since 1969. Limited voting for the bicameral Federal Parliament was held between October 2016 and February 2017. Members of the 54-seat upper house were elected by state assemblies, while the lower house was elected under a system in which 135 clan elders chose 275 electoral colleges, each of which had 51 people and elected one lawmaker. Corruption reportedly played a major role in the elections and the operations of the legislature once constituted. The federal member states have similarly employed clan-based power-sharing systems rather than direct popular elections to form their legislatures.

A3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 0.000 4.004

The electoral framework in use for the most recent parliamentary elections did not provide for universal suffrage. The balloting was the result of an ad-hoc process based on lengthy negotiations among the country’s main clans.

In September 2020, President Farmaajo and the leaders of the federal member states agreed to hold parliamentary elections in December, again using a system in which clan elders would choose members of electoral colleges, who would in turn elect lawmakers, though the clan delegates would be more numerous than in the last elections. The new Parliament was then scheduled to elect the country’s president in February 2021, according to this plan. However, in November the federal government appointed members to the federal election commission and a dispute-resolution commission, drawing strong objections from opposition groups, which argued that the panels were stacked in favor of the incumbent president. As a result of the ongoing dispute, the elections set for December were postponed, and no new date had been established at year’s end.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1.001 4.004

Legislation enacted in 2016 allowed the first formal registration of political parties since 1969. The National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC) has since registered more than 100 parties. However, because the September 2020 political agreement on the upcoming parliamentary elections called for a clan-based process and rejected plans for direct popular voting, it was unclear whether political parties would be allowed to play a significant or formal role in the contest. The agreement also called for candidate registration fees that were twice as high as the previous amounts, potentially favoring more established political figures.

State-level authorities exercise varying degrees of control over organized political activity. In May 2020, the police in South West State reportedly renewed the previous year’s ban on political gatherings that were not authorized in advance by the state government.

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 0.000 4.004

The lack of direct elections prevents any group from gaining power through democratic means. However, there was an orderly transfer of executive power in February 2017, and the federal states and legislature provide platforms for some competing forces to exercise influence and authority.

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 0.000 4.004

Ordinary citizens are largely unable to participate in the political process as voters, and the indirect electoral process in 2016–17 was reportedly distorted by vote buying, intimidation, and violence.

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 0.000 4.004

Presidential candidates are required to be Muslim, according to the provisional constitution.

The current political system is designed to ensure some representation for the country’s many clans, but the prevailing “4.5” formula gives the four largest groups—the Hawiye, Darod, Dir, and Rahanweyn—eight out of every nine positions, marginalizing all other clans. The system is also affected by intraclan rivalries and dominated by clan leaders, who do not necessarily represent the interests of their respective groups.

Women’s political participation is limited by discriminatory attitudes and hostility from incumbent elites, and the interests of women are poorly represented in practice. Women hold about 24 percent of the seats in both chambers of the Federal Parliament. Lawmakers in 2020 were considering legislation that would mandate a 30 percent quota for women’s representation in Parliament, but it had yet to be enacted at year’s end.

C Functioning of Government

C1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 0.000 4.004

The government, which is not democratically elected, has little practical ability to implement its laws and policies even in parts of the country it controls. Its basic operations are heavily dependent on international bodies and donor governments. Relations between the federal government and the administrations of the federal member states remain poor. Critics and rivals have accused President Farmaajo of seeking to centralize power, and tensions between the president and the leaders of Jubaland and Puntland played a key role in disputes over the electoral process in 2020.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0.000 4.004

Corruption is rampant in Somalia, and state agencies tasked with combating it do not function effectively. Impunity is the norm for public officials accused of malfeasance.

A 2019 law called for the creation of state and national anticorruption commissions, and a nine-member national commission was nominated in 2020, but the appointments had yet to be approved by the upper house of Parliament at year’s end. As part of a national anticorruption strategy adopted by the cabinet in June 2020, the government ratified the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption and announced that it would join and sign the UN Convention against Corruption. The lower house of Parliament endorsed the latter convention in December.

In August, a court in the capital sentenced four Health Ministry officials to prison terms ranging from three to 18 years for theft of donor funds meant to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The court acquitted five other defendants for lack of evidence.

C3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0.000 4.004

Government transparency is limited. Officials are not required to make public declarations of their income and assets, and oversight procedures for public contracts are not well enforced. There is no law guaranteeing public access to government information.

CL Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 1.001 4.004

While the provisional constitution calls for freedom of the press, journalists regularly face harassment, arbitrary detention and fines, and violence from both state and nonstate actors. Media outlets have also been temporarily suspended by the Ministry of Information in response to their coverage. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 69 journalists had been killed since 1992, including at least one in 2020. Freelance broadcast journalist Abdiwali Ali Hassan was fatally shot by two gunmen near his home in Afgooye in February, having received multiple threats related to his work.

Among other cases of harassment and detention during the year, the national intelligence agency detained Radio Hiigsi journalist Mohamed Abdiwahab Nuur in March and charged him with murder and being a member of the Shabaab; a military court acquitted him in August. Also in March, Puntland police arrested a journalist who was asking the public about their views on the government’s COVID-19 response, and in April police in Mogadishu arrested Goobjoog Media Group executive Abdiaziz Ahmed Gurbiye after he used social media to criticize the government’s performance on the pandemic. Abdiaziz was sentenced in July to six months in prison and a fine for spreading false news, though the prison term was commuted.

In August, the president signed amendments to the media law that included ostensible protections for journalists’ rights but also featured vaguely worded provisions criminalizing the dissemination of “false information,” reports that conflict with the “national interest,” and incitement to violence and clan divisions. The law grants the Ministry of Information broad powers to regulate the media.

D2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 0.000 4.004

Nearly all Somalis are Sunni Muslims, though there is a very small Christian community whose members generally do not practice their religion in public. Conversion from Islam is illegal in some areas, and suspicions of conversion can draw societal harassment throughout the country. The provisional constitution recognizes Islam as the official religion and forbids the promotion of any other faith. However, it also includes clauses promoting religious freedom and forbidding discrimination based on religion.

In areas under their control, the Shabaab use violence to enforce their interpretation of Islam, including execution as a penalty for alleged apostasy.

D3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 1.001 4.004

Despite limited funding and infrastructure and other challenges, universities operate in major cities. Academics reportedly practice self-censorship on sensitive topics. Islamic instruction is required in all schools except those operated by non-Muslim minority groups. Schools under Shabaab control integrate radical interpretations of Islam into the curriculum.

D4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 1.001 4.004

Individuals enjoy some freedom of expression in more secure areas of the country, but criticism of powerful figures in the state and society can draw reprisals, and social media posts that touch on sensitive political or religious topics are subject to criminal punishment. Open debate is severely restricted in areas controlled or threatened by the Shabaab.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1.001 4.004

Although the provisional constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, security officials require approval for demonstrations and have used violence to suppress unauthorized protests. Some demonstrations proceeded peacefully during 2020, but others were dispersed with lethal force. In July, police in the capital used live ammunition to break up a demonstration against the postponement of elections. Election-related opposition protests in December similarly prompted police violence.

E2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1.001 4.004

Local civil society groups, international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and UN agencies have been able to conduct a wide range of activities in some parts of the country, but they face difficult and often dangerous working conditions. Regional authorities and security forces have reportedly harassed, extorted, obstructed, and attempted to control NGOs and aid groups, and the Shabaab generally do not allow such organizations to operate in their territory.

E3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1.001 4.004

Independent labor unions are active in Somalia and have worked to expand their operations and capacity. However, constitutional and legal protections for union activity are not always respected. The Federation of Somali Trade Unions has reported threats, dismissals, attempts at co-optation, and other forms of repression and interference from both government officials and private employers.

F Rule of Law

F1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 0.000 4.004

The judicial system in Somalia is fractured, understaffed, and rife with corruption. Its authority is not widely respected, with state officials ignoring court rulings and citizens often turning to Islamic or customary law as alternatives.

In July 2020, the cabinet approved the appointment of five members to the Judicial Service Commission, a constitutionally required body tasked with overseeing the federal courts. Political opposition groups, the Somali Bar Association, and civil society organizations criticized the appointments, arguing that the individuals were chosen based on clan affiliation rather than the required credentials, and that the cabinet had only caretaker authority given the recent no-confidence vote against the prime minister.

F2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 0.000 4.004

Safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention are not observed by the country’s police, intelligence, and military services, and their work is undermined by corruption. Clan politics and other external factors often play a role in the outcome of court cases. Military courts routinely try civilians, including for terrorism-related offenses, and do not respect basic international standards for due process.

F3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 0.000 4.004

The ongoing armed conflict has featured numerous terrorist attacks on government, international, and civilian targets, as well as indiscriminate lethal violence and excessive force against civilians by government security services, international troops, and various local militias. The United Nations documented the killing of 557 civilians during 2020, a slight decrease from the previous year. Reported incidents included suicide bombings with civilian targets, clashes between Shabaab militants and villagers, and assassinations.

Authorities carry out executions ordered by military courts after flawed proceedings. Detainees are at risk of torture in custody, and perpetrators generally enjoy impunity. The Shabaab also engage in public executions of those they suspect of working with the government or international forces.

F4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 0.000 4.004

While the provisional constitution and legal system offer some formal protections against discrimination based on sex, clan, and other categories, they have little force in practice. Women face widespread disadvantages in areas including housing, education, and employment, while members of marginalized clans and some non-Somali ethnic groups suffer disproportionately from economic exclusion and violence.

LGBT+ people generally do not make their identity public. Same-sex sexual activity can be punished with up to three years in prison under the penal code, and individuals accused of engaging in such activity are subject to execution in Shabaab-controlled areas.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 0.000 4.004

Travel throughout Somalia is dangerous due to periodic combat, attacks on civilians, and the presence of checkpoints controlled by security forces, militias, the Shabaab, and other armed groups that commonly extract arbitrary fees and bribes from travelers.

There were an estimated 2.6 million internally displaced people in Somalia as of 2020, the majority of whom were forced to move due to conflict and insecurity, though flooding and other natural disasters were also factors.

Police reportedly used excessive force when implementing movement restrictions related to COVID-19. In April 2020, an officer killed two civilians while enforcing a curfew in the capital; the alleged perpetrator was sentenced to death by a military court in July.

G2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 0.000 4.004

The provisional constitution guarantees property rights, but securing ownership is complicated by a mixture of formal and informal or traditional systems governing land rights. Procedures for registering property and businesses are impeded by corruption and other barriers, and disputes can lead to intimidation and violence. The Shabaab and other extremist groups manage elaborate extortion and “taxation” schemes, placing tremendous pressure on business owners.

Women do not enjoy equal rights to inherit property and are often denied the assets to which they are legally entitled due to discriminatory social norms.

G3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 0.000 4.004

Sexual violence remains a major problem, especially for displaced persons. Perpetrators include government troops and militia members. Forced and early marriage are also widespread in the country. The Shabaab impose forced marriages with their fighters, and individuals can face strong societal pressure to marry or not marry within certain clans. In August 2020 lawmakers began consideration of draft legislation that would effectively permit minors to marry based on physical maturity and make it more difficult to penalize forced marriage. Female genital mutilation is extremely common despite a formal ban.

G4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0.000 4.004

Child labor and trafficking in persons for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor are common. Refugees and displaced persons are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, and these populations also suffered disproportionately from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions in 2020. Children are abducted or recruited to serve as fighters by the Shabaab and to a lesser extent by government and militia forces.

On Somalia

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  • Global Freedom Score

    7 100 not free