Somalia is under pressure to hold elections and put the country on track to economic recovery, a peaceful political transition and save it from uncertainties that would embolden al Shabaab.
Mogadishu was a subject of emergency meetings both at the African Union Peace and Security Council and the UN Security Council this past week, where it was agreed that leaders must find consensus and address crucial sticking points, with a warning against "parallel" processes that will not attract universal support.
The country reached a crossroads last Monday (February 8) after President Mohamed Farmaajo completed his four-year term with no elections held to determine if he continues for a second term or gets replaced. And sources told The EastAfrican that there are worries that delayed elections could hurt budgetary stability, including financial support from donors.
Mohamed Abdirazak, Somalia's Foreign and International Minister told both the AU and the UN that Somalia's transition clauses will help the country navigate the crisis.
"There is constitutional order in Somalia, and 2021 will be a pivotal year for us as we strive towards realising our goals on security and democracy," he said, referring to a parliamentary law passed last September, allowing all incumbents to stay in office until new leaders are voted in.
But these assurances are not convincing, with the US and the EU, two of Somalia's biggest state-rebuilding donors, warning that an impasse could slow down recovery.
"The political gridlock of the past year has resulted in a disappointing lack of progress in fighting the al Shabaab and improving security, advancing economic development after achieving the first stage of debt relief, and effectively addressing the food insecurity and natural disasters that threaten far too many of Somalia's people," said Donald Yamamoto, the US ambassador to Somalia, in a statement.
"Quickly resolving the current electoral impasse is critical to Somalia's future," he added.
Josep Borrell, the EU vice president and High Representative said the disagreement was likely to hurt the country's relationship with investors and donors.
"The current political stalemate is damaging the confidence of the European Union in the progress of Somalia," Borrell said on Monday.
"President Farmaajo and the leaders of federal member states need to resolve the political deadlock that threatens Somalia's future and conduct elections as soon as possible."
Somalia under Farmaajo faced security and humanitarian challenges. But the country progressed on crucial economic fronts. Last year, Mogadishu reached the "Decision Point", a level where lenders like the World Bank consider the country legible for concessional financing. Somalia cleared arrears to most international lenders including the African Development Bank, International Monetary Fund and the International Development Association. It also more than halved its debt owed from $13.9 billion to $5.3 billion.
The debt relief issued by the World Bank and IMF was, however, pegged on Mogadishu's continued reforms on its macroeconomic policies, poverty reduction, governance and anti-corruption. Elections, experts say, could foster that policy trajectory.
"There is no election in Somalia, just selection. But lack of a selection process can affect the Somali economy for several reasons. One is that it creates fear of civil war which can lead to capital flight," Dr Abdiwahab Sheikh Abdisamad, an analyst on the Horn of Africa politics at Southlink Consultants told The EastAfrican.
He was referring to Somalia's indirect elections where MPs chosen by delegates eventually elect the president.
"Two, most investors will not come to the country until selection is done, and inflation will skyrocket, businesspeople will leave the country until selection is done for fear of tension."
Make or break year
A report by the Heritage Institute of Policy Studies, a think-tank in Mogadishu, said last week that an electoral impasse in the country could tear apart everything it has rebuild.
"Looking ahead, 2021 is a make or break year for Somalia," said the report titled State of Somalia 2020.
"Depending on how political leaders at the FGS (federal government of Somalia) and FMS (federal member states)levels manage the ongoing crisis over the elections, the country could either return to a modicum of normalcy after relatively free and fair elections, or slide back into its dark past after a disputed election," it added.
Dr Abdirahman Beileh, Somalia's Finance Minister, however, assured investors and donors, saying "We remain very committed to achieving our reform goals for our people's progress."
The country passed its $672 million budget for 2021 which Farmaajo signed, indicating a 46 per cent rise. And Beileh announced the country was on trajectory to raise its local revenue collections to supplement donor money.
Mogadishu, he said in recent tweets, has passed crucial laws on anticorruption, statistics and was now entering the crucial stage of oil sale management.
Contracts for exploration are expected to be signed by September this year on the first seven oil blocks.
But with an electoral impasse simmering, donors may withhold their commitments until after elections. Analysts argued the trust deficit between leaders has contributed to the stalemate.
"Since President Farmaajo and opposition have trust issues and since they wasted much time wrangling over details, before the next meeting, UN and partners should mediate and bring sides together only for the signing of a deal," said Abdirashid Hashi, director of the Heritage Institute.
But Farmaajo told the legislators that a way forward was possible if all sides are serious about the discussions, hinting that willingness to compromise. But he still accused Puntland and Jubbaland of playing to the gallery of foreigners.