The African Union peacekeepers is Somalia has two years to go before the beginning a drawdown in the second half of 2018. Its scorecard however shows partial successes and huge challenges.
By Abdulmajid Farah
The disparate national interests of troop-producing countries, especially between Ethiopia and Kenya is a major hindrance to the African peacekeepers advance against Al-Shabaab.
While both Kenya and Ethiopia share the common national interests of securing their own borders than on stabilising Somalia, it is as far as their commonality as they continue to adopt different strategies.
For a start, Ethiopia has always keen on the ongoing in Somalia given the over 100 years of rivalry and has always maintained troops presence in Somalia.
It is a common knowledge among the people of Somalia that Ethiopia has never been keen on having a strong government in Mogadishu which could revive the 50-year old principle of uniting the Greater Somalia—Somalia, Djibouti, north eastern Kenya and Ogaden in eastern part of Ethiopia.
It is under this principle that Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 with the tacit support of the US under the guise of having the capacity to rout out the Islamic Court Union (ICU).
Even after the invasion ended in a disaster by arousing the radical elements within the ICU—that led to the rise of Al Shabaab—and forcing the Ethiopia to withdraw by the end of 2006, Addis Ababa still maintained about 4,000 strong troops not only along the border but also inside Somalia.
It was, therefore, alarming when Kenya unilaterally entered Somalia in October 2011 under “Operation Linda Nchi”. Nairobi’s strategy was to secure her the border, and curve out Jubbaland for training and from which they could influence the people who take over local administration.
But Ethiopia, after having lost Eritrea to secession, was not keen on Kenya’s approach of pushing for semi-autonomous regions in Somalia because it would embolden the Ogden region in the east, the Afar in the north and Oromo in the south of the country.
Nairobi was not only being perceived suspiciously by Addis Ababa, but by the former President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was not happy that Kenya went on to take over Kismayu and control without involving Mogadishu. The former President believed that taxes from the port and airport of Kismayu, as well its the natural resources, should have benefited the central government of Somalia at a time needed most.
So when Ethiopia and Kenya came under intense international pressure to re-hart and join AMISOM, they continued to give priority to their national interests.
For instance, when Al–Shabaab’s attacked on Westgate shopping mall inSeptember 2013 and later Garissa University College in north eastern Kenya in April 2015, Kenya’s national objective shifted from pacifying Somalia from Al-shabab to preventing Al-Shabaab from operate across the border.
Again when Ethiopia was faced with internal rebellion by the Oromo and Amhara over land issues, Addis Ababa withdrew over 4,000 non-AMISOM troops which saw Al-Shabaab recapturing six towns in Hiiraan region, central Somalia.
Then there is the challenge of dividing the country into six sectors with the contingents from various TCC occupying various regions. This has brought about uncoordinated command structure which the AU is still struggling to revise.
Insiders say that in case aSector Commander has been ordered to attack a particular location, it has to be weighed against greater national interest to the troop-contributing country in question. At times, the command could be overruled in favour of another location to serve national interests.
On the other hand, Uganda has been perceiving its involvement in Somalia as an opportunity to earn extra money for its soldiers, keep the soldiers busy in a far-away land, gain valuable experience in peacekeeping and benefit from equipment donated by the UN and other donors like the US.
However, all the troop-contributing counties (TCC)—Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti—take advantage of their offer to help pacify Somalia to negotiate business contracts for companies back home.
Exactly a decade down the line, the African Union Mission (AMISOM) – that entered Somalia in March 2007 to get rid of Al-Shabaab and help the government stabilise the country – has so far had two major successes: Capturing Mogadishu in 2011 and helping parliament sit in the capital for the first time in 20 years. Secondly, AMISOM has succeeded in driving Al-Shabaab out of major towns and one of the results was that the country was able to hold successful elections from October last year to February 8 this year when a new president was elected.
AMISOM however, has more challenges that its successes. The biggest challenge is to train and equip Somalia National Army (SNA) to take charge of the liberated areas by providing security and basic services as well as setting up local administrations.
This is a major challenge since there are only 10,900 SNA trained troops yet the country needs at least 30,000 well trained and equipped local troops.
“They can be able to deter, take on and contain Al Shabaab and create conditions that can make the government provide essential services needed for the people to lead normal life,” he said.
The few thousand trained SNA in conjunction with the slightly over 21,000 AMISOM troops might have had a partial success in some liberated areas such as in Mirtuugo in Middle Shabelle and Abdali Birole, in Lower Jubba, but have been unable to fully secure main supply routes.
AU Special Representative for Somalia Ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira, who is also the civilian head of AMISOM believes it can be done. At a recent meeting in Nairobi to take stock of AMISOM’s achievements and challenges in the last decade, Madeira maintained that a well-facilitated SNA can effectively combat the Al Shabaab.
The next challenge is how to get the additional 28,000 troops and more sophisticated for the troop-surge in the final phase of pacifying Somalia. Troop-contributing counties — Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda and Burundi — have not been responding to appeals for more troops since they are grappling with a large number of casualties as well as frustrations with donors.
AMISOM specifically lacks airpower as it doesn’t have helicopter gunships of its own for rapid response. The African Union last year signed a memorandum of understanding with Kenya and Ethiopia to provide helicopters but the continental body must first source for funds to purchase.
Currently, Kenya and Ethiopia in particular, rely on their national aircrafts to cross border whenever there is a major attack. This takes long to co-ordinate and by the time they arrive, the attackers are hardly traceable. This goes hand in hand with insufficient funding after the European Union reduced the $200 million stipend it used to spend on AMISOM annually by 20 per cent.
Albrecht Braun, a representative of the European Union – Africa, Caribbean Pacific (EU-ACP) says that they have committed $2.1 billion in peace and security through the African Peace Facility, with AMISOM getting the bulk of the money. Mr Braun says additional $189.5 has been earmarked for April – December 2017.
“It is also important to mobilize additional financial support from other donors and specifically from African governments and other partners. Peace and stability is a collective effort,” said Mr Mr Braun.
Hubert Price, the Head of United Nations Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS), says that AMISOM must focus on critical areas of support and resource management, because it has to strike a balance between what is needed and what they can actually realise.
“They (Somalia National Army) can deter, take on and contain Al-Shabaab and create conditions that can make the government provide essential services needed for the people to lead normal life.”Ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira, AU Special Representative for Somalia
UNSOS supports military bases with logistics, air and surface travel, stipends and training for troops and police, capacity building, rations and general supplies.
The writer is a TSIM Defense and Security Reporter