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The Scramble for the Steak: How AMISOM contributing countries are milking the Somalia crisis

That insecurity in Somali would have a ripple effect in the neighboring countries is no doubt. And that a brother would run to save his kin whose house is on fire is a show of African brotherhood.

The country had been fingered as the seedbed from which terror groups operating in the region emanated from. The entry of AMISOM was not only meant to boost security but create an environment of free trade and an environment in which democracy would thrive.

But though downplayed, troop contributing countries reap enormous benefits from the crisis in the Africa’s horn.

These include the fact that the mission delivers a number of benefits to countries that contribute troops. For example, their armed forces were strengthened through training partnerships with the US and the UK.

There is also the political advantages relating to international prestige and external partnerships. There was also economic support for the domestic security sector. These factors all played a role in the decisions taken by Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia to join the AU mission.

Overall, the most important motive is institutional. The next is enhancing national reputation and key political relationships. Third are the economic benefits. In the initial decision, these factors were consistently more important than dealing with direct threats to national security and commitments to restoring peace or solidarity.

Gaining access to external sources of finance was also a crucial part of explaining why the countries contributed troops. This includes Kenya and Ethiopia. They initially conducted unilateral interventions into Somalia, mainly for reasons of national security. But they then joined the AU mission largely because of financial concerns and sustainability of their military enterprises.

Because the financial pay-outs are made monthly to the troop-contributing nation, it is regarded by the regimes as rent paid for providing peacekeepers. In return, top military officials benefit from payouts, and they, in turn, ensure that the military remains loyal to the regime. As a consequence, such peacekeeping operations become rent-generating ventures that benefit both the regime and the military while killing accountability.

Salaries in Burundi range from $80 per month for troops to $250-300 per month for senior officers. But AMISOM soldiers get, up to $1,032 a month. Combined with some other perks such as preferential loan rates, this is enough for many soldiers to buy land or property, start a family, or help their community.

Meanwhile, death in duty benefits, at $50,000, is a fortune by any East African Nation standards. Despite the considerable risks, there is certainly no shortage of volunteers for posts in AMISOM.

Uganda and Burundi governments take $200 from each monthly pay package for running costs. This is not an unimportant sum, especially since major donors have shied away from the countries.

For Burundi,  the main benefit for the government lies in the money the soldiers receive, which allows them to keep 25,000 former rebels and troops happy regardless of how the country is run or how well the government’s own budget is spent.

In sum, joining the mission brought important material benefits for the governments and their armed forces. But there were other benefits too. For Burundi and Sierra Leone, the deployments were a crucial part of professionalising and forging new identities for their post-civil war militaries.

Politically, the decision to join also helped countries strengthen relationships with key external donors, especially the US, UK and European Union.

But, because they couldn’t control the military forces receiving the money, the donors faced a number of risks. These included operational risks – that the peacekeepers may under-perform as well as the economic risk that resources might have been used more effectively. There were also inherent political risks to the donor’s reputation if the peacekeepers behaved badly while on the mission.

There have been allegations of outright inflation of troop numbers, enriching national coffers by deduction administration fees from troop allowances, the spotlight is now on how the African Union hierarchy manages the funds, a bulk of which comes from the European Union.

Interviews with multiple sources within the rank fingered countries like Kenya, whose Navy has been in the core of fighting the Al-Shabaab threat on the Indian Ocean waters to be a culprit. Whereas  AMISOM pays for the troops which are located within the Somalia boundaries,  the troops are based at the Manda Bay, where they regularly patrol the waters.

The sources also revealed how officers in the cadre of store men and bomb loaders are on the peacekeeping payroll even though they mainly operate from the Laikipia and Langata barracks, coordinating logistics and loading bombs into the jet fighters from home.

There have been also instances where AMISOM troops have been caught syphoning fuel, selling uniforms, bullets and foodstuff to Al-Shabaab intermediaries, strengthening the enemy power, prolonging the foreign intervention in Somalia.

Rising discontent within the EU over the large amounts of funding committed to AMISOM over the past 10 years, combined with questions over the mission’s accountability, effectiveness and compliance with various regulations has been a concern.

Basically, rulers deploy their troops to peacekeeping zones that offer the highest dividends in terms of monetary rewards and regime protection. The ruling party acts as the patron that receives financial benefits and then distributes it to the soldiers. In the process, the ruling party buys the loyalty of the military, and this increases the odds of regime survival.

Reports of KDF’s illicit trade in charcoal and sugar in the port of Kismayu have also led many to speculate whether KDF is in Somalia to benefit commercially. The Kenyan public was enraged and calls for KDF to exit Somalia increased. However, KDF maintains that its mission in Somalia is critical and untainted with corruption.

Abdulmajid Farah 
The
writer is the Somalia Investor Magazine Defense and Security Reporter

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