African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peacekeepers from Burundi patrol near Mogadishu, May 22, 2012. Burundi supplies almost a quarter of AMISOM's peacekeeping force.Feisal Omar/Files/Reuters

On 11 May 2017 the international community will be called upon to put its hands deeper into its pockets at the planned London Conference on Somalia. The African Union (AU) has decided to withdraw from the country by 2018 and is arguing for a final push against al-Shabaab before that date – a costly undertaking. Humanitarian aid is also needed due to drought and a cholera epidemic in the country.

Earlier this year the AU commemorated the 10th anniversary of its mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The mission, which was established on 19 January 2007 by the Peace and Security Council (PSC), has had chequered results. On the one hand, it has heightened hopes for a more peaceful and secure Somalia. The recent election of President Mohamed Abdullahi ‘Farmajo’ inspires optimism. On the other hand, the country is still not safe. Terror attacks in the capital Mogadishu continue and large areas of the country are still in the hands of al-Shabaab.

High-level visits

Internationally there is consensus that Somalia needs more help. In recent months, various leaders such as British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the new AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat have undertaken visits to Somalia to assess the situation.

This is ahead of the London Conference, which is aimed at harnessing international support for improved security, political reform and economic development in Somalia.

The conference is the second of its kind, with the first having been held in 2012. Representatives from Somalia and the region, as well as from the United Nations (UN), the AU, the European Union (EU), the League of Arab States and the Organisation of Islamic Conference, among others, are expected to attend.

While aid has been forthcoming to Somalia over the past decade, this has not always taken place in a coordinated way. The AU, which has been working closely with the government of Somalia, will have to play a greater role in this regard. Mahamat’s visit on 18 March was a step in the right direction and showed his commitment to the country’s peace and security.

The PSC also undertook a three-day field mission to Somalia from 23–26 March to assess the needs of the country. During the visit, the PSC ambassadors participated in a wreath-laying ceremony for AMISOM soldiers who had died in combat.

Strengthening AMISOM

Despite its gains, AMISOM, together with the 20 000-strong Somali National Army, has not been able to vanquish al-Shabaab’s forces, which continue to hold significant territory in in the country. Al-Shabaab’s forces are estimated at about 7 000–9 000.

Inadequate military hardware and dependence on international donors have largely constrained the mission from proactive interventions to liberate regions from al-Shabaab and consolidate its gains.

Meanwhile, discussions are still underway to authorise an additional 4 000 troops to the 22 000-strong AMISOM forces. The additional troops, requested by the AU at the end of last year, are expected to get a six-month mandate to support AMISOM and Somali forces to carry out a major offensive to dislodge al-Shabaab from its strongholds in Jubba Valley, the Hiran region and the North East coastline. This is part of the plan for AMISOM to exit Somalia by 2020. The additional troops from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya are said to be ready, but a lack of funding is delaying their authorisation and deployment.

Last year, the EU cut its funding for troop allowances by 20%, which dealt a blow to AMISOM’s ability to continue fighting al-Shabaab.

The London Conference provides an opportunity for international partners to find a more sustainable funding mechanism for AMISOM. This includes advancing the AU’s request for the use of UN-assessed contributions in support of AU-led missions, particularly in support of AMISOM.

Trump guns for al-Shabaab

While the additional force struggles to get off the ground, there are other indications that the military offensive will intensify. United States President Donald Trump recently relaxed the conditions for airstrikes against terrorists in Somalia. This could boost AMISOM’s campaign, even though there have been concerns about collateral damage in US airstrikes in the past few years.

The question is whether this will create a lasting peace. Experience shows that on occasion al-Shabaab will retake towns and areas after peacekeepers pull out. This casts doubt over AMISOM and the Somali National Army’s capacity to consolidate security gains and ensure the defeat of al-Shabaab in the short to medium term. More likely, there will remain a need for international support to Somalia’s forces beyond 2020 if AMISOM withdraws.

Defections on both sides

Early this year, a number of al-Shabaab senior leaders surrendered to the Somali forces in line with the government’s amnesty provisions. While this is progress, the PSC in its latest six-monthly report highlighted the persistent defection of some Somali soldiers to the al-Shabaab camp. Such defections betray AMISOM and the Somali National Army’s intelligence and operations.

This also highlights the need to address the persistent concerns about funds for Somali security forces, including the continuous delays in paying them. During his campaign, Farmajo promised to ensure the payment of soldiers. However, recent protests by Somali soldiers suggest that this has not been forthcoming.

Greater international support to Somalia in this regard could help to boost incentives for Somali officers to remain in the army and fight al-Shabaab.

Winning the hearts and minds of Somalis

Moreover, key to AMISOM’s exit is the need to secure the allegiance of Somalis to the government. The outcome document of an AU workshop marking the 10th anniversary of AMISOM insists that the fight against al-Shabaab cannot be won by military might alone – it is necessary to ‘win the hearts and minds of Somalis’.

Hence, the international community needs to address survival challenges that make people vulnerable to radicalisation and extremism. Among Somalia’s challenges is the looming famine caused by the drought that has affected over half of the population.

Al-Shabaab has been engaging in a publicity campaign highlighting that it is providing food aid to the communities under its jurisdiction. This is a significant shift from its approach in 2011, when it neither delivered aid nor allowed aid agencies to provide aid in its strongholds. The resultant catastrophe affected the group’s political capital and local support.

Although al-Shabaab still prevents aid agencies from entering the region under its control, its new approach of providing aid to people could win over that part of the population in desperate need of food.

The AU and the international community have to intensify their efforts to address the humanitarian crisis in an attempt to match al-Shabaab’s efforts to win over the Somali population. This includes addressing the immediate food security concerns and the cholera outbreak, in addition to working with the new government to provide political services, boost the economy and address corruption and unemployment.

Protecting the rights of Somali refugees

The fate of Somali people displaced by violence and hardship is also key to the stabilisation effort in the country. In recent years, Somalia’s neighbours have witnessed an influx of refugees fleeing violence and humanitarian disasters. Others seek safer havens outside the East African region. The recent killing of Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen illustrates some of the ordeals that they face.

On 25 March 2017 the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) convened a special summit to find ways to provide more protection for refugees entering neighbouring countries and to facilitate voluntary returns. This includes accelerating IGAD’s support to the security and socio-economic initiatives in the region.

IGAD leaders also committed themselves to enhance the education and training of refugees for ‘self-reliance in the countries of asylum’ and in Somalia when they return. If successfully implemented, this could ensure communities are less vulnerable to radicalisation and less prone to risk dangerous migration routes.

It is, however, uncertain how the new IGAD commitment affects Kenya’s plan to close the Dadaab camps near its border with Somalia. A Kenyan court has temporarily blocked the closure of the camp, but the government intends to appeal the decision.

At the London Conference the international community has to find ways to share the burden in order to support Somalia’s neighbours to tackle the refugee flows, along with addressing the challenges faced by Somalis.

Source: Institute for Security Studies

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