The AMISOM mission in [SOMALIA] certainly expensive, but has it been successful?

By Ismail Osman

According to their website, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is “…an active, regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations.”

AMISOM was created by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council on January 19, 2007.  And on February 20, 2007, exactly one month after its inception, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) authorized the African Union (AU) to deploy a peacekeeping mission to Somalia in order to, among other things, reduce the threat posed by Al-Shabaab and other terrorist operations.

In addition to the Al-Shabaab charter, AMISOM had also been originally established to assist the Somali security forces and bring a level of stability and security to a region that, at the time, was in desperate need of support.

In essence, AMISOM has been providing peacekeepers to Somalia since early 2007.  And, according to the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, (an organization that independently analyzes peace and security issues globally) the mission has run up a rather substantial tab, tallying in the neighborhood of hundreds of millions of dollars every year since 2007.

So, the AMISOM mission has most certainly been expensive, but has it been successful?

Given the current governance crisis facing Somalia, the uncertainty surrounding the coming presidential election and the fact that talks between the President & the PM have broken down and degraded into obstruction of justice from the President Office, one could certainly make the case that the stability of the country is as volatile as it’s ever been.  And it’s a situation that could easily be exacerbated if (and when) Al-Shabaab continues to capitalize on the leadership divide and uncertainty arising from the central governance catastrophe.

Today it is estimated that there are 9000 Al-Shabaab militants fighting in Somalia.  Militants that set-off track bomb Zope junction in Mogadishu on October 14, 2017, that killed over 1200 people. Militants that set a bomb off in front of the Dayah Hotel in Mogadishu on January 25, 2017.  Militants that exploded a car bomb in Warshadaha on February 27, 2017.  Militants that detonated a checkpoint explosion near Somalia’s parliament and interior ministry on March 25, 2018.  And militants with the audacity and impudence to set off a bomb near the President’s residency in Mogadishu on December 22, 2018.

Most recently, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack in July 2021 in Mogadishu that killed at least nine people and injured eight more.  The explosive also targeted and struck the vehicle of the Mogadishu police commissioner.

The incidents above are cherry-picked from a laundry list of attacks that Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for over the past five years and goes to strengthen the debate that the al Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab fighters are getting ever more brazen and reckless as the years go by.

In a joint statement released by the African Union Delegation (AU) and the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) following a two-day meeting that took place on August 18-19 in Mogadishu, it was noted that the time of AMISOM is coming to end at a point “when the security situation in Somalia requires more engagements in the fight against the Al Shabaab insurgency.”

So, the question must be asked.  Given that the interim government that has shown itself to be weak against crime and corruption, and given the fact that the presence of AMISOM has been outrageously expensive and convincingly ineffective, why was an Independent Assessment Team (assembled to outline the future engagement of the AU in and with Somalia) recommending an extension of the AMISOM mandate?  Particularly given the fact that there has been an abundance of allegations of political corruption and collusion within the ranks of AMISOM.

Let’s face it.  AMISOM has never operated as a cohesive humanitarian mission, but rather as individual military factions comprised of autonomous troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  And each faction is further isolated from each other by deployment region – Ugandan troops in Sector 1, Kenyan troops in Sector 2, and so on.  This makes it virtually impossible to form a consistent and coherent strategy to stabilize Somalia and defeat Al Shabab, as each sector is essentially answerable only to their respective capital.  And, worse, it makes it incredibly difficult to investigate and prosecute alleged human rights violations as the countries that contribute troops to AMISOM have exclusive jurisdiction over their personnel.  As such, alleged incidents of sexual exploitation of women and girls and indiscriminate killing of civilians ultimately go largely unpunished.

And the AU Peace & Security Council has also done very little to gain the trust of our citizens.  We cannot continue to accept the corruption that is inherent in the organization simply because we have become blind to the pervasiveness of the behavior.  The fact is, corruption compromises the rules, constrains the development of a safe and secure society and, of course, tends to filter the wealth of a nation into the hands of privileged and powerful few.  This should never be viewed as an acceptable future for Somalia.

The recommendation of the Independent Assessment Team needs to be a wake-up call for all Somalis.  Knowing that the attention of the country would likely be distracted by the ongoing political uncertainty, the AU is trying to pull a fast one and slip this mandate through while camouflaged by the distractions created by a governmental crisis.  They would like you to believe that this AMISOM extension mandate is in the best interest of the country.

Don’t fall for it.  The proposed option for the extension mandate is exclusively focused on achieving more funding for the AMISOM and AU mission at the expense of the security and stability of the country.  Simply put, AMISOM has not taken part in any meaningful humanitarian or military operation in the past four years.  On the contrary, we have seen more examples of AMISOM troops abandoning liberated areas with little or no coordination and consensus from the Federal Government of Somalia.  And we simply cannot afford to continue to pay for this level of ineptitude.

Here’s the thing.  Other options are available.  Clearly, we are not constrained by any financial shackles given the billions already sunk into the bottomless money pit of AMISOM.  For the same investment we could have easily rebuilt the Somalia National Army & Navy or financed non-AMISOM troops that would have prioritized the interests of our citizens.  And there is absolutely no reason to think we couldn’t do this now.  As a very minimum, we must insist that any compensation expended to AMISOM should be directly linked with the performance of the operation and the organization.  And that a recurring independent assessment is performed on all Troop Contributing Countries (TCC) so that those troops (and those countries) understand that they will be held accountable for crimes committed and that right and proper punishment for any violation will be swift and harsh.

If this mandate is extended, we are in for more of the same.  More crime.  More deaths.  More corruption.  And more apathy.  Any plans to radically restructure the AMISOM mandate must wait for the next Government to be established so that all stakeholders can be aligned to the future direction of the new administration.  We are approaching a dangerous fork in the road.  It is imperative that, this time, we choose our path wisely.

Ismail D. Osman: Former Deputy Director of Somalia National Intelligence & Security Agency (NISA) – Writes in Somalia, Horn of Africa Security and Geopolitical focusing on governance and security. You can reach him osmando@gmail.com.

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