A guard of honour mounted for the Chief of Defense Forces (CDF), of the Uganda People’s Defence Force Gen David Muhoozi who arrived on official visit in Mogadishu, Somalia on 15 August 2017. PHOTO/AMISOM
By PATRICK MAYOYO
The United Nations has agreed on a cautious exit strategy for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a security think-tank-Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says in a new report.
In the Peace and Security Council (PSC) report, ISS says AMISOM has a new mandate, as set out by the PSC and confirmed by the United Nations (UN) Security Council on 30 August 2017.
The new direction for AMISOM follows on the AU Commission’s Ten-Year Lessons Learned report and an AU–UN Joint Review. Both exercises came to the conclusion that AMISOM needs to adopt a conditions-based exit strategy from Somalia.
At this stage the exit timeline sets October 2018 for the reduction of AMISOM troops by at least 1 500, while 500 additional policemen would be deployed in the country.
AMISOMS’s tasks going forward are to:
- Enable the gradual handing over of security responsibilities from AMISOM to the Somali security forces contingent on the abilities of the Somali security forces and political and security progress in Somalia
- Reduce the threat posed by al-Shabaab and other armed opposition groups
- Assist the Somali security forces to provide security for the political process at all levels, as well as stabilisation, reconciliation and peacebuilding
“The new mandate of the largest Africa-led peace-support operation is less about fighting al-Shabaab and more about supporting the Federal Government of Somalia to establish a functioning and effective security sector architecture,” ISS says.
Freshly deployed Burundian troops arrive in Mogadishu to serve under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) peace support operation on August 20, 2017. PHOTO/AMISOM
The security think-tank says this comes as the AU is considering a gradual exit from Somalia and the rationale behind this shift seems to be that the threat posed by al-Shabaab has diminished to such an extent that local authorities should be able to handle it on their own.
It says many questions, however, remain about AMISOM’s new mandate.
“Given that the European Union has reduced its funding to AMISOM, is this new strategic shift owing to budgetary considerations rather than the evolution of the security situation on the ground?” it adds.
It notes, while al-Shabaab has lost most of the territory it used to control, it seems to have retained its capability to launch asymmetric attacks on civilians, AMISOM or the Somali national forces.
The report of the UN secretary-general on Somalia in early September painted a complex picture of the security situation. It noted a reduction of incidents during Ramadan in Mogadishu this year due to the actions of the federal government, yet the number of casualties caused by the terrorist group has increased owing to its use of improvised explosive devices.
According to ISS researcher Omar Mahmood, al-Shabaab continues to present a serious security threat to Somalia, regardless of the specific ebb and flow of violence over the past few years.
‘Recent dynamics, such as continued car bombs in Mogadishu or the targeting of army bases like in Beled Hawo, demonstrate these capabilities. In this sense, while there are areas of progress, al-Shabaab’s core ability to challenge security actors and inflict violence in Somalia persists,’ he says.
In such a context, the ability of the Somali national forces to take over the fight against al-Shabaab remains uncertain – in both the short and the medium term.
A flexible exit timeline
Meanwhile, the AU, the UN and the Federal Government of Somalia will launch a verification exercise of the Somali national security forces to determine the exact number of staff, their equipment and their training needs.
The President of Somalia, Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo shakes hands with the Chief of Defense Forces (CDF), of the Uganda People’s Defence Force, Gen David Muhoozi at Villa Somalia on 16 August, 2017. PHOTO/AMISOM
A subsequent transition plan will be defined after a review in 2018 and until the 2021 election, based on the security conditions at the time. It should be noted that the exit strategy remains cautious, as the PSC states that AMISOM ‘remains an indispensable partner for peace in Somalia, but needs to be properly reconfigured to support the next phase of state building in Somalia during the course of the implementation of the transitional plan’. This timeline provides a degree of flexibility, to be adjusted depending on security conditions.
The establishment of an effective security sector as the main condition of exit
As troop- and police-contributing countries are looking forward to an exit, AMISOM is now oriented towards both an end-state – the establishment of the national security architecture agreed to in April to take over the fight against al-Shabaab – and a short-term end date of 2020/2021, when the first one person/one vote election is supposed to take place.
The emphasis on the establishment of an effective security sector as a vector for the stabilisation of Somalia is ambitious. Firstly, it assumes that state building in Somalia lies mainly in the security sector rather than in the social contract between the authorities and the inhabitants. Secondly, it is not certain that the national security architecture will respond effectively to the challenge posed by al-Shabaab.
The security pact adopted in May 2017 in London proposes an unprecedented division of labour in the management of security between the national and the regional levels.
“For example, the national security council would be in charge of drafting policies and strategies while the regional security council would be in charge of their implementation. It is difficult to see how this system will not replicate the clan divisions of Somali politics, resulting in a fragmented security sector,” the report says.
Moreover, the coordination costs associated with such an architecture in a post-conflict setting could hamper the effectiveness of the response to the challenge posed by al-Shabaab.
Newly deployed troops who will serve under the African Union Mission in Somalia arrive at Aden Abdulle International Airport in Mogadishu. PHOTO/AMISOM
Clearly, beyond defeating al-Shabaab, the key for the sustainable stabilisation of Somalia lies in the ability of the various regional, clan-based factions to agree on the governance of security in the country. Without such a development, AMISOM would likely have to extend its deployment.
Which role for AMISOM beyond military tasks?
Participants in the Ten-Year AMISOM Lessons Learned Conference in March 2017 acknowledged that the mission was ‘too military heavy’. The main consideration guiding the AMISOM exit strategy seems to be the takeover by the Somali security forces, rather than the political stabilisation of the country.
Despite calling for an enhanced role for AMISOM in a new configuration, the PSC does not set any guidelines about AMISOM’s role in civilian stabilisation. The Ten-Year Lessons Learnt report includes such a questioning of the future role of AMISOM: should AMISOM focus on a reduced military presence to support the fight against al-Shabaab and let other actors handle civilian stabilisation?
Or should AMISOM withdraw a significant part of its military component in order to beef up its civilian component? If this is the case, priorities need to be defined in order to guarantee an impact on the ground. The drafting of a new concept of operations should provide clarification on this issue.
The PSC Report is made possible through support from the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Government of New Zealand. The ISS is also grateful for the support of the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.