Thursday December 8, 2016
African leaders are facing a dilemma over plans to start withdrawing peacekeepers from Somalia by October 2018, because there is no guarantee that the country will have been pacified by then.
The drawdown, to be completed in 2020, is high on the agenda, as the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) plans a new offensive in early 2017 to capture all the remaining regions in the hands of Al Shabaab.
But Amisom, which entered Somalia in 2007, first needs an additional 28,000 troops to capture regions still under Al Shabaab such as Jubba Valley, Hiraan and the northeastern coastline of Somalia. However, discussions on where the troops are going to come from and how they are going to be funded are yet to be concluded.
Second, Amisom — with the support of the United Nations and international donors — must train and equip at least 20,000 Somalia National Army officers before the beginning of the Amisom withdrawal.
Third, the funding and equipping of the current 21,129 Amisom troops on the ground from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi and Djibouti remains a challenge as the main donor, the European Union, has reduced its annual budget and Burundi is threatening to withdraw over delays in payment of its troops.
The AU Special Representative to Somalia, Francisco Madeira, who is also the head of Amisom, recognises the challenges ahead but maintained in a recent interview with The EastAfrican in Mogadishu that Amisom will be out of Somalia by 2020.
Mr Madeira said that the troop-contributing countries feel that it is realistic to withdraw in two years’ time and that Amisom will fast-track the training and equipping of Somalia troops to make them capable of taking over earlier than planned.
“We must be able to start reducing our troops gradually by October 2018 until the takeover in two years,” he said.
Currently, there are 10,900 specially trained Somalia National Army troops who are supposed to work closely with the over 21,000 Amisom troops to liberate the remaining areas.
The Somali National Army has been seen as the biggest impediment to the progress of Amisom because it lacks the capacity to maintain security and provide basic services in liberated areas.
But Somali National Army Commander Gen Alibaashi Mohamed told The EastAfrican that the effectiveness of his army in the wake of an Amisom withdrawal will depend on the ability of the international community to provide the necessary resources and training.
“While a lot of progress has been made in the past 10 years when Somalia’s security institutions were non-existent, it is unfortunate most people have been looking at liberated areas in military terms only. Once an area is liberated, it has to be followed by deployment of basic governance structures such as local administration,” said Gen Mohamed.
According to Hubert Price, the head of UN Support Office in Somalia (UNSOS) — which provides logistical support to Amisom, to Somali National Army and other security agencies — the withdrawal will depend on improved security in Somalia and on the success of the ongoing elections.
Mr Price said a group of UN experts will visit Somalia early next year to carry out strategic review of the security conditions on the ground, and assess what kind of resources all the security actors will need to capture the remaining territories.
While the European Union and other donors fund training and supplying of equipment to the Somali National Army, UNSOS provides non-lethal support such as food, fuel, water, tents and transport. The amount is capped at $10,900 per year.
In January, the EU reduced its annual $200 million funding by 20 per cent due to the many emerging humanitarian situations around the world, forcing the UN and the AU back to the drawing board to find ways of filling the gap. The AU Peace and Security Council is currently looking out to Gulf countries for alternative funding.
Burundi has threatened to withdraw its troops after the EU delayed payment for its 5,432 soldiers in Amisom for several months due to differences with Bujumbura over the new mechanism of payment. The EU now wants the $1,028 for each soldier per month to be paid directly to the beneficiaries and not through the government.
This comes as Amisom needs a maximum of 49,000 soldiers to fully secure the remaining areas, but the AU Security Council recently only recommended an additional 4,000 troops whose source is yet to be determined.
This followed the withdrawal of 4,000 non-Amisom Ethiopian troops in what Addis Ababa termed as lack of international support. The withdrawal last month saw Al Shabaab recapture six towns in Hiraan region, central Somalia. Ethiopia had provided additional troops under a bilateral agreement between Mogadishu and Addis Ababa.
Mr Price said that the UN has funds to support an additional 4,000 troops but there have not been any volunteers since the decision was taken two months ago.
“We have the resources yes but someone has to agree to deploy because we can only fund troops that are available and ready. It is up to the AU to decide whether the troops will come from member countries or from without, each of them having different implications,” he said.