US President Donald Trump looks set to wage a more aggressive military campaign in Somalia. The New York Times provides strong arguments why he shouldn’t. More strikes do nothing to address Somalia’s root issue of state weakness and poor governance.
“Instead, they may create more problems by allowing African Union [AMISOM] forces to retreat, further militarise American policy, sideline diplomatic engagement and undercut the newly elected Somali president,” the paper says.
“There is little to be gained by making intensified military engagement the dominant policy approach to Somalia. The absence of an effective state is the fundamental problem there. When and where there is some semblance of governance, it is often profoundly corrupt and subservient to a deeply ingrained clan system.
“Al-Shabaab capitalises on resentment of government ineptitude, corruption and lack of economic opportunity to recruit, especially among Somalia’s youth. Airstrikes do nothing to address these failures”, the paper argues.
By declaring parts of Somalia an “area of active hostilities,” Trump is removing an Obama-era vetting process, which “potentially lowers the bar for tolerance of civilian casualties”.
Dead innocents are a powerful recruitment tool for al-Shabaab, and a vote-loser for the popular new government. If humanitarian and development aid can survive Trump’s budget axe, that would seem a better investment than doubling-down on a dubious military adventure.
Meanwhile, a timely study explores the African Union’s attempts to protect civilians during its peace operations – Somalia included. It notes that most AU operations are military-heavy, despite the fact that protecting civilians requires “a combination of policing, civilian and military expertise”.
Military intervention is an instrument, not a strategy. Stability and sustainable peace entail a political process. “In sum, the AU should put more emphasis on developing its political muscle to end armed conflicts and crises, as well as flexing its military muscle,” the study notes.