ETHIOPIA recently withdrew its troops from parts Somalia, blaming lack of support from the international community.
Ethiopian soldiers abandoned areas of south-western Somalia, including the strategic town of Tiyeglow, where they were helping in the fight against Al-Qaeda affiliated terror group al-Shabaab.
“The international community also has a responsibility either to train or to support the Somali national army in whatever way they promised, and if they do not make good on that promise and [the] Somali national army fails to discharge their responsibilities then of course, as they say, nature – and al-Shabaab – abhors a vacuum, so they’ll just move in,” the Ethiopian communication minister Getachew Reda told the BBC.
Sure enough, al-Shabaab hurried to capitalise, quickly recapturing Tiyeglow and regaining control of El-Alif and Halgan, in the Hiran region.
Reda said the Ethiopian contingent was not part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), but ultimately it’s a distinction that makes little difference.
Earlier in the year, with AMISOM struggling for funding, Uganda, the first country to send troops to Somalia in 2007 and the largest contributor to the 22,000-strong force, and Kenya, threatened to withdraw their troops if the international community did not offer funding to support the mission.
Uganda has 6,223 troops in AMISOM, Burundi 5,432, Ethiopia 4,395, Kenya 3,664, and Djibouti 2,000.
AMISOM A SUCCESS
In September, the European Union signed a funding agreement with the African Union for 178 million Euro to cover allowances for AMISOM troops and police, international and local civilian staff salaries, as well as operational costs of the mission.
The new funding, nevertheless, is only a band aid and only served to underscore the difficulties the Somalia mission is facing, despite its best efforts.
Although it has many critics, and has been slated for abuses against innocent Somalis, on many accounts, AMISOM has been a success, liberating several parts of Somalia from al-Shabaab, and allowing a return to normalcy in many parts of the country, and the establishment of a federal government and creation of a new national army.
Al-Shabaab continues to carry out terror attacks in the capital Mogadishu, but these days it is clearly an insurgent force. Less than 10 years ago it was the authority in Somalia, and remained a rival power centre for sometime even after AMISOM moved in and started beating it back.
Mogadishu is seeing a construction boom, and parts of the country are witnessing an economic recovery. All the key ports in Somalia, including the strategic Kismayo which was taken by Kenyan troops after they joined the Somalia campaign separately in 2011, before rehatting as AMISOM a year later.
The AMISOM troop contributing countries have paid a dear price, with estimates of their casualties over the last nine ranging from 1,000 to 2,000.
Yet, even against that background, even if AMISOM gets enough money to keep on, its Somalia campaign has probably reached an irreversible turning point.
Whereas Uganda and Burundi don’t share a border with Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya do. Kenya entered Somalia, saying it was to stop the cross-border terror attacks by al-Shabaab that were threatening to paralyse its northern regions.
Those attacks had also delayed commencement of work Lamu Port and Lamu-Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET), its most ambitious infrastructure project.
For a while, however, the Kenya incursion didn’t stop the attacks. Instead they increased dramatically, including the high profile September 2013 attack on the upmarket Westgate mall in Nairobi, in which 67 people were killed and at least 175 wounded.
The deadliest attack came in April 2015, when Shabaab gunmen stormed the Garissa University College near Kenya’s border with Somalia, killing 148 people, and injuring 80.
By that point, Kenya’s interest in Somalia had concretised into a long-term security construction, with security and political leaders in Nairobi taking the view that it would be guaranteed only either by having a pro-Kenya regional authority in charge in southern Somalia acting as a buffer, or a friendly strong government in Mogadishu.
That speaks to a complex factor that Somalia is to Kenya and Ethiopia. Al-Shabaab and other nationalist forces in Somalia, tap into the emotive idea of the recreation of a “greater Somalia” – with the Somali regions of northern Kenya and the restive Ogaden province of Ethiopia, reuniting with the motherland.
For Kenya and Ethiopia, therefore, the stakes in the Somalia peacekeeping have always been higher. And it is for that reason that many voices in and outside Somalia argued that having Kenya and Ethiopia, two countries that have had historical territorial disputes with Somalia, being part of AMISOM was a mistake, because they couldn’t bring the neutrality that the role requires.
In the end, then, for Kenya and Ethiopia, AMISOM became a kind of “imperial peacekeeping”, in which a pacified Somalia guaranteed they would keep the borders of their countries intact, and a failure being any result that left that unresolved and pan-Somali forces in a strong position.
While Uganda and Burundi would be content with a stable Somalia, for Kenya and Ethiopia there would always be a need for more.
It’s something the international community cannot help with. It would require that Kenya and Ethiopia be a model for the kind of countries Somalia wants to be. For that, they need resources and internal dynamics that they do not have right now.
While Ethiopia has been Africa’s fastest growing economy, it is at the risk of unraveling. It has faced over a year of unrest in Oromo, its most populous region, and most recently the Amhara areas have also been in revolt, alleging marginalisation and repression.
With its back to the wall, Addis Ababa declared a six-month-long state of emergency in mid October. Any domestic crisis in Ethiopia, can only embolden al-Shabaab and pan-Somali nationalists, encouraging them to bide their time, waiting for the country to fall back to its troubled past that they can exploit.
Kenya, reeling from the Garissa University attacks last year, faced a wave of domestic public anger, and announced it would close the Somali-dominated Dadaab refugee in Garissa, the largest in the world with over 320,000 people, because of concerns that it had been infiltrated by Shabaab.
It played into Shabaab’s hands, because there is a lot of support in Somalia for its vast diaspora – be they refugees, business people, or professionals – because they provide the safety net against domestic economic hardship. It looked contradictory that Kenya would want its troops to stay in Somalia, while it was kicking Somalis out of its soil.
NIGERIA IN SIERRA LEONE
If Kenya and Ethiopia were the best examples of peaceful, prosperous and democratic countries, they would offer a powerful narrative against Shabaab and a model to hold to Somalia.
But it would cost them. It would require that they have local allies, who would be kept on board by making the association lucrative, especially financially, and that they would invest in state building. In Afghanistan, the US has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to buy warlords and butter up powerful traditional leaders, even though with mixed success.
Because of their bigger national security interests, Kenya and Ethiopia would also need to pony up patronage. However, they are relatively still poor countries, that can’t afford US-style bribery, even if they willing.
Alternatively, a decisive quick and short intervention like Nigeria launched in Sierra Leone in 1997. Under the guise of the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG, Nigeria went into a chaotic Sierra Leone, toppled the military junta of Maj. Johnny-Paul Koromah, allowing the country to begin its climb out of the grave. It didn’t seek international money ala-AMISOM. It picked up the tab.
More recently, especially Chad, has had a decisive role in helping a militarily enfeebled Nigeria put the terror group Boko Haram on the run, after the jihadist carried out deadly cross-border attacks inside its territory. Chad has paid for most of those operations.
Otherwise, as in everyday life, rich countries are more easily able to afford expensive political toys and expeditions. The poor ones have mostly their wits, and prayer. Many times, as Somalia has demonstrated, they are not enough.