If the mission is to successfully withdraw from the country, getting politics right should be one of its priorities.
The African Union Mission to Somalia’s time is drawing to a close. It’s scheduled to end in December 2021, after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) extended the 28 February exit deadline. But instead of making preparations to leave, the growing political and security problems in Somalia have seen the focus shift to what AMISOM’s continued role in the country should be.
A successful withdrawal in December depends on political stability in Somalia, but can and should AMISOM play a role in this area? And whatever its mandate may be, the perennial problem of how to fund an extended mission remains unresolved.
AMISOM has provided support to Somalia’s government since 2007, mainly in fighting al-Shabaab and other extremist groups. It has also helped build the capacity of Somalia’s security institutions, including the Somali National Army and the Somali Police Forces.
According to the 2017 Somalia Transitional Plan, endorsed by the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the UNSC, three types of priorities must be fulfilled before AMISOM’s departure. These are operational activities, institutional capacity building, and supporting activities – which include material and logistical support to Somlia’s security forces.
Somalia’s diplomatic rows with Kenya and Djibouti could affect AMISOM’s operational effectiveness.
The exit plan’s implementation depends on certain assumptions, including an overall improvement in Somalia’s political and security environments. Somalia’s security institutions also need to be strengthened so that they can take over these responsibilities. And functional local administration must be established.
But it’s becoming clear that Somalia isn’t ready for AMISOM’s December exit plan. Primarily, the plan’s goals are too ambitious to achieve within the given time frame. On top of that, political instability and security threats have worsened over the past few months.
As James Swan, UN special envoy to Somalia reported, al-Shabaab remains a major threat in the country and beyond, and has increased its attacks, especially from August 2020. Similarly, the Special Representative of the AU Commission chairperson and head of AMISOM Francisco Madeira told the UNSC this month that the group was strategically positioning itself to maximise its terror attacks.
Politics in Somalia is highly strained, especially between the Somalia Federal Government and its Federal Member States. Failure to hold scheduled elections in 2020 and early 2021 has aggravated tensions. The two groupings can’t agree on the management of the elections, and this has increased instability and armed clashes in the country.
The PSC wants AMISOM to deal with the problem of Somalia’s political instability in future.
Besides the volatile internal climate, Somalia’s diplomatic rows with Kenya and Djibouti could affect AMISOM’s operational effectiveness, as both countries contribute police and/or soldiers to the mission. Last December Somalia accused Kenya of interfering in its internal affairs. Somalia also criticised a Djibouti-led fact-finding mission into a regional border dispute. Somalia said the results of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development exercise were biased towards Kenya.
Although the capabilities of Somalia’s security institutions have improved to some extent, AMISOM’s withdrawal also depends on the country’s political stability. Associate Professor at Stellenbosch University Thomas Mandrup says the problem is ‘seemingly no viable political projects for Somalia, and consequently no sustainable peace to be achieved.’ Mandrup says AMISOM is ‘caught in a situation of political and development failures.’
But the mission’s role in tackling Somalia’s political crisis has been minor compared to fighting al-Shabaab and supporting capacity building of the security forces. The political mandate rests with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, and AMISOM’s role regarding this aspect is vague.
The political impasse in the country has made it difficult for AMISOM to implement its exit plan. But it seems the AU PSC wants AMISOM to deal with this issue in future. The council recently indicated that there would be changes in the mission’s mandate after 2021. It highlighted the ‘paramount importance of the role of the AU in supporting post-conflict reconstruction and development in Somalia as a key aspect of prevention of violence and relapse.’
AMISOM can only support state-building in Somalia when the political standoff is addressed.
Two main problems remain for AMISOM. First, funding of the mission is dependent on partners such as the UN and European Union. Given that the PSC plans to change AMISOM’s role from 2022, these funding issues must be urgently clarified, including the possibility of tapping into the AU Peace Fund.
Second, if the mission is to get involved in post-conflict reconstruction and development, it requires strategic, operational and technical capabilities to coordinate all efforts in Somalia. This demands robust civilian engagement but currently AMISOM has only about 66 civilian experts on the ground. With this level of capacity, it will be hard for the mission to meaningfully support complex political processes.
Despite these challenges, AMISOM is likely to continue supporting Somalia under a renewed mandate. Dr Cedric de Coning, a Research Professor at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, anticipates that this may include ‘elements of helping to ensure stability of the country in the context of the current political uncertainty, in addition to the old mandate of protecting the state against al-Shabaab.’
Whatever the case, a mandate with political primacy matters for AMISOM’s success. Its new role should focus on preventing a relapse into violent conflict through politically led engagements. The mission should also help undertake a coordinated and thorough assessment among key stakeholders and partners on AMISOM’s future. This would help define the roles, capacities and exit time frame beyond 2021.
AMISOM can only support Somalia’s state-building project when the political standoff is addressed. Focusing on helping the country get its politics right should be one of the mission’s priorities.