The Peace and Security Council (PSC) has expressed its concern over the situation in Somalia. A series of attacks against soldiers of the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) at the end of June has come as a blow to the mission – the African Union (AU) flagship peacekeeping mission on the continent. The renewed attacks by al-Shabaab could jeopardize Somalia’s plans for the future.
In a recent statement, Somalia’s Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke predicted that the Islamist terror group al-Shabaab could be militarily defeated by the end of 2015. However, the past month has seen a series of high-level attacks targeting AMISOM and various government departments. There have also been targeted assassinations of Somali officials and politicians. These attacks have killed scores of peacekeeping troops, government employees and officials, destroyed property and spread terror across Somalia. The biggest impact of the attacks has arguably been on the past year’s assumption that al-Shabaab was becoming weaker and isolated, and that it was now unable to wage a coordinated offensive against government troops or AMISOM. It was thought that the militant group was reduced to ambushes and suicide bombings.
Biggest attack so far on AMISOM peacekeepers
The attack on Burundian peacekeepers at Leego, in southern Somalia, took place on 26 June following a spate of other attacks and coming just a day after a raid that killed eight police officers in the town of Afgoi.
It is still not certain how many peacekeepers were killed in Leego, but estimates range from 50 to 80 – the most peacekeeping casualties in AMISOM’s and Somalia’s history. The fact that the base was overrun and controlled, at least for some time, by the radical group, which also flew its flag over the base, was also symbolic.
While al-Shabaab is known to increase its activities and attacks during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the June 26 attack on AMISOM’s Leego base was unexpected at many levels.
Al-Shabaab claims responsibility
The attack began with a car bomb being detonated at the entrance to the base, which forms part of AMISOM’s strategic logistics supply chain. It is reported that the fight between the militants and the 100 AMISOM troops manning the base lasted for several hours. Al-Shabaab spokesperson Ali Mohamoud Raghe confirmed that the group was behind the offensive and said they killed as many as 50 AU soldiers and confiscated military equipment. The group later announced that it had taken the bodies of 60 Burundian soldiers back to its base. According to the commander of al-Shabaab, Mohamed Abu-Yahya, the group’s black flag flew over the base after the raid.
The PSC, which met to discuss the situation three days after the attack, confirmed the incident but did not give details of the number of casualties.
The attack raises several questions over the capacity, mandate and future of the AMISOM mission, especially the role of Burundi, a troop-contributing country with 5 432 troops in Somalia. The incident comes amid a political deadlock in Burundi over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s third term bid.
Slow progress towards Vision 2016
The government in Mogadishu has been working towards the creation of a strong, representative, democratic and decentralized Somali state, something the country has lacked for more than two decades. There have been repeated references to 2015 being the most critical year in the realization of the above strategy, dubbed Vision 2016. Broadly speaking, Vision 2016 consists of three elements. First, the constitution must be drafted. Second, the borders between the various regions, which will be the building blocks of the envisioned federal state, must be demarcated.
Third, the democratization process must continue, along with electoral reform, which is aimed at the holding of free and fair elections scheduled for August 2016.
Some progress has been made in the drafting of the new constitution and setting up regional administrations. However, the country is still far behind in creating institutions that can oversee the transition, can conduct and oversee processes and events like the election, and can run the federal state. The establishment and operationalisation of the National Independent Electoral Commission is still huge challenge.
As noted by the PSC Report earlier this year, political infighting within the government and Parliament is one of the biggest challenges faced by the Somali state, and poses a serious threat to the realization of a national vision. ‘The government and Vision 2016 continue to suffer from inter-clan differences, regional competition and divisions between politicians and technocrats.’
There is increasing impatience from partners and the international community with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Recent developments show that these partners want to control and follow up on the activities of the TFG. This is evident in the opening of a European Union (EU) office in Somalia in May 2015, following the signing of an Establishment Agreement between Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the EU Head of Delegation in Somalia, Michele Cervone d’Urso. The agreement formalized the presence of the EU, which already has three field offices in Somalia overseeing the implementation and monitoring of EU-funded projects.
An ‘African success story’
AMISOM is the AU’s flagship peacekeeping project. At the Africa Day celebrations held in Mogadishu in May 2015, the Special Representative of the AU Commission Chairperson for Somalia and Head of AMISOM, Ambassador Maman Sidikou, emphasized that Somalia’s and AMISOM’s success are intertwined with that of the continent. Mohamud also said that Somalia ‘became an experiment lab and a successful experiment’, while the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, described AMISOM as an African success. The latest attacks, however, raise serious questions over the success and future of the mission.
AMISOM’s mandate and capacity was at the top of the discussion agenda when Mohamud met the heads of state of the troop-contributing countries in Johannesburg, South Africa on the sidelines of the AU summit last month. It is reported that the meeting agreed to accelerate AMISOM’s liberation of areas held by al-Shabaab. This is aimed at helping to realize the establishment of the regional governments and ultimately the effective functioning of the federal state, within the framework of Vision 2016. The meeting also discussed AMISOM’s contribution in making the newly liberated areas accessible to humanitarian organizations, the government, civil society and the international community.
However, the latest attack showed the huge gaps in protecting liberated areas. AMISOM’s plan to free more areas from al-Shabaab could receive a serious blow, as the latest developments may dictate instead the consolidation of security and the political process in those areas already under the control of the Somali government and AMISOM.
PSC calls for more UN support
On 28 June 2015 the chairperson of the AU Commission also condemned al-Shabaab’s attacks on the Somali National Army (SNA) and AMISOM. The statement expressed the AU’s solidarity with Burundi, which had suffered huge losses in the attack. The chairperson called on the United Nations (UN) and partners to sustain and enhance support for AMISOM and the SNA.
While briefing the Military Operations Coordination Committee (MOCC) on 29 June 2015 at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, the force commander of AMISOM, Lt. Gen. Jonathan Rono, stressed that great progress had been made towards the total liberation of Somalia, despite the Leego attack.
He added that the Leego incident would not affect AMISOM’s mission of liberating Somalia. The meeting, which was chaired by AU Peace and Security Commissioner Smaïl Chergui, considered the recommendations forwarded by the recent joint AU-UN benchmarking exercise for AMISOM.
In light of the developments, the PSC also met on 30 June 2015 to discuss the situation in Somalia. The council, which was briefed by AMISOM’s head, commended the political and security gains made thus far and called for greater effort towards the realization of Vision 2016.
The PSC recognized the threat al-Shabaab posed to Somalia and the rest of the region. It called for the increased involvement of the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) in providing more effective and flexible logistical support, and asked the commission to follow up on the implementation of the findings of the AU-UN Joint Mission in Somalia.
AMISOM troops ‘reorganized’
In a press release following the Leego attack, Sidikou denied reports that AMISOM’s forces were leaving areas that had been recovered from al-Shabaab. According to the statement, AMISOM troops are not being withdrawn from any town or location; instead, ‘AMISOM and the SNA are currently re-adjusting and re-organizing troop deployments in order to revitalize an already effective strategy that has enabled the recovery, consolidation, expansion and control of over eighty percent of South Central Somalia by the Federal Government’. The statement tries to assure Somalis that AMISOM remains committed and ready to bring peace and stability to Somalia.
The second meeting of the heads of intelligence and security services of the East African region, scheduled to be held in Kampala, Uganda on 14 and 15 July 2015, is expected to discuss enhancing regional security cooperation in fighting al-Shabaab. As four of the five troop-contributing countries of AMISOM are in the region, the meeting will also discuss the mandate, capacity and challenges of the mission.
14 July 2015