OpEd: Is AMISOM willing to unify and empower Somali National Army?

African Union troops belonging to the Ethiopian troops raise Ethiopian, African Union and Somali flags during a ceremony to welcome them to Beled Weyne on Feb. 17, 2015. [AU UN IST PHOTO / Ilyas A. Abukar]

Ethiopian troops raise Ethiopian, African Union and Somali flags during a ceremony to welcome Ethiopia to Beled Weyne on Feb. 17, 2015. [AU UN IST PHOTO / Ilyas A. Abukar]

On July 1, Somalia celebrated 55 years of independence from colonial rule and formation of the Somali Republic. As we celebrate this important date on our calendar, I can’t stop thinking if we are still fully independent and what it is that we are missing.

A lot has happened since those heady days in 1960: the birth of a democratic Somalia, a military revolution, a bloody civil war, the formation of weak transitional governments, the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts and the formation of al-Shabaab, who is battling the federal government and the African Union forces known as AMISOM.

Despite the enormous challenges Somalia has faced, there are tangible achievements in terms of security and transformation, which was only possible with the resilience shown by the Somali people. Al-Shabaab was pushed out of major towns. Interim federal administrations are currently being formed as the country prepares to hold a national election in 2016. This is partly thanks to the Somali National Army (SNA), who, together with AMISOM, is actively engaged in liberating the country from the militant group.

However, the big question is how and when are AMISOM troops going to leave Somalia? What is their exit strategy and what are they doing to achieve that?

The only force that should replace them in this case is a strong, unified, well-equipped SNA. This is the only way Somali ownership could be achieved given all the efforts being put to build a sovereign Somali state. Unfortunately, AMISOM’s objective is not to hand over the country to SNA but to “hand over the mission to a United Nation peacekeeping operation,” according to its website. I wonder if this is in line with Somalia’s vision 2016.

I don’t understand why we need UN peacekeeping operation when we already have our own national army, which is expected to eventually take full control of the country’s security.

And what if the so-called ambitious national election fails to take place? Well, my thoughts augur well with what late Ambassador Mohamed Osman Omar hypothesized about the contingency plan of the AU for Somalia in an article published in his blog on Jan. 17, 2014:

“The plan is that Somalia should be made toothless sharks, politically, economically and militarily so that the Indian Ocean will be a sea, an international maritime route for all, and the Horn of Africa (Somalia) to be brought under the IGAD Trusteeship,” Mohamed wrote.

It is true that there is a Somali military presence in every AMISOM base throughout the country and that Somali forces take the lead in every offensive against al-Shabaab. This doesn’t mean they can do it alone; the backing of AMISOM forces always comes in handy. However, what Somalia needs is a long term strategy to create a sustainable security, one that can only be possible with a professionally trained Somali army.

But how can AMISOM unify the Somali army when its own mission is divided? Drawn from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti and Burundi, troops from individual countries are scattered in various parts of the country. The mission is headquartered in Mogadishu, which is under the Ugandan contingent since they are the largest in number. Kenya and Ethiopia are strategically based in areas along their borders in southern and central Somalia.

Although they supposedly have one chain of command, each country has its own internal commanding structure working only for its political interest. Kenya carries out aerial bombardment under the guise of AMISOM without following the mission’s standard operational procedure while Ethiopia undertakes offensive military attack selectively along the areas it controls under the AU flag to achieve its own strategic goal.

The Somali government emphasizes the need for an integrated national army with no practical move to do so. The regional administrations have enough troops to be unified under SNA and can take charge of the country’s fate. However, this is not going to be possible when AMISOM itself is working against that by allowing countries like Kenya and Ethiopia to carry their flag for their own selfish interest.

The AU should make swift amends to how the troops operate within their areas of assignment to avoid any conflict of interest. This can be done by swapping the Burundian troops who cover areas in the Middle Shabelle with the Ethiopians who covers Bay, Bakol and Gedo areas. The Kenyan troops in the Lower Juba area in Kismayo should also be swapped with their Djiboutian counterparts in Hiiraan.

But will AMISOM allow this to happen? Will Somalia’s leaders make sure they implement it and will the UN and international community honestly support the government in this plan? Will the respective countries who contribute troops to AMISOM work together with their fellow Somali armymen, unite them and leave the country under their control?

I hope so!

Moulid Hujale is a Somali journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @MoulidHujale.

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