Now is not the time to slacken our commitment to AMISOM
It shows that the road towards stability and democracy in Somalia is still long and is fraught with challenges. But there should be no question of backing away from the struggle towards a positive future for Somalia.
With a landmark election on the horizon, now is not the time for the international community to pull back its commitment to Somalia
We have started to see glimpses of what the country could become. If you visit Mogadishu today, you will find it buzzing again, in a way that has not been seen in the last two decades or so.
A lively café culture is developing, solar-powered streetlights line the main streets, and new buildings are rising from the rubble. International business interests are picking up.
Just last year, MasterCard’s services became available, and regional banks are now looking to set up shop. This will firmly connect Somalia to international financial systems at last.
Beyond the capital, Somalia’s agricultural sector is growing quickly. Livestock exports – Somalia’s largest forex earner – have reached multi-decade highs. Commercial fishing is reviving along Somalia’s coast, the longest in Africa.
Baadheere, a southern town, which was liberated from Al-Shabaab in 2015, boasts rich farms growing everything from sorghum to mangoes, bananas and papaya. Overall, tentative economic development has come as a huge relief to the long-suffering people of Somalia.
Set against this, national elections in August or September this year is a great boost to the on-going reconstruction efforts and will be a hallmark of what has been achieved.
They will allow Somalian communities to elect the president and the parliamentary representatives. They will also offer the chance to approve a new constitution, which seeks to accommodate the present-day reality in Somalia and enshrines a balanced federal system of government.
They will reaffirm the fledgling democracy, which has been taking shape under President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Prime Minister Sharmarke since the 2012 elections.
In the face of multiple and persistent threats of violent factionalism and terror it has taken perseverance, sacrifice and commitment locally and internationally to reach this point. Since 2007, AMISOM forces, working closely with the Somali National Army, have fought and laid down their lives.
This has contributed to the creation of an environment conducive to the development of state institutions and the national economy.
To reach this point, support of international partners, not least that of the European Union, has been indispensable.
AMISOM, an African Union body backed by the United Nations, comprises a force of 22,126 troops and police. The troops come from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, while the police come from eight African nations in total.
Its primary role has been to enforce peace and bring stabilisation to levels that can allow the distribution of humanitarian assistance and government to build institutions and exercise its government functions throughout Somalia.
AMISOM has in this context led major and successful offensive campaigns against Al-Shabaab, which have severely weakened its capacity and have pushed it to the margins of the Somali territory.
Operation Eagle resulted in the recapture of major urban centres, while Operation Indian Ocean reclaimed strategic coastal towns, striking a blow against Red Sea piracy and hampering the terrorists’ re-supply lines. Operation Jubba Corridor struck to the heart of Al-Shabaab’s operations in Gedo, a vulnerable province near Kenya.
Thanks to the bravery of AMISOM and SNA troops and considerable monetary investment, these victories and others have altered the security landscape in Somalia dramatically, allowing for government institutions to be installed and function in all regional governments. Yet al-Shabaab and its affiliates remain a security threat. It has no qualms in turning to asymmetric warfare – which includes indiscriminate suicide bombings – as the tragic deaths at the Ambassador and Nasa-Hablod Hotel show.
In continuing the fight, Somalia and AMISOM face a number of major challenges. One is donor fatigue. Humanitarian responses around the world have been pulled in different directions: the Middle Eastern migrant crisis, and continuing conflict in Syria, Yemen and Libya.
Some countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Somalia’s neighbour Ethiopia, are facing their worst drought for a generation. In this environment, Somalia’s needs appear to be falling down the pecking order – but this does not make it right or wise.
The country’s geostrategic importance is undiminished. It sits along the Red Sea corridor, one of the world’s busiest and most important trade arteries. We have already seen how disruptive piracy can be here.
One of the world’s hottest conflicts lies just across the Gulf of Aden, in Yemen. Meanwhile, instability and terror in Somalia can spread beyond neighbouring countries. Further conflict and uncertainty in Somalia risks the entire region becoming a magnet for crime and lawlessness.
The gradual entrenchment of the democratic process has required earning the trust of Somalia’s people at different levels. Hard yards have gone into showing that divergent clan interests can be accommodated in a national government that works for the benefit of all. Allowing conflict to flare up again will break the people’s trust in the government, and ruin this delicate balance. It could take years to recover.
With a landmark election on the horizon, now is not the time for the international community to pull back its commitment to Somalia. We must continue to support the critical work of AMISOM, and commit to the future of Somalia – for the benefit of the humankind, free and peaceful interaction in the eastern Africa region, and, above all, the Somali people.
* H.E Ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira is the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission for Somalia and Head of AMISOM