Somalia: Uncertain future as AMISOM transitions to ATMIS

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Friday, 1 April 2022 19:07, updated on Saturday, 2 April 2022 01:15

Ugandan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia walk near the scene of a suicide explosion targeting the AMISOM convoy in Mogadishu
Ugandan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) walk near the scene of a suicide explosion targeting the AMISOM convoy in Mogadishu, Somalia November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

1 April is fool’s day, a day for pranks, but in Somalia, it's the first day of the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) that is replacing the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The latter ends its mission with no funds to celebrate its success or to officially launch the new mission, a diplomat tells The Africa Report.

The new mission was approved by the UN security council on Thursday 31 March hours  before it came into effect. Under the new mission which expires in two years, Somalia security forces will take a lead role in the country’s security. However, the new mission hasn’t secured funds.

The hopes for the African Union to secure funds to run ATMIS from alternative sources such as China, Russia, Middle Eastern countries and the UN waned months ago.

The EU had funded more than 90% of AMISOM’s budget. Therefore, until the EU approves funding, ATMIS remains cash-strapped.

New force under EU’s conditions

“The EU, I am told is suggesting to give a very small fraction of the support they have been giving which was initially close to about $300m on emoluments per annum,” a diplomat at African Union who did not want to be named because he is not authorised to speak tells The Africa Report.

Sources tell The Africa Report that the conditions the EU has set includes elimination of the police force and civilian employees from the new mission and reduction of troops by 4,000 before the end of this year. AMISOM had about 1000 police personnel as well as some 100 civilian employees. There are currently about 19,000 soldiers from troop-contributing countries in Somalia. This means the force will be scaled down to 15,000 as per the EU demand.

If the new mission goes according to plan and is a success, Omar Mahmood, International Crisis Group Somalia expert, says it will need a financing guarantee. In situations where specific amounts are not possible to determine, Mahmood tells The Africa Report that ATMIS should be given a range of available funding.

“The mission now runs the risk of coming up with a plan, having that endorsed by all the relevant parties and then having to adjust it if it cannot find the right financial support,” he says.

AMISOM’s success, drawbacks

First approved as a six month mandate by the UN security council in 2007, AMISOM has since lasted 15 years. The mission’s continued support came as result of its successes especially in the early years: pushing al-Shabaab terrorists out of the capital Mogadishu, as well as many other parts of the country.

The paradox is that AMISOM has not been a popular force in Somalia, even though many will begrudgingly admit it is still needed,.

As the clock ticked to its end, AMISOM began sharing on social media nostalgic successes of its service over the years such as: football being played under floodlights in Mogadishu for the first time since the outbreak of the war; FIFA holding its first training in Somalia after more than two decades; international flights returning to Mogadishu airport in 2012.

From 2017, AMISOM started reducing the number of soldiers as the EU slashed its budget support. Also, among a section of Somali politicians AMISOM had become unpopular. Somalia’s president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed ‘Farmaajo’ has often expressed support for AMISOM’s withdrawal. According to the government road map, AMISOM soldiers should have been out by the end of last year.

“The paradox is that AMISOM has not been a popular force in Somalia, even though many will begrudgingly admit it is still needed,” Mahmood says.

Within Somalia’s security circles, many felt that more money was being spent on AMISOM rather than on them. The Somali army  is making unequivocal demands that more funds should go to them.

The security forces of Somalia are not ready and won’t be ready in the next 5-10 years…The gap that will be left by AMISOM will be irreplaceable.

“We request for more logistical support for the Somali National Army for its independent military operations, aside from the joint operations,” Somalia National Army Chief of Defence Forces (CDF), General Odowa Yusuf Rage said on 18 March after the conclusion of a weeklong conference discussing the transition to ATMIS.

Al-Shabaab’s comeback?

However, al-Shabaab has remained a palpable threat: holding onto parts of Somalia in Jubaland, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle and Galmudug as well as continuing to carry out terrorist attacks including in Mogadishu. A recent uptick of attacks has raised fears that the security situation could worsen for Somalis and ATMIS soldiers.

For ATMIS soldiers, the diplomat ponders a scenario whereby as the number of soldiers from contributing countries reduces drastically, those remaining are left to face a more lethal and highly motivated al-Shabaab as the unprepared Somali army takes over areas handed over to them.

“The security forces of Somalia are not ready and won’t be ready in the next 5-10 years,” the diplomat says. “The gap that will be left by AMISOM will be irreplaceable.”

Politics is the problem

Somalia’s federal parliamentary election, which precedes its presidential one, has been delayed for almost two years. After numerous  delays, the parliamentarian polls are nearing completion now, as the Somali Minister of Finance told The Africa Report.

But Somalis must now turn their attention to the security transition, Mahmood says. The election cycle that has “polarised the nation and distracted security forces” must be concluded. “That is something the Somali political elite must resolve in order to advance,” he adds.

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