By Fuad Abdirahman
10 years ago, the United Nations Security Council authorised the deployment of a peacekeeping mission in support of then Somalia’s Transitory Federal Institutions (TFIs). Initially, the mission was given a mandate of only six months, but a decade later because of several but necessary extensions, according to both Amisom and the Kenya Defence Forces. At the time of deploying the troops, their duty was to “to support a national reconciliation congress and submit a report within 60 days on a possible United Nations Peacekeeping Mission.”
Part of the Amisom (African Mission in Somalia) role in Somalia was to “facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and create necessary conditions for the reconstruction and sustainable development of Somalia.” To date, this has not been achieved; Al-Shabaab continues to kidnap aid workers and have banned agencies from operating in Somalia. When they noticed no one was even trying to stop them, they began to force “friendly” aid agencies to pay monies to the group in order to access the victims of droughts in the areas they control.
With 120 months of presence of AU forces in the turbulent horn of Africa nation, most part of Somalia is still held by Al-Shabaab forces. According to the UN, the group is still powerful; it reported in 2016 that al-Shabaab is capable of carrying out large-scale attacks. “Contrary to prevailing narratives of successful counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism efforts, the monitoring group assesses that the security situation has not improved in Somalia,” the UN report warned.
The group, on a monthly basis, carries out high-scale attacks in the capital Mogadishu, and other major cities. Al-Shabaab was forced out of the city in 2011 by Somali National Alliance, with the help of Amisom forces, but despite the Somali government and Amisom having “full control” of the capital, the group has successfully executed six attacks in a single year. Major targets are hotels, military camps, government institutions and crowded markets.
African Union troops have also lost hundreds of soldiers in a well co-ordinated attacks carried out in Mogadishu and other places inside Somalia.
“The group is an immediate threat to peace and security in Somalia and continues to be a destabilising force in the broader east and Horn of Africa region,” adds the 2016 report sent to the UN Security Council.
The report further states that Al Shabaab forces mean to carry out more sophisticated attacks, citing the explosion of a laptop in a Daloo airliner in the early days of 2016. The airport is one of the places highly fortified by foreign troops and the Somali troops, but the group managed to sneak an explosive gadget. The group has also regularly made cross-border attacks in neighbouring Kenya, where scores of civilians and security officers have been killed. The border town of Mandera has also witnessed a surge in terror attacks targeting non-local (non-Muslim) civilians.
Al Shabaab controls large swathes in the horn of Africa. Even with some towns “liberated” from the militia, people in such towns are still vulnerable, as they are not protected from he terror group. This is the case in Kulbiyow – which Amisom forces has been controlling for years now – that was recently attack, and where scores of troops died.
Daudo, a freelance journalist who covers conflict in Somalia, describes this as “mouse and cat game,” – where one side, either Al-Shabaab or Amisom, withdraws hours before the other takes over.
When the Al-Shabaab moves, they do with their entire arsenal, which gives them the capacity to quickly reorganise and launch mobile attacks. Daudo says there has never been any follow-up or pursuit on the militiamen by Amisom whenever they have withdrawn from a place.
The people of Somalia have lost confidence in AU troops, while Amisom proudly claims to “foster political dialogue and reconciliation”. True, it is reconciliation that is needed in the war-ravaged country, but Amisom forces have been doing exactly the opposite.
A Member of Parliament of Jubaland, an autonomous region in Southern Somalia, who spoke to the Nairobi Law Monthly on condition that his names is not published, complains that Amisom forces favour some clans and accuse others of supporting the militia, thereby disenfranchising the “unlucky” clans in many ways.
Amongst the Somali people, Kenyan forces are seen to have “invaded” Somalia rather than gone peacefully with African Union approval Somalia with AU approval. Accordingly, the intentions of the KDF cannot be trusted as being in the best interests of the Somalia.
But Kenya’s military disagrees that Kenya entered Somalia territory illegally, or that KDF has overstayed its welcome and mandate. Colonel J Owuoth is in charge of public affairs at the Ministry of Defence. He says:
“All the extensions of mandate have been based on considerations of realities in Somalia, and with the support of the Federal Government of Somalia. KDF, just like Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Burundi forces are in Somalia under the AMISOM Umbrella.”
At the time of Kenya entry into Somalia, a row emerged between Nairobi and Mogadishu as the latter claimed they had not been consulted in what Kenya called “securing its eastern border and creating a buffer zone inside Somalia”. If anything, none of these objectives have been achieved, which only adds to the suspicion.
According to former deputy speaker Farah Maalim, “Some countries, whose contingents are serving in Amisom, are the real perpetrators of terrorism in Somalia.”
The AU troops are seen oppressors of the people of Somalia, with frequent claims that KDF and Amisom airstrikes have often targeted civilians in crowded areas. This is a position supported by some, including Journalists for Justice, a non-partisan project administratively hosted by the International Commission of Jurists says.
“JFJ audited 11 airstrikes by Kenyan forces and found that, contrary to government claims of al-Shabaab targets destroyed, dozens of victims recounted the targeting of civilian villages, water-points and livestock,” a JFJ report compiled last year said. Such attacks have eroded local support for foreign forces.
Col. Owuoth dismisses this reporting as “unfortunate, biased and unethical” and “meant to discredit KDF and misinform the international community and the Somalia populace.”
“The KDF,” the colonel asserts, “adheres to comprehensive best practices and standard operating procedures and a strict code of conduct and discipline, in the discharge of its obligations to the international peace and security efforts.”
KDF says its operations in Somalia are guided by Amisom rules of engagement, including International Humanitarian Law and the African Union Peace Support Operations Code of Conduct, and that they exercise maximum restraint, only carrying out operations against terrorists after “comprehensive strategic targeting processes.” Still, the locals continue to grumble.
In another instance, it is reported that Amisom troops, in December last year, bombarded a minibus full of civilians, whom they “mistook” for militia. All aboard were massacred. The families of the victims are yet to be compensated, despite promises to do so.
Civil Society organisations, local monitor bodies and the JFJ also say that foreign troops, with the blessing of African Union and the international community, continue to engage in illegal charcoal trade. In a damning report by the JFJ last year, Amisom was charging $2 (Sh210) per bag to facilitate safe passage to target destinations. UN monitoring groups estimates put at close to 6 million the number of bags transported from the port annually from Kismayu and Buur Gaabo.
A similar report about the role of Amisom in illicit trade that, in turn, aided the group, was released in 2015. The report estimated that close to $400 million worth of sugar and charcoal smuggling business had occurred under the watch of Amisom.
The report read, “Workers at the Port in Kismayo said around 230 trucks of 14 tons each leave Kismayo for Kenya – which is around 3,000 tons a week.”
The monthly allowance for AU troops exceeds $1000 (Sh100,000) us dollars, while SNA troops receive a paltry $100 (Sh10,000). Security commentators offer that if Somali soldiers were paid what foreign troops are paid, perhaps the situation in Somalia would be much better.
KDF is categorical that is untrue. Such assertions, it insists, are unfounded, as confirmed by Boards of Inquiry by KDF and by Amisom confirming no truth to such wild assertions.
Notes Col Owuoth, “KDF’s entry into Somalia was a game changer and efforts to isolate KDF should be seen as a bigger plan to weaken the success of African forces in Somalia to the advantage of those interested in the status quo. In light of this, it is important to critically evaluate all reports insinuating or alleging there have been no gains made by KDF or Amisom, or that there is war profiteering in Somalia by African Forces.”
“Reports alleging KDF’s involvement in the charcoal and sugar trade in Kismayu deliberately fail to acknowledge that the KDF neither control the sea port, nor are they charged with the management of the Kismayu harbour. The port is managed and supervised by a committee established by the Federal Government of Somalia and Jubaland Administration.
In any event, he concludes, “it should be noted that Kenya has made appeals for a comprehensive resolution to the charcoal issue in Kismayu, but her presentations have fallen on deaf ears.”