AMISOM and an Approaching 2021 : Is Somalia Prepared?

Photo Credit: Photographer Ilyas Ahmed for AMISOM.

In March 2019, it was unanimously decided by the United Nations Security Council that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) would maintain its deployment and reduce uniformed personnel by 1000, in conformity with the prevailing plan to steadily transfer these responsibilities to existing Somali security forces. Resolution 2492 (2019) therefore authorises this reduction, allowing a maximum of 19, 626 AMISOM personnel by 28 February 2020. As the end of AMISOM’s mission is approaching in 2021, prioritised tasks for the mission include, as previously mentioned, the gradual handover of security responsibilities to Somali forces and reducing the threat posed by the Al-Shabaab.

Moreover, the Security Council authorised other key tasks to be achieved before 2021: the securing of key supply routes to areas recovered by Al-Shabaab, the conducting of ‘targeted offensive operations’ in support of the transition plan and assisting the Government of Somalia in the implementation of a total ban on charcoal exports. However, the Council has also expressed grave concerns for the ongoing humanitarian situation, namely the conflict and sexual violence that civilians continue to be victims of. It is recognised that AMISOM cannot remain in Somalia forever, and with the mission set to end in 2021, a fundamental question is provoked: is Somalis ready for AMISOM’s departure?

To provide a concise context, it is necessary to reiterate that AMISOM was established in Somalia as a regional peacekeeping mission between the African Union and the United Nations. Created by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in January 2007, AMISOM had an initial mandate of six months. Fast forward to August 2017, the United Nations Security Council had issued a new resolution where the security responsibilities would be shifted gradually from AMISOM to the Somali security forces ‘continent on [the] abilities of the Somalis security forces and political and security progress in Somalia’.

The Al-Shabaab, also known as “The Youth”, are commonly known as an Islamist ‘insurgent group’ with its base in Somalia. The group has claimed their allegiance to other known terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda, and are responsible for several massive attacks throughout Somalia as well as neighbouring countries.

Though the foundational objective of the Al-Shabaab has been debated by professionals of various backgrounds, Bronwyn Bruton of the Atlantic Council has stated that the ‘unifying idea of Al-Shabaab is opposition to the Western-backed government.’ It is also stated that the group’s main aim is to establish an Islamic State in Somalia. The group is known to possess harsh interpretations of Sharia law, headed by the current leader, Ahmed Umar (also known as Abu Ubaidah), the ‘emir’, or ‘prince’. To fund their operations, the Al-Shabaab has engaged in the illicit charcoal trade that has brought over $7.5 million USD per annum, notwithstanding the United Nations ban on charcoal in effect since 2012.

The United States’ has been long concerned with Somalia potentially becoming a country where terrorist groups find ‘refuge’ in to plot attacks to the United States or to ‘destabilise’ the Horn of Africa. Furthermore, another core concern is the Al-Shabaab’s recruitment of the Somali diaspora residing in the United States. It has been found that many Americans, predominantly from Minneapolis, Minnesota, have volunteered themselves to fighting for the Al-Shabaab in Somalia. This aforementioned fact coupled with the Al-Shabaab’s enduring presence and recruitment in Somalia are cause enough for concern of the Somalia’s security personnel’s ability to handle the situation on their own in a little over a year from now. Shrinking resources certainly are of no help to them in confronting this issue themselves, come the end of AMISOM’s mandated involvement December 2021.

In addition to the physical and military power, the sheer logistical concerns of Somalia’s availability of security forces in states other than the capital of Mogadishu are alarming. In select regions where AMISOM will no longer hold presence, no security forces exist and therefore will have to be ‘built from scratch’– a time and energy consuming task.

With reports stating that the Al-Shabaab remains in control of approximately 20% of Somalia, this transition of security measures from AMISOM uniformed personnel to the Somali security forces has been observed to be a point of vulnerability, where it is feared that the Al-Shabaab may use this transitory period to their advantage in carrying out more deadly attacks. Just in late March 2019, the Al-Shabaab carried out a deadly attack at a Ministry building in Mogadishu, claiming over 15 lives. It was noted that though the group has been pushed out of former major strongholds, attacks such as these demonstrate that they remain capable of carrying out massive violence and sending the capital into a state of fear and instability.

To establish any surety in the Somali security force’s capability to handle the Al-Shabaab and overall instability in the country as of December 2021, the current transition plan can consider shifting its major focus to building a stronger Somali security force presence, as well as a re-evaluation of the transition priorities to perhaps add more pressing concerns.

Famine and Terror: A Warning from Africa’s Sahel Region

The village of Siédougou in Burkina Faso, at the forefront of the Sahel’s climate crisis.

They say the way to a person’s heart is through her (sic) stomach. That may be true because when food runs out hearts turn sour. With climate change’s breakneck pace, food supplies across the globe are in peril. If communities lose the ability to feed themselves then famine results, threatening social stability. We have seen how terrorism fights for a foothold in such cases, intent to capitalize on the discontent.

The Sahel region in Africa is an excellent example. The 3,300-mile swath of land in northern Africa is experiencing rapid desertification. This has plunged it into a state of extreme food insecurity. 20 million of the region’s residents – including 5 million malnourished children – face potential starvation due to the increasingly inhospitable climate. As people starve, conflict and tribalism emerge. Regional stability is destroyed and thousands of lives are lost.

As people starve, conflict and tribalism emerge. Terrorists exploit this state of affairs. Organizations like Al Shabab and Al Qaeda spill across borders from Mauritania to Sudan.

In the Sahel, where jobs are scarce and subsistence farming is becoming impossible, young people are unemployed. Starving, and desperate for something to do, terrorism offers purpose and income. Terrorists exploit this state of affairs, recruiting young people with the promise of food and wages for them and their families.

Massive numbers of young recruits have swollen the ranks of Al Shabab, Al Qaeda, and others across the Sahel. The organizations end up spilling across national borders from Mauritania to Sudan. The region has become a figurative tinderbox, ready to explode.

French troops on patrol during Operation Serval in Mali, 2013.

French troops on patrol during Operation Serval in Mali, 2013.

The Sahel is one example of the link between extreme climate and extremist ideology. As the Earth warms and our climate further destabilizes the correlation will surely become more conspicuous. Desertification is extremely difficult to reverse, inspiring the UN to call it the greatest environmental challenge of our time. One-third of the Earth’s population may be at risk, threatening food and social instability like we’ve seen in the Sahel.

One-third of the Earth’s population may be at risk. If even a fraction of those affected seeks shelter in the ranks of terrorist organizations, the world will face an epidemic.

If even a fraction of those affected seeks shelter from the instability in the ranks of terrorist organizations, then the world will face a legitimate epidemic within as well as beyond the borders of those regions initially affected.

It is too late to reverse climate change. It is unrealistic to advocate for policies extreme enough to reverse desertification (most countries don’t even meet emissions targets). However, we can avoid the extremism associated with climate change through developmental reform. By changing peoples’ reactions to warming climates we can mitigate their turning to terrorist organizations for survival.

Better jobs for the good of the community, microloans, and sustainable farming can help stem harm.

Development is the solution that will stem the tide of extremism. Paul Melly, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, explains how causes of regional conflict in desertification zones like the Sahel can be boiled down to, “…poverty, lack of economic options, and resultant frustration.”

But the international community can help give these people options. Governments, NGOs and the private sector can ensure those who want it can get the education they need. This can lead to better jobs doing work people enjoy for the good of their community rather than tearing it asunder. Surely microloans, sharing means of sustainable farming, and helping develop irrigation systems can help stem harm. These are all alternative solutions to very real problems in rapidly desertifying regions, at least in the short-term.

Hearing locals when they explain how we can help them address the causes of their frustration is a surefire way to show them there are options other than joining terrorist groups. In so doing, the international community has the power to save lives, stop war, and make the world a safer place in the long run.