The Regional Economic Dimensions of a Peaceful Somalia


Since the total collapse  of General Ziad Barre’s regime in 1991, Somalia was a failed state, and fell  prey  to trigger-happy factions of clan-based   warlords and remained without any credible central government for a long time.  Particularly, in the last five years, Somalia became a safe-haven of regional and international Islamic radicals and terrorist groups who successfully managed to control  very large  swaths of the country.
As a result, the country became a launching pad  for subversive and terrorist acts   by Al-Qaida affiliated Islamic terrorist groups  like   Al-Shabaab against  neighboring countries. The radical Islamic group  Al-Shabaab is   a serious national security threat to the region. Al-shabaab’s series of direct terrorist attacks forced countries in the region like Ethiopia to unilaterally intervene militarily to avert the security threat. Similarly, the security problem posed by  Al-Shabaab resulted in the political and military interventions of  regional and continental  entities such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union.  The African Union dispatched a  military contingent under UN Missions in Somalia (AMISOM)  for missions of peacekeeping and peacemaking.  The Ethiopian, Kenyan and AMISOM forces’ military offensives forced the Al-Shabaab to withdraw its forces from Mogadishu, and very recently, from Somalia’s second city, Kismayu.
Acknowledging the role of a peaceful Somalia in the security and economic development of the region, Ethiopia, one of the prominent political players of the region, time and again, reaffirmed its commitment to extend its helping hand for the sustainability of the current peace in Somalia. The reasons for entry into Somalia, by each of the leading actors that have helped to stabilize the Horn of Africa country, vary. What is more important, however, is not their entry;  it is rather the timing and style of their exit.  The recent newfound relative peace and stability of Somalia  gave rise to the issue of reviving the regional economy and the exit strategy of the countries involved in Somalia’s conflict.   Among these countries, the discussions and the debates are intense, particularly in Uganda. 
So what is the exit strategy of the east African countries of Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi from Somalia? Will they leave with a swagger, or will they stumble out? And more importantly, with what economic benefits will they depart? These are the questions that geopolitical analysts are asking, now that the military job of pacifying Mogadishu is almost done. And many strongly believe  that, with the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president [elected on September 10],  the country’s long and tortuous transition is as good as over.
Despite having been in conflict for more than two decades, the recent discovery of oil and other minerals has sparked interest among countries in the region. Somalia has uranium, and largely unexploited deposits of iron ore, tin, gypsum, bauxite, copper, salt and natural gas. Regional political  and economic analysts argue  that the questions are even more relevant for Uganda, which has made a habit of fighting wars around the Great Lakes Region to liberate other countries, but is often left bruised economically, not to mention the cost to  human life that it incurs.
Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and now Somalia, come to mind, when mentioning Uganda’s involvement in that region, but it also played a part in campaigns against the  apartheid and racist regimes of South Africa and Mozambique. According to analysts, by contrast, Kenya, which has not always pursued the military option, until last October when it shot its way into the Somali conflict, ends up reaping the economic benefits of pacifying these countries.
In short, Kenya has a plan, and the economic muscle to execute it once the guns go quiet. Simon Mulongo, a Ugandan legislator, explained that there are two reasons a country takes part in a war in another country: To occupy and to extract. When you look at the manner in which Uganda has gone about this, it is simply joking around. To serve a mission of stabilization is not an end in itself.
A number of countries from the region have strategic interests in Somalia that are at odds with each other, even though they have come together under the umbrella of the AMISOM, to defeat Al Shabaab and stabilize the country. Security analysts said that for the East African countries that form the backbone of AMISOM, Burundi, Kenya and Uganda, and their Ethiopian allies, the gains and the defeat of Al Shabaab in central Somalia have brought fresh hope.  At this point, the desires of the regional partners are also worth considering. As a group, the regional partners want a strong central government that will permanently end the Al Shabaab threat, chase foreign terrorists from Somali soil, curb piracy, and end the insecurity that has plagued the region since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991. But individually, they have personal interests at stake.
According to the regional political economy analysts, Uganda has the biggest troop contingent in Somalia and wants to see continuity in leadership, while Djibouti knows only too well that the factors that destabilized Somalia could destabilize it too. As such, stability in Somalia means stability in Djibouti.  For Kenya, an illicit parallel trade network worth millions of dollars thrives between Nairobi’s Eastleigh estate and Mogadishu. Kenya hopes that a legitimate government and stability in Somalia will help formalize this parallel economic system. Ethiopia,  for its part, has been in conflict with Somalia for years, so stability there  would aid its own national security. The US main interest is to ensure Somalia is no longer a launching pad for terrorists.
Simon Mulongo, who is vice chair of the Ugandan Parliamentary Committee  on Defense and Internal Affairs, as well as a former director of the regional Eastern African Standby Brigade, argues that Uganda will leave Somalia nursing economic bruises. He explained that Uganda’s budget for air defense and ground troops runs into the millions of dollars without any return.
Unlike the African Union and IGAD, several military critics have argued that it does not help that the UN Security Council remains muted on the deadline for the withdrawal of the Ugandan and Burundian forces that have been in Somalia longest, at least since 2007 in the case of Uganda. According to them, Kenya, on the other hand, has a target to pacify Kismayu, and a deadline within which to end its Somalia mission. They indicate that although the Kenya Defense Forces are now part of AMISOM, Kenya has an “invisible deadline” to be out of Somalia by March 2013, before its General Election.
Ugandan politician Aggrey Awori, who served in President Yoweri Museveni’s cabinet between 2009 and 2011, stated that Uganda should also have a deadline now,  or should have given one before.  According to him, Uganda should not try to get into the local politics and issues of good governance, otherwise Uganda will  be bogged down by a situation similar  to the one Americans are facing in the Middle East.
According to Kenyan economists, the insurgent Al Shabaab militia can only resort to guerrilla tactics that most likely will not mercantile interests once Kismayu falls, and with Mogadishu already secured, Kenya’s economy will be better off. For starters, Kenya shares a common border with Somalia, and even before stability returns to the whole country, Kenya Airways is already talking up flight schedules from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Mogadishu. As per their explanation, once regular air transport starts, the major drivers of Kenya’s economy, banks, insurance firms, oil companies and transport services will open shop in Somalia, pretty much the way they moved into South Sudan following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, to dominate the country’s corporate setup.
“Did we have any grand plan beyond gun powder? None, whatsoever. In missions like these, you fight and then dominate the market. But what does Uganda have to take there? One plane should have taken soldiers into Somalia and the next delivered rice from Uganda for the Somalis to buy,” says the Ugandan politician Aggrey Awori. He adds that President Museveni likes to play his cards close to his chest when it comes to Uganda’s withdrawal plan. This whole enterprise was left to the men in uniform, but there is no business plan.
Ugandan media outlets recently complained loudly, as if to dismiss talk of Uganda’s failure to follow up on its military success with economic domination, that President Museveni named veteran economist Prof. Sam Tulya-Muhika as Uganda’s envoy to Mogadishu, to be deputized by former AMISOM commander Major General Nathan Mugisha.
The last important question  to ask here is; who else will benefit from the Somali crisis? Well, a recent executive order from US President Barack Obama states, “Somalia constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the US.” Nordic countries are the ones supplying water to the Somalis, while other European states, including Turkey and the United Kingdom, have named ambassadors to Mogadishu.
The European Union  established its Somalia Unit inside its delegation office in Kenya long ago. Through its European Union Training Mission, the EU has, since 2010, spent €7.2 million ($9.27 million) on training and building the Somali National Army’s capacity to work towards stabilizing the country as a means to protect the European bloc’s long term interests.
Then, the rations of AMISOM troops are supplied by the US Company Halliburton, a logistics company that is associated with former US Vice President Dick Cheney. Among other places, Halliburton has operated in the conflict hotspots of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Somali lesson is history repeating itself as it did in Congo, when Ugandan troops returned home in the early 2000s with only Congolese wives, to show for years of misadventure in that country, since mid 1998 to be exact.
Plunder has at all times and places been a result of war, but in Uganda’s case, it is the senior officers who have anything to show for it, when they finally exit. Countries that wield economic power, on the other hand, will avoid Uganda’s mistake of going into a conflict with no exit plan.