Professional and well-equipped armed forces fundamental to Somalia’s renaissance

“Building peace is every bit as difficult and important as defeating tyranny”

Stakeholders from various parts of the world will gather in London to consider how they could collectively play their part in rebuilding the Somali National Army. They will do so against a backdrop that serves as a stark reminder of the importance of “follow through” in global foreign policy. There are a multitude of views as to the rights and wrongs of what has happened in countries such as Iraq and Libya, and indeed what has and hasn’t happened in Syria, but a consistent lesson learned is that building peace is every bit as difficult and important as defeating tyranny. The breakdown of nationhood and the challenge of re-building a failed state are graphically on display in Somalia. Ironically however, the rest of the world might care to take a longer look at Somalia, for amongst all the fragmentation and subsequent problems of the post Barre years, out of the wreckage has emerged a unity of action and spirit which other regions such as the Middle East might seek to replicate. AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia, has sought to provide an “African Solution to an African Problem”, and this year it has enjoyed some considerable success. In 2 major military operations targeting the Al-Qaeeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab, African Union forces have made significant progress, and fundamental to their strategy has been to work with a gradually rejuvenating Somali National Army. First Operation Eagle, and just this month Operation Indian Ocean, have seen the extremists in full retreat and driven out of the strongholds they had previously occupied, using them as bases to inflict a regime of dictatorial brutality on a broken and famine threatened people.Whilst the support of international partners in operations such as that which 2 weeks ago saw the death of Al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane is essential, ultimately Somalia needs permanent and home based security. Operation Indian Ocean is ongoing and will see further co-operation between Somali National Army and AMISOM forces. Our troops are in action together again this week. Crucial to the long-term success of the Mission is leaving in place a SNA that can keep the peace when the peacekeepers have departed.
AMISOM brings together under a unified command troops provided by Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sierra Leona and Uganda, supported by police and civil affairs personnel drawn from more than a dozen other African countries. Recognised in international law by the United Nations Security Council and mandated by the African Union, the AMISOM force has demonstrated a unity and resolve to be saluted. But throughout the Mission, there is a clear understanding that winning the peace is every bit as important as winning the war.
Whilst the people of Somalia may well continue to face an asymmetric terrorist threat for years to come, as an increasingly desperate Al-Shabaab seek to reprise spectacles such as the Westgate Mall massacre of last September in Nairobi, there must also be an acknowledgement that Al-Shabaab style extremism is a problem that goes way beyond the borders of Somalia, or indeed just the Horn of Africa. Indeed with organisations such as ISIS threatening to “export” Jihad into countries such as the US, the UK, France and Germany, it is clear to see that this is a problem the world must face together. Both the Russians and the Chinese have their own Islamic separatist issues to deal with and just 2 weeks back an Al-Qaeeda/IS affiliate reared its’ head in India. The world must stand together to confront these issues, and it is worth noting that whatever problems and challenges the AMISOM Mission may face, there is clear purpose of hope, unity and aspirations.
This need to stand together is confirmed not only by the continued unanimous support of the UN Security Council and the world community, but also by the continued donor support that Somalia receives from a wide variety of sources. Recent military advances must not however precipitate any reduction in support; many battles have been won but elements of the war are ongoing. The international community must continue to play its part, and indeed there are areas where even more help must be forthcoming. In military terms, the provision of force enablers and multipliers, in particular combat helicopters, would make a huge difference. The sacrifice of the AU Troop Contributing Countries has been selfless in the extreme – whilst the world outside Africa has paid primarily in other form of resources for which we most appreciate, in Africa the price of the pursuit of peace has sadly too often been paid for with the lives of brave young AU soldiers. That contribution must not be in vain and the spirit is humbling.
The biggest single signpost on the road to a re-built Somalia will surely be the elections scheduled for 2016. The reality is that ultimately Somalia’s challenges require a political solution. Only through re-building Government, and all the institutions that accompany it, can a real peace be seen to happen. And ultimately that can only happen when Somalia can stand on her own two feet again – with all the different ingredients that entails. And in a country plagued by violent conflict for the last 20 plus years, the most essential ingredient of all is security. Life cannot return to normal, elections cannot take place, without people feeling secure. In Mali, and more recently in Afghanistan, the world has witnessed what can be achieved through the ballot box – neither scenario perfect, but both a sure-fire improvement on what went before. Delivery of that increased feeling of security must ultimately come from Somali solders, Somali police officers, Somali Intelligence services and other security agencies. That is why so much of the AMISOM effort is devoted to working with their Somali counterparts, training, equipping and mentoring them as part of the critical mandate for AMISOM.
And that is what brought us to London last week (September 17). The UK Government has been at the forefront of delivering much of what has brought hope to the people of Somalia. And with 2016 and indeed the “New Deal for Somalia” in sight, now is no time for the world to take its’ foot off the peace throttle. Professional armed forces, properly trained, uniformed, equipped and paid, are fundamental to Somalia’s renaissance. Let us hope we can all leave London with a clear idea of not just what is needed, but when and how it will actually be delivered.