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Somalia: To Intervene or Not

Institute of Security Studies (Pretoria)
by Henri Boshoff
Sunday, August 22, 2010

On 23 July 2010, just before the African Union Summit in Kampala, the AU Commission Chairperson Jean Ping said that he had asked countries such as South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea to send troops to Somalia to boost the currently under-strength African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This announcement came against the background of the Somali group al-Shabaab's suicide attacks in Kampala that claimed the lives of 76 people, and increased attacks on Ugandan and Burundian troops in Mogadishu.

It remains an open to question whether the countries now being approached by Jean Ping will be willing to deploy troops to Somalia, especially given the deeply unstable situation in the city. AMISOM was first deployed in 2007 to protect the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in the Somali capital, but has failed to stabilise the country and has been involved in daily gun battles and artillery exchanges with al-Shabaab. More offensive operations against the insurgents have been ruled out both by the AMISOM mandate and the shortage of capable and adequately equipped forces. Even the Ethiopian troops deployed prior to the AMISOM mission failed to deal conclusively with militant opposition to the TFG. Like the Ethiopians before them, African Union soldiers from Uganda and Burundi have inflicted thousands of civilian casualties by indiscriminately shelling neighborhoods in Mogadishu. Because of an absence of a tangible peace process including all the role players, reinforcing AMISOM but leaving it an inferior mandate will be a failure.

Parallels could be drawn with the Afghanistan situation where the United States and NATO countries have been involved in fighting the Taliban since 2001. The recent surge of United States and NATO forces (Coalition Forces) has had perverse results; instead of stabilising the situation and bolstering the legitimacy of the Afghanistan government, attacks on the Coalition Forces and government structures have increased. The excessive use of force and killing of civilians in attacks and counter-attacks have played into the hands of the Taliban, turning more of the population against the Coalition Forces. As a result the Coalition command has had to rethink its strategy to include constructive engagement with the Taliban. The question

Simply increasing AMISOM's size is unlikely to succeed unless accompanied by a political solution. The Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia in support of the TFG from December 2006 to January 2009 provides a lesson to be heeded. Despite heavy reinforcements their support of the TFG exacerbated the government's lack of local credibility and legitimacy.

What has changed? Why would a surge of troops stabilise the situation now? The first reaction by the South African Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, Ms. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, to the AU's request for South Africa to send troops was that Somalia's is a political problem and that deploying military forces in isolation will not be the solution. It seems that is not only the position of South Africa but also that of other African leaders. South Africa has in the past acted in terms of the country's White Paper on Peacekeeping when requested to deploy into a conflict area and it is likely that this will be the case again.

The AU must relook the situation holistically and not only increase force levels but again try and to put in place an all-inclusive political solution. This will ensure that a peacekeeping mission will have a clear mandate linked to political objectives and an exit strategy

 Henri Boshoff, Head Peace Missions Programme., ISS Pretoria