The solution to Somalia’s problems will be a good model for continent

Saturday October 11 2014

By FRED OLUOCH, The EastAfrican

Amisom’s deputy head of mission LYDIA WANYOTO MUTENDE was in Nairobi recently for a workshop themed: Somalia Towards 2016 and Beyond, at the invitation of the Institute of Security Studies.

FRED OLUOCH spoke with her on Amisom’s recent gains and its future role once the Al Shabaab militia are defeated, as well as preparations towards Somalia’s 2016 elections.

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Since the start of the year, Amisom has liberated a number of towns, including Barawe — the last major port held by al Shabaab. Would it be accurate to conclude that these gains are because the militia group is weakening or has Amisom changed its tactics?

It is both. From January to April this year, we have been able to map out al Shabaab training centres and escape routes. Since August, we have been running the “Operation Indian Ocean” to cut off the militia group’s supply routes. That has helped because the group’s biggest strength were the open routes for supplies. 

Equally, when the militia group lost its leader, the fighters’ morale started to wane. Every time we captured a town, the militia became demoralised and took off.

What is your view on the progress towards Somalia’s 2016 elections?

A conference is planned for November in Copenhagen to review the roadmap towards the country’s elections. Elections, like governance and service delivery, are the responsibility of a government and, therefore, we want Mogadishu to give us the way forward. The roadmap will give an idea of where the country wants to go and how stakeholders can support it. 

So far the government has come up with the “New Deal,” in which it is working on building blocks for a federal arrangement. Parliament is also working on critical Bills to govern the electoral process.

Top on the agenda is to get a constitution before the election. What are the main challenges?

The government has to put in place a clear framework for elections, including setting up an independent electoral body and constitutional commission.
But the main challenge is the issue of inclusiveness and balance due to the country’s history of strong clan affiliations.

The challenge is who should be included and who should be left out. If a commission is too large, it will raise management problems and if it is too small, it will exclude some clans.

Given the challenges facing the country, is there a possibility that elections may not be held on schedule?

As the African Union, we are trying as much as possible to support the government. Again, the support from the international community in terms of funding, increased international flights and remittance from Somalis in the diaspora are indications of major improvements and trust in the country’s governance and commitment to keeping the peace. Our hope is that Somalia will realise its dream of holding elections in 2016. 

At some point, Amisom was hesitant about capturing more territories because the government did not have the capacity to establish local administration to fill the vacuum. How are you dealing with the challenge?

We have been working closely with the government with a lot of support from the international community. For example, the UN is supporting a number of projects including schools and boreholes.

Equally, Amisom’s resources have also increased, and this has enabled the government of Somalia to train and recruit its nationals. We are also running a robust campaign for Somali professionals who are in the diaspora to return home as they are exposed to better ideologies about life and statehood.

The government was previously uncomfortable about establishing a regional administration as per the federal interim constitution. What has changed?

The Somali people have agreed to talk. They have agreed to give and take with inclusiveness as the guiding principle. Because of the clan arrangements, most of the disagreements were arising from the feeling that some clans were being marginalised, but we are encouraging them to negotiate rather than fight and give room for al Shabaab to return.

The biggest challenge in Jubba- land was that every former warlord had a militia for protection and we had to assure each one of them that they would be secure and that they would be included in the arrangements before they agreed to work with us.

Speaking of the Jubbaland talks, it took us two full months before the residents agreed to a meeting! But there are no easy fixes to Somalia and we must allow them to follow their way of using clans as building blocks for national peace.

After capturing al Shabaab’s strongholds, what is Amisom’s next phase?

The biggest battle is that of winning people’s minds and hearts.

With the support of donors and the international community, our focus will shift to “Quick Impact Projects” — building schools, health centres (with emphasis on immunisation and maternal health) and most importantly access roads. The government of Somalia has also made our work easier by ensuring that liberated areas have police officers, chiefs and village courts among other services.

Al Shabaab may have been weakened as a military force, but what is Amisom doing about its ideology?

As I said, if we get the guns to fall silent, the next challenge is working on and winning the minds and hearts of the people. In its new concept of operations, the AU now has three components — the military, civilian and police.

There are Amisom police working with Somali police and they deal with community policing, training and the rule of law by establishing small courts.
Then the Amisom civilian component — through the Quick Impact Projects — takes care of training the civil service.

What is the future of Amisom once al Shabaab is defeated?

We have quarterly assessments that inform the next course of action. At first we were military heavy, but now, we have the civilian component. 

Again, 2016 will give us a bigger picture and the next steps to take because we are driven by the spirit that this is an African problem and Africans, therefore, should come up with the solution. 

It has taken a long time to find a solution to Somalia’s problems but it will be a good model for solving African problems.