The African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia is preparing to start phased withdrawal in December after 10 years, amid concerns that the country still doesn’t have the capacity to maintain security without foreign help.
Obviously, the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) was not going to stay in the country forever, given the funding burden and the many situations across the continent and the world demanding the continental body’s attention.
Ultimately, the withdrawal is driven by the difficulty in funding after the European Union slashed its $200 million annual stipend to Amisom troops by one-fifth and the donor-dependent AU was unable to find alternative sources of funding.
But Somalia remains fragile, despite success in driving Al-Shabaab out of most major towns.
Amisom went into Somalia to eradicate the Al Shabaab, install a government chosen by the people of Somalia, pacify the country and build the capacity of domestic security agencies to stop Somalia from being a threat to its neighbours.
Very few of these aims have been achieved, so Amisom needs to put in place some safeguards prior to the start of the phased withdrawal.
The drawdown should be gradual and based on continuing assessments of security situation. This would ensure the ongoing improvement of security in Somalia and in the region is not disrupted.
Al-Shabaab remains a lethal force with the war being waged through improvised explosive devices and suicide bombings.
Just as the world was beginning to believe that Al-Shabaab is finally on its knees, the militants detonated a truck bomb in Mogadishu that killed more than 300 people and injuring scores of others.
The difficulty of eradicating the militia is that it has moved from a standing army into an ideology that influences the vulnerable unemployed and illiterate youth.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmajo,” who was elected in February, has received more support than any other president since 1991 and the international community has poured in pledges to his “security architecture,” which was launched at the Somalia International Conference in London in May.
The pact — which involves co-operation with the five regional governments — proposes an 18,000-strong Somali National Army (SNA) excluding the Special Forces, and Somali police, who together number 32,000.
Amisom, with the support of the UN and other donors like the US and the European Union, were supposed to train and equip at least 30,000 Somali troops to take over when it left.
But only 10,014 SNA soldiers have been trained and what is worse, they still need modern equipment. We can only hope that the Amisom withdrawal will not expose the entire region to new security risks.
That the United States — which has pumped more than $1 billion into Amisom since 2007 to provide training, equipment and logistics support — is equally apprehensive about the withdrawal speaks volumes.