Eleven years after the first boots landed on Somali soil to pacify the troubled Horn of Africa country, a major disagreement between the main troop contributing countries and the Somali National Army and the international community on the other has arisen.
This comes after the UN and Western countries that fund the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) are pushing for a systematic withdrawal, arguing that the Somali National Army (SNA), which has undergone training and rebuilding since 2012, has built reasonable strength of 12,000 active personnel capable of defending the country against the Al Shabaab insurgency.
The SNA leadership has worked closely with troop contributing countries and was initially sceptical of the push to withdraw Amisom.
However, it has recently changed its position on Amisom’s 22,000-strong force comprising soldiers from Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
The police component is made up of officers from Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The change of heart by the Somali authorities on the withdrawal of Amisom gained momentum last week after the Ugandan army shot dead three SNA soldiers in a friendly fire incident, prompting a flurry of accusations and counteraccusations between Ugandan and the SNA over who started the shooting.
On March 1, Foreign Affairs and Defence ministers from Amisom troop contributing countries attending a meeting in Kampala warned that gains made in Somalia risked being eroded if issues such as inadequate troop numbers and unpredictable funding were not addressed.
A day earlier, chiefs of defence forces of the contributors, had also taken a stand that the Amisom force strength should not be reduced, a position the ministers echoed.
Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa added the mission was also in need of force enablers and multipliers, which are crucial in carrying out effective operations.
“Going forward, it is essential therefore that the international community look at the bigger picture in Somalia, so that the gains made in recent years through enormous efforts and great sacrifice of Amisom and the SNA are not in vain,” Mr Kutesa said.
Roadmap for Somalia
Mr Kutesa, who served as president of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly, emphasised that the Amisom drawdown should be synchronised with a corresponding strengthening of the Somali national security forces to ensure no gap is left once AU troops exit.
Last year, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution authorising the reduction of Amisom troop numbers and transfer of security responsibilities to the Somali national security forces.
But before the Kampala meeting, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui, appealed for increased and coordinated aid for activities that support a transition plan to enable the Somali national security forces take over security responsibilities of their country.
Mr Chergui paid tribute to soldiers who have lost their lives in the line of duty in Somalia and thanked the contributing countries’ heads of state for championing the spirit of pan-Africanism that has thus far pacified Somalia.
He noted that Somalia was on a positive trajectory and that political gains made last year are important for Amisom’s exit strategy and transfer of security responsibilities to the Somali national security forces.
He cited some of the positives being made in Somalia, among them, the adoption of the National security architecture, which provides a framework for rebuilding the Somali national security forces, the roadmap for inclusive politics and the constitutional review process and a new electoral model for one-person-one-vote in the 2020 elections.
The political stability in Somalia, Mr Chergui noted, has allowed for the commencement of the development of a Somalia Transition Plan, with a core group established to develop a draft transition document before the end of March this year.
The plan would serve as a critical component of Amisom’s own transitional planning, including the revision of its Concept of Operations and enhancement of Amisom operational effectiveness.
“The primary focus of the AU in the coming period should be to support accelerated progress on this roadmap, continue constructive Federal Government of Somalia-federal member states engagement, and full implementation of the Somalia Transition Plan,” Mr Chergui said.
He observed that the primacy of politics in achieving peace and security in Somalia necessitates a new narrative by the AU, adding that events in the past year have demonstrated that further success on the security front cannot be achieved without sufficient progress on the political front.
The Kampala meeting is a follow-up to an earlier summit on September 21 last year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The heads of state and government from the five contributing countries followed the ministers meeting with a summit on Friday. The regional leaders back the proposals made by their military chiefs and ministers, saying the timeframe for the pullout was "not realistic and would lead to a reversal of the gains made by Amisom."
Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohamed and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni attended the meeting, as did African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat.