The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) may have suffered at least 1,100 fatalities since 2009, according to information the force shared with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) — the world’s leading tracker of defence and military affairs.
Paul Williams, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, said in a study released recently that Sipri regards the figure as “a conservative, minimum estimate.” Prof Williams said he gathered the information from disclosures by Amisom to Sipri, which show that 69 of its troops were killed last year as a result of hostile action.
The African Union said this figure did not include deaths from causes such as illness or accidents. The death toll, as reported to the Sweden-based researchers, ranged from a high of 384 personnel in 2012 to a low of 94 in 2011.
Prof Williams added that Amisom’s report of fatalities also does not include Kenyans killed in the course of Operation Linda Nchi, which the country carried out unilaterally in Somalia in 2011 and 2012.
It also does not include Ethiopian soldiers and police who died between late 2011 and early 2014, when the country’s army was fighting in Somalia outside the African Union’s aegis.
Amisom has also not given Sipri a count of deaths during its first two years of operation.
Amisom was launched in 2007 when a contingent of 1,600 Ugandan troops took up positions in Mogadishu. The force currently numbers more than 22,000 soldiers and police.
Despite these omissions, Prof Williams described Sipri’s calculation as “the best publicly available figures on Amisom’s fatalities.”
In his own private discussions with Amisom officials, Prof Williams gathered statistics showing that 110 Ugandans and 95 Burundians died in Somalia between March 2007 and February 2011.
Additional information he culled from Amisom’s records suggests that the force suffered 439 fatalities between August 2009 and September 2012. Other sources have put the number of Amisom deaths at roughly three times the more than 1,100 tallied by Sipri.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said in 2013, that “up to 3,000 Amisom soldiers” had been killed since the start of the African Union’s intervention in 2007. But Mr Eliasson offered no evidence for his claim, which was subsequently retracted by the UN.
And Prof Williams cautions, “The figures gleaned from my own research are also far from comprehensive and suffer from several limitations.”
It is impossible to pinpoint how many Amisom personnel have died in Somalia because the countries contributing troops refuse to reveal their losses, Prof Williams said. He added that he knows of no reliable estimate of the number of Shabaab militants who have died.
While insisting it does not keep its own comprehensive tally, Amisom says it is up to the troop-sending governments of Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sierra Leone and Uganda to release information about their respective losses.
Because that data is being withheld, Amisom’s fallen fighters have not had their sacrifices properly honoured, Prof Williams said.
Unlike Amisom, he said, the UN publicly catalogues peacekeeper fatalities suffered during its operations by date, mission, nationality and type of incident.
Amisom troop-contributing countries usually seek to justify their silence on the grounds that release of fatality figures “would embolden Al Shabaab, reduce morale among Amisom troops, and would bring little benefit in other areas, such as boosting Amisom’s credibility,” Prof Williams said in an e-mail to The EastAfrican.
Refusal to report the deaths of their soldiers also makes it impossible to verify whether the troop-contributing countries are paying the full amounts of agreed-upon compensation to next of kin, the Washington-based scholar points out. Memoranda of understanding signed by the contributing governments and the AU state that compensation for each death should be $50,000.
“I don’t know the full total of death/disability compensation figures or the total number of payments made by the AU to the troop-contributing countries’ governments, or whether all families who have lost loved ones in Amisom have received their due,” said Prof Williams.
He approvingly cited the sentiment expressed last January by AU Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
“We should have a monument for our AU peacekeepers who have lost their lives in the service of the peoples of the continent,” said Ms Zuma.
Prof Williams adds: “I believe this would require their names to be known and when they died.”
Al Shabaab in the past few weeks has launched several high impact attacks on Amisom bases across Somalia.
In June, Al Shabaab militants took control of a base in the village of Lego, 99 km north of Mogadishu, manned by over 100 Burundian troops. They killed over 50 soldiers, the majority of them from Burundi.
On September 1, the first anniversary of Ahmed Abdi Godane’s death in a US air strike, Al Shabaab militants attacked an AU military base in Janale, 90km southeast of Mogadishu, with a car full of explosives, killing over 70 troops, most of them Ugandans.
This was the biggest attack on Amisom forces since it began its mission in the country eight years ago. But Al Shabaab has a tendency of inflating death tolls; authorities in Uganda say only 19 were killed and six were still missing.