Over the past few weeks, the world has watched both horror and fascination scenes from Afghanistan. Fascination as the Taliban marched into Kabul without firing a shot and the US not so orderly exit from a country it had controlled for 20 years.
The horror of the Kabul situation was because the Horn of Africa has its own “forever war’’. If we do not learn from the chaos that ensued in Kabul, we could see the same closer to home.
In 2007, The African Union Peace and Security Council authorised the creation and deployment of the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to provide support and protection among other things “to create conducive conditions for long-term stabilisation, reconstruction and development in Somalia.” A mission which sounds a lot like the ‘‘nation building’’ which the US embarked on in Afghanistan.
Amisom was only authorised for six months, but now, like clockwork, the AU and UN Security Council vote to extend Amisom for another six months, every six months, giving us our own forever war.
When Amisom leaves, it would not be surprising if we see the quick rise of al-Shabaab in southern and central Somalia again.
So as Amisom thinks about its own drawdown and eventual exit what can we learn from Afghanistan that can help prevent a resurgence of the threat that it has spent 14 years battling?
First, there is no substitute for effective governance. The ineptness and corruption of the Afghan government opened the door for the Taliban's return. Amisom must invest in and work to strengthen governance of the Somali government if it is to have any real hope of survival without outside assistance.
Second, it is critical to engage and work with indigenous governance systems. The Taliban fostered relations with tribal chiefs and used those relationships to negotiate the surrender of whole garrisons of Afghan troops.
Third, define success. What is Amisom working towards? What is a win? The US never answered this question in Afghanistan which led to mission creep and a lack of focus.
Fourth, the US overestimated the capabilities of the Afghan army and had based its withdrawal strategy on that assumption, with chaotic consequences. The violence earlier this year in Mogadishu after the President tried to extend his term showed the fragilities of the federal government. Security forces quickly split along clan lines and turned their guns on each other. If Amisom leaves is the FGS capable of holding its own?
Finally, that honesty should inform smart dialogue. Most wars end through dialogue and compromise, eventually the US started talking to the Taliban. The US made a highly flawed deal with the Taliban which contributed to stunning collapse of the government.
If we keep Amisom’s goals in mind, as well as the genuine capabilities of the Somali government, what would be an acceptable deal? Amisom should utilise its existing military capabilities to back its negotiating position and strengthen the Somali government. So that when withdrawal does take place it is an orderly, honourable, and stable one.
The Afghan conflict has ended in ignominy for the US. In a region as fragile as the Horn of Africa, we can ill afford more chaos and instability.
Eugene Ngumi is a senior consultant at Africapractice East Africa in Nairobi