NAIROBI – Last week, the European Union has agreed to pay out more than 178 million Euros to the African Union forces in Somalia, in a major breakthrough for the African Union following protracted negotiations on funding with EU which recently cut 20% of the force’s overall funding.
Donor fatigue and failure by the 22000-strong force to deliver on its mandate remain key challenges on the backdrop of attacks by militants who continue to unleash deadly attacks across large parts of the horn of Africa nation.
Deployed in 2007 in the Somali capital, African Union forces have since made a steady progress by ousting militants from key areas including the seaside capital of Mogadishu and other key strongholds including the port city of Kismayo, but failed to defeat militants.
Several UN and western officials have subsequently raised their concerns towards the performance of the force in view of the rise of once weakened militants, pushing a new initiative to replace the 22000 African Union force with UN’s blue helmet peacekeepers in the hope of improving the situation on the ground.
In 2009, the United Nations Security Council had expressed its intention to establish a UN peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu; however UN officials have since backed down the plan as result of potential security threats the mission may face once it’s deployed in Mogadishu.
According officials, western donors had sketched out a covert plan to deploy peacekeepers and avoid an unnecessary attention by African Union officials who may feel threatened and decide an abrupt troops’ withdrawal.
“To execute the plan, UN decided to gradually deploy troops from different countries to fill the required number to take over from AMISOM.” said a senior UN official in an interview in Nairobi. He requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“Britain had already started the deployment of troops, and others will follow.” He said.
The initiative endorsed by Somali government which is expected to take years had already raised eyebrows of troop contributing countries, including Uganda which was quick to announce that it would withdraw its troops by December 2017, citing frustrations with the Somali army and military advisers from US, UK and Turkey.
“Musaveni felt betrayed by westerners and Somali government itself, so besides his plan he wants to keep eye on the situation and act upon it in future.” said an African Union official by phone from Mogadishu.
African Union had never made its plan to hand over Somali security to UN and Somali forces secret in order to withdraw their battle-hardened troops that lost thousands of soldiers in the fight against militants from Somalia, however, the new secret UN initiative had raised suspicions.
“Seeing their current frustration with the new plan, one could hardly believe that previous calls for UN peacekeepers deployment by AU were more of serious than lip service.” said Jacob Moses, a Nairobi-based Somalia expert.
“But for UN, this is a reality and a well-thought-out plan which must be executed anyway.” He said.
Meanwhile, the planned deployment of the advance UN troops has heightened the speculation that western donors were pushing for a rapid power transfer by AMISOM force to UN peacekeepers.
Despite possessing substantial advantages in both numbers and equipment, the mission has been criticized for employing a ‘slothful’ military strategy which many believe contributed to the resurgence of one ‘dying’ militant group which carried out numerous major attacks including three complex attacks on AU military bases in Somalia and dozens of attacks that largely targeted Somali capital since last year.
It’s easy to see why AMISOM donors that invested billions of dollars in equipping the force are unhappy with their performance.
“They are in a pretty bad shape – and we don’t know why they are not willing to move forward.” said a senior Somali military general who asked not to be named.
Several factors have been attributed to the decline of AMISOM’s performance, including lack of air power, coordination among battalions and with Somali army in addition to corruption by senior military officers, an act which went unnoticed or ignored by AU officials.
According to experts, every battalion was answering to its own commanders, rather than the force’s overall command, making it difficult for AU to instill trust among the multinational forces.
Despite internal divisions that might well splinter in the future—African Union forces are literally defending their bases in areas taken from militants some years back.