Troop drawdown risks reversal of Amisom gains in Somalia

Security and the planned elections in Somalia in 2020 could be in jeopardy as the country continues to face increased terror attacks blamed on poor facilitation and funding of the national army and African peacekeepers.

The Somali National Army (SNA) this week vacated at least three of their bases in protest over months of missed pay.

The abandoned bases are in the Middle Shabelle region. The SNA is funded by the government in Mogadishu, the United States and the European Union, while Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the UK occasionally chip in.

Somalia’s weak central government relies on the support of the military and African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) peacekeepers against the Islamic militants Al Shabaab.

“It is painful to be in the frontline and fighting Al Shabaab while your wife and kids are starving,” Col Abdi Mohamed Ahmed, one of the troops’ commanders, told Reuters, adding that troops were deserting more bases.

But Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire told government news agency Sonna that only soldiers not registered had not been paid.

“Let the commanders register the unpaid soldiers. After that let the commanders ask for the salaries,” he said.

This — coming at a time when Uganda and Burundi, the two big troop-contributing countries in Amisom, are already protesting a phased drawdown called by the UN and AU, threatening to pull out all their soldiers if the two organisations insist on it — is disconcerting, with Somalia watchers warning that any sign of retreat or weakness by the Somali military or Amisom is potentially a boost to Al Shabaab.

If the two countries were to make good their threat, with the SNA leaving its bases, it would leave large swathes of the country exposed to a possible takeover by the Shabaab, who have been fighting the regime in Mogadishu and terrorising neighbouring countries for years now.

Uganda and Burundi have openly resisted the drawdown as per the United Nations Resolution 2431 that demanded reduction of uniformed Amisom personnel by 1,000 by the end of February. The two countries have threatened to withdraw all their troops at once.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza threatened to withdraw all its 5,432 troops if the AU does not reverse the decision. He was concerned that the withdrawal of 1,000 troops as directed by the AU Peace Support Operations Division would leave the remaining troops vulnerable to attacks by Al Shabaab.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni issued a similar threat, saying that the UN plan for a phased withdrawal shows “lack of seriousness” in eliminating Al Shabaab from Somalia.

These developments forced a visit to Somalia by a joint delegation of the AU and UN to assess progress made in implementing the Somalia Transition Plan. They are yet to produce a report.