Yesterday afternoon’s Chatham House Research Event focused on the ongoing and seemingly intractable problems that faces Somalia.

The current African Union mission in the country, AMISOM, is involved in carrying out a complicated mandate that mixes post-intervention reconstruction with counter-terrorism against Al Shabaab. Today’s news of an Al-Shabaab attack in Kenya highlights the difficulties of containing the conflict within national borders.

In a 15 minute opening statement, Dr. Maman Sidikou highlighted three main challenges facing Somalia as it tries to prepare the ground for elections in October 2016.

1.  The construction of a single Somalian army.

It has proved difficult to build a single Somalian army due to the lack of resources and the multi-clan, ethnic affiliations of Somalis generally.  Dr. Sidikou was at pains to point out that the army has no barracks.  This means that there is no way of keeping the soldiers together after work.  Individuals typically return to their villages and the sense of unity of purpose is lost.  There is also a related problem which is that the weapons and armaments often can go missing given that there is no place to store them.  The search for a single Somali army that is loyal to Somalia as a State, rather than any particular ethnic group, is essential if Somalia is going to be able to take control of its own territorial security.  The current aim is for a force of 10,900 soldiers which represents half of the AMISOM mission on the ground.

2. Negotiation at the table.

Dr. Sidikou was insistent that AMISOM could not go on forever.  Donor fatigue and other problems of legitimacy involved with long-lasting occupations mean that at some point, the sovereignty of Somalia must be fully incorporated in a new government.  The deadline is October 2016 but there have been many problems between Somalia’s different clans and groups.  Dr. Sidikou said that Somalians must learn that they are ‘condemned’ to live together and that in this respects their plight was no different to most African countries which had multi-cultural/multi-ethnic populations.

3. Grassroots initiatives in areas recovered from Al-Shabaab.

Dr. Sidikou pointed out that building the rule of law, and a sustainable civil society in areas that were recovered from Al-Shabaab provided a crucial challenge.  This peacebuilding practice which involves reconciliation and development was crucial to the future of Somalia and he urged Somalians in the UK (the diaspora) to get involved with NGOs and other agencies which were involved in this important struggle.

The Q&A brought to the fore accusations from members of the audience who regarded AMISOM as biased and as supporting warlords in the attacks against the Bantu people. However, Dr. Sidikou pointed out, the only enemy that AMISOM was fighting is Al-Shabaab and he had no knowledge of any arming of warlords.  He also cast doubts on the denomination of ‘warlords’ given that the last government in Somalia was not elected and therefore warlord because all power-brokers could be called that.  He also appeared to say that AMISOM troops could be behaving in ways that was not aware to him, which raises concerns about the command and control of the occupying army.

Another question on the rights of women and their position as decision-makers in Somalia allowed Dr. Sidikou to note that there were now 3 ministers in the government with control over Education, Health and Women ministries respectively.  This was a start, but more had to be done.

The possibility that Somalia and therefore AMISOM will not meet the 2016 election deadline prompted a Member of the Egyptian consulate to ask whether AMISOM had held discussions with donor States about the ongoing financing of AMISOM post-October 2016.  In this respect, Dr. Sidikou said that negotiations with the EU primarily, were ongoing and that he had no other news to say other than that.

An academic from University College London asked what kind of elections 2016 would bring given that nobody thought it would be possible to arrange a one-person, one-vote election (no reason was given for this, but it is possible that this relates to the clan-system in Somalia).  The AMISOM representative said that this was entirely up to Somalia and that the Somalis would decide on the kind of election they wanted.  This raises concerns that they won’t be able to agree on the format as each interest group will want to choose a format that increases their share of power post-elections.  In this respect, Dr. Sidikou urged the Somalis to realise that AMISOM could not continue indefinitely and that they needed to come to an agreement on power-sharing.

There were other question regarding AMISOM troop abuse, and accountability mechanisms in place.  Dr. Sidikou emphasised the training that is in place for soldiers from TCCs (troop contributing countries) as well as civilians.   He did concede that the peacebuilding initiatives, and law and order practices were not well-suited to the military.  There were also problems regarding the lack of reporting of abuse because of fear of victimisation and community ostracism.

A question on whether Somalia was a place conducive to receiving the thousands of refugees now living in Kenya was not directly answered.  Dr. Sidikou did acknowledge that it was about preparing the ground for receiving the populations, not simply about moving them back and calling it a success.  He pointed out that they had received $1million from the Islamic Bank which allowed for directed small-scale sanitation and water management projects which would allow for a quicker move to repatriation.

Dr. Sidikou was thankful for a question on the thousands of young Somali graduates who represented an unharnessed resource in peacebuilding efforts.  He simply said he would make a point to follow that up internally so that more Somalian graduates could be in charge of the peacebuilding mission.

1 April 2015.

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