The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) was created on January 19, 2007 as a regional peacekeeping mission operated by the African Union with the approval of the United Nations. Its initial mandate of six months has turned out to be an on-going nine year mission.
Our writer sat down with the head of Amisom and African Union Special representative in Somalia, Ambassador Fransisco Madeira, in Mogadishu, Somalia, for a one-on-one interview.
How good is the relationship between Amisom troops and the Somali police?
Yesterday, I was at Sector 4 and was very impressed by what I found. The troops enjoy a good relationship with the Somali contingents and this is of utmost importance to us although sometimes we are faced with communication challenges due to the language barrier.
What has Amisom achieved during the nine years it has been operational in Somalia?
A lot my friend, despite the threats we face with violent extremists, insurgency radicalisation and terrorism. To fight these three branches of war, requires us to; develop skills to read the situation on the ground, have thorough knowledge of the area, interact very closely with the population, collect accurate, actionable intelligence and to know exactly, at every moment, where possible, where al Shabaab is and hit them with minimum effects to the population.
Radicalisation is a big problem here in Somalia. What is Amisom doing about it?
We need to work with the population and implement de-radicalisation programs. We need those who have expertise on the issue, to come and support us.
The troop contributing countries have continued to assist because they know that without peace in Somalia, there will be no peace in their countries. We are going to try to change mindsets of these young people and try as much as we can, to provide them with an education, shelter and food in order to reduce the number of recruits.
We are going to work with the international community to reduce the number of weapons that can come, for instance from Yemen, into Somalia. We will strengthen government institutions in Somalia, so that the state can have a nation wide presence and govern govern its people in a manner fit for all.
Furthermore, we will continue appealing to al Shabaab, to come to their senses and make them understand that if they surrender, they will have a place in the Somali society.
Would you say Amisom has been successful?
Yes, the cases of insurgency are decreasing. We are undertaking a mission that not only serves Somalia, but the region at large. Part of our mandate here, is to ensure that al Shabaab does not continue to cut piracy deals in the Indian Ocean. This in turn lends support to the success of international trade and commerce.
Apart from containing al Shabaab, what else does Amisom hope to achieve in Somalia?
Our aim is simple: to help stabilise Somalia so it can independently govern itself. The people of Somalia deserve the freedom to go about their daily lives. More so, once we are done with our mission here and leave, Somalia will be in a position to take up its full responsibilities including its role as a full fringed member of the African Union and the international community.
How will Amison achieve that?
The same way we are working hard to ensure that political systems are put in place, is the same way we are striving to ensure the Somali security institutions are in a position to take over from us and maintain the level of peace and stability in the country that can allow governance to take place.
Our efforts strive to make sure the government of Somalia, and its institutions, is in a strong position. Our efforts aim at allowing the population to engage in agriculture and transport their goods to the markets, wherever these markets are.
How well are the Amisom troops protected from harm?
While we do our best to protect our soldiers, much more needs to be done to protect them from improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. The insurgents keep progressing the type of weaponry used in attacks and we always have to be on our toes.
How can that be done?
We need to discover where these foreign fighters - who are teaching the insurgents the skills of manufacturing these devices - are and take them out. We need the support of all the international community in terms of ability to detect and defuse such devices.
Operation Juba Corridor has been restarted. How much has been achieved so far?
We are scoring quite significant results. We have already taken hold of a number of towns and have been able to put out of action, a sizable number of al Shabaab commanders. This will continue. We will try as much as possible to protect our soldiers and most importantly, will strive not to allow al Shabaab to ambush us as they have in some cases.
Is negotiating with the al Shabaab a possible consideration?
What is there to negotiate with al Shabaab? What would I negotiate with al Shabaab, and where? People who kill innocent people including children and women, have no regard for human dignity and no respect for life, have no right to negotiation opportunites. How many more are they going to kill? Absolutely no chance of any negotiations.
When do you think Amisom will completely neutralise al Shabaab?
Have you ever heard about the 100 year war? Did it end or not? It ended. This one is only nine years in.
I don’t know when we are going to eliminate them but I can guarantee that it will happen. We will stop at nothing to neutralise them.
I mentioned earlier that we are going to start de-radicalisation, sensitising the youth against being misled by these murderers and warning them that joining the terrorists is not a good thing, since they stand for evil.
Is this not an expensive affair?
Yes the process is expensive, but we cannot surrender. How can you surrender to people who value nothing? We have to make the necessary sacrifices to eliminate them. They employ a whole lot of propaganda tactics so the world out there thinks they are strong and powerful, but they are not.
What are some of the challenges you are facing as Amisom?
We have an acute shortage of force multipliers and enablers. We are dealing with an insurgency that uses terrorism and deceit to push its agenda. So, we need to develop the capacity to collect accurate intelligence to be able to hit al Shabaab where it hurts most, at the least time that they expect it. This requires air assets which we don’t have.
Sometimes, the resources to pay our soldiers is not always sufficient as we rely on only a few sources.
Is this the reason troops have been complaining of payment delays? What is being done to resolve the matter?
Yes. I have taken the matter very seriously with all the concerned entities. I have been assured that it was a technical problem and that by the end of this month, the soldiers will start getting their arrears. It makes me happy to hear that because I need to have my soldiers with high morale.
The European Union has reduced its funding to Amisom by 20 per cent. Are there measures being taken to bridge this gap?
We are striving to get other sources of resources apart from the annual assessed contribution. There have been discussions with the United Nations to see if they can increase their contribution.
Somali elections are this September. How prepared is Amisom to ensure there will be peace and stability?
We are very happy that the leaders and elders of Somalia have agreed on a model of election which is much more inclusive than the one used in 2012. This is a very positive step forward. It is an accelerator to peace and stability.
It has been agreed that the mandate of the incumbent parliament or the senior officials in government will not be extended. They will be subject to scrutiny and a voting process by the citizens. Good news is that women have been given 30 per cent of the seats in parliament. I’m sure al Shabaab have never contemplated such a scenario.
Al Shabaab is now busy trying to ensure this kind of election doesn’t take place. I have been discussing with the high profile Somali authorities to agree on the best plan to secure the elections. So far, we have agreed on a number of benchmarks and are confident the elections will take place and the voters are assured of their protection.
Amisom’s mandate comes to an end this year. What are the possibilities of an extension?
Amisom’s mandate is regularly renewed so the appropriate committees at the African Union Peace and Security Council evaluate progress made and decide whether Amisom should remain or the mission be dissolved. This process is set to be conducted by end of this month and Somalia will be participating.
But just because the mandate is about to end, does not mean we automatically pack our bags and go, unless the government of Somalia decides so. To tell you the truth, we would have wanted to leave today. But we don’t because we are still needed here and are making a difference.
If Amisom was not here, you would not even be here with me. But here you are, safe and sound, asking very thought-provoking questions. We have never wanted to be identified as an invading force because it’s not in our vocation.
Your parting shot?
If we want to end terrorism in Somalia and Africa as a whole, we have to continue fighting al Shabaab here. This is not an isolated war. It’s part and parcel of the wars being waged in Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
This is a worldwide threat which has to be addressed globally hence the need for international solidarity as well as combined resources.