The symbolism of my visit to Uganda, so early in my tenure, is not lost on me. I recently spent time in the ‘Pearl of Africa’ on the first of several visits I will be making around the continent, to share and highlight the numerous and very significant strides that the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has made in Somalia, even as we enter the final weeks of the year.
Uganda was the first country to answer Somalia’s call by deploying forces to help our brothers and sisters in the Horn of Africa back in 2007. These brave forces are now working alongside the other Troop Contributing Countries (TCCs) and Police Contributing Countries (PCCs) of Burundi, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana. The situation in Somalia was an African problem and Amisom is Africa’s working solution. Together we have facilitated the liberation of millions of Somali people from al-Shabaab’s tyrannical rule, and given them a precious opportunity to experience the kind of freedom and prosperity that they have not had in generations.
Early this year, we received fresh impetus on the military side with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2124, which allows us to have a maximum of 22,126 boots on the ground. This increased capacity, allowed our peacekeepers to move from the defensive posture they had earlier adopted, and launch fresh operations.
The first one - Operation Eagle - began in March this year and resulted in 10 significant towns being liberated. The second one - Operation Indian Ocean - began in September and has focused on Somalia’s strategic coastal towns as the name suggests, although not limited to that. Ten other towns, including the al-Shabaab strongholds of Barawe and Adale, have been liberated so far. The capture of these towns is very significant to the people in those areas as well because they have lived for years under extremist oppression.
During these operations, Amisom troops have played a supporting role, enabling Somalia’s national army to take the lead. This is part of the strategy to boost the capacity of the country’s security institutions. Amisom troops are not in Somalia indefinitely and our mission is constantly being reviewed by the African Union and the United Nations - who support our operations - to ensure that we’re putting structures in place that will facilitate our eventual exit.
Not only do we owe Somalia a debt of gratitude for the role it played in some of our liberation struggles, we also need to protect our own borders from the threat of al-Shabaab. The horrific attacks in Kampala in 2010 and Nairobi in 2013 are examples of what awaits us if the enemy is not only vanquished on the battlefield, but also through the strengthening of political structures and fostering of socio-economic revival.
Security has improved in the capital Mogadishu and generally in areas under Somali government and Amisom control. There have been a few desperate attacks recently, mainly in retaliation for the massive losses suffered by the insurgents during our various operations. We remain vigilant and condemn all attacks on government officials, journalists and innocent Somali citizens.
There is empirical evidence of increased and diverse economic activity now in Somalia, a clear indicator that the country is on the road to recovery. A recent highlight was the installation of Somalia’s first ATM in Mogadishu.
On the political front, Amisom is supporting activities towards the 2016 elections in Somalia. The process of establishing federal institutions is progressing smoothly; the Parliament and other institutions of the State are being supported to put in the place relevant structures and mechanisms. The African Union is proud to have facilitated an environment where democratic principles - such as the expression of divergent opinions - can be peacefully expressed.
The mission in Somalia is not without its challenges. There are resource constraints; for example, we still lack adequate close air support, which would greatly increase our ability to engage the enemy in a more decisive manner and protect our ground troops.
The African Union takes issues of discipline and conduct of its troops very seriously. The respect for the people in whose countries we work is also central to our operations, indeed the support and cooperation of the Somali people has been key to the success of Amisom. In this regard, the African Union established an investigation panel to look into allegations of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse recently levelled against our troops. This panel is currently conducting its independent investigations. The results from these investigations will be shared through the appropriate channels.
Overall, we are proud of the work we’ve done so far and pay tribute to all those who have lost their lives in our quest for a safer continent for ourselves, our children and generations to come.
Ambassador Sidikou is the special representative of the chairperson of the Commission for Somalia and Head of the AU Mission in Somalia.