The problem of Somalia will be solved by the people of Somalia

What you need to know:

  • It is tragic and inexplicable that the lessons learned from previous attacks on Amisom bases were not applied to prevent last week’s repeat. 

The global ‘War on Terror’ launched by the Bush regime after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States of America primarily focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.

But it also took keen interest in failed or failing states which were particularly vulnerable to capture by violent extremist groups.

Somalia was one of them. Since the ouster of dictator Siad Barre in January 1991, the country had been torn apart by internecine violence overseen by warlords propping up the interests of their respective clans.

From the early 2000s the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a loose coalition of clan-based militia emerged and began imposing law and order on parts of the country, until they superseded the warlords as the dominant power in 2006.

They were even stronger than the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which was recognised abroad, particularly with the support of the US and Ethiopia, but derided locally, and unable to even occupy the capital, Mogadishu.

The imposition of sharia law by ICU, and links between Islamic extremist groups and some of its leading lights, provided the logic that powered the deployment of African peacekeepers to Somalia in 2007.

ICU would turn Somalia over to Islamic extremists, while the TFG would bring about stability, the rule of law and secular democracy to Somalia, the thinking went.

Thus prop up the TFG until it could stand on its own. Hence Amisom: African boots on the ground, American equipment and intelligence, and European money to pay for much of it.

Amisom has made many gains. It retook Mogadishu and installed TFG, reopened the airport and ports, and seized chunks of territory from al Shabaab, the militant mutation of the ICU.

But the underlying logic has been tested politically and militarily. The withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is a reminder of how expensive foreign military adventures can be, the intractable nature of asymmetric warfare, and the difficulty – some argue impossibility – of trying to export democracy into countries where its demand is lower than supply.

TFG was meant to create that demand, but a series of successive Somali federal governments have struggled to obtain the legitimacy and political capital on which to build a foundation for consensus in the country.

Instead, they have been remarkable for the power fights between rival political elites and their supporters, and eye-watering corruption.

This has rendered military victories, procured at high cost, pyrrhic and created the impression that, like nature reclaiming an unfinished construction site, al Shabaab or whichever political form the ICU rump eventually takes on, could sweep away the TFG as soon as foreign troops leave.

Despite valiant attempts at training and arming them, the soldiers of the Somali national army have struggled to match the spine or battleground resourcefulness of their al Shabaab countrymen.

Some have, instead, shown more inventiveness in finding ways to pawn their arms and ammunition to the enemy, or struggled to prise themselves from the call of the clan and embrace the promise of nationalism.

This is a question of political ideology to which no military solution can be successfully applied.

Which brings us back to Amisom, last week’s rout of our forces at one camp, and reports that some of those deployed on tours were chosen for reasons other than their experience and ability to fight. This is hardly surprising.

Incentives are at the heart of economics and behavioural psychology. If a soldier earns $150 dollars at home but can make as much as $1,000 while on tour, the demand for deployment will be higher than supply of slots and create negative selection incentives. That is at the individual or micro level.

At the macro level, if a war provides an opportunity to deploy a large number of troops outside the country where they are fed and paid well by third parties, and where they learn new skills, in conducting counterterrorism and urban warfare operations, one possible unintended consequence is for the mission to continue, perhaps longer than it should.

It is hard to predict how this trickles down into operational decisions.

It is tragic and inexplicable that the lessons learned from previous attacks on Amisom bases were not applied to prevent last week’s repeat. The findings and recommendations of the on-going inquiry are unlikely to vary much from those in 2016.

Whatever the findings, however, any temptation to double-down and seek an extension of our deployment, perhaps beyond the current deadline of the end of 2024, should be avoided.

One way or the other, the problem of Somalia will be solved by the people of Somalia.

Mr Daniel K. Kalinaki is a journalist and  poor man’s freedom fighter. 
[email protected]; @Kalinaki