For more than two decades, Somalia’s sovereignty has been in limbo—or in an utterly defunct status. Though there are many causes, one stands: volatile security. No nation can claim, or (as in Somalia’s case) reclaim, its sovereignty while dependent on another country, coalition or peace-building force for security. And though road-based security has been a top priority, it has been an objective made difficult by the many hurdles along the way.
Rebuilding the national security apparatus of a country like Somalia, which became brain-drained and resource-drained by protracted war, is not an easy task. This task is even more difficult when there is a constant struggle with certain elements within the international community, which I refer to as the Ghost-lords, over whether or not there is an urgent need to rebuild the Somali National Security apparatus.
Since January 2007 when AMISOM (the African Union peacekeeping force to Somalia) was assembled, the international community has spent almost all of the funds appropriated to restore and sustain security in Somalia on that force. Though their record might not be immaculate, as some of their past tactics were rightly criticized by human rights organizations, by and large AMISOM has done an exceptional job in helping the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) establish a strong foothold and restore security. That said, their long-term presence does inadvertently demoralize the Somali soldiers, make the rebuilding of the Somali National Army and other security apparatuses a lesser priority, and undermine the case to reclaim the sovereignty of the Somali state.
More than the huge pay and total cost disparity between AMISOM and Somali soldiers—the former’s monthly cost per soldier being roughly 23 times the latter—the demoralizing factor comes from consistently late soldier salaries ($100 per month) that are funneled through AMISOM. Since its initial six-month security-focused mandate, AMISOM has morphed into a jack of all trades. Despite the unfair coverage Somali soldiers get from media, they are the real infantry force of AMISOM-led operations. They are the ones who suffer the most casualties. And because of the U.N. arms embargo and financial constraints, they possess neither heavy arms nor armored trucks, neither bulletproof vests nor enough ammunition. They don’t even have appropriate communication devices, as they rely on a few cell phones, and, unlike their partners, when wounded in battle, they don’t get emergency evacuation or get flown out of the country for medical care.
In a tragic irony, their foes—who often outgun them—describe their disadvantage and misfortune as being worse than sa’abooley. This is Somali slang that means those who rely on the palm of their hands. It is a term that developed during the lawless era of Mogadishu when groups of marauding gangs or criminals would roam around the city for a game and bring along a few of their patsies who have no guns of their own to act as de facto human shields in the hope of inheriting the guns of those who get killed, either from their friends or from the other side.
Every conference held, every appeal made to the international donors and every resolution sought through the U.N. Security Council has been mainly about strengthening AMISOM, enhancing its pay scale, prolonging or broadening its mandate. In these meetings and conferences, Somali military officials and experts are seldom, if at all, invited to offer their own assessments.
The man currently leading the Somali army, General Abdulqadir Ali Dini, has received his military trainings both in the United States and the former Soviet Union. He was the commander of the Commandoes Unit of the Somali National Army before the collapse of the state. He is a man held in high regard, as he refused to participate in clan-based civil strife and be morally responsible for the blood of many innocent people. Since he was appointed to his current post almost two years ago, the national army has undergone tangible transformation in terms of discipline, integration, loyalty and clan balance.
Of course, when it comes to sustainable security, there is no quick fix, especially when rebuilding a defunct army from the ground up. Sustainable security could be attained only through a highly trained and well-equipped local army. Foreign forces can be of help in the short-term, when there is a strategic plan to scale them down as the local army’s competence improves. Currently, there is no apparent effort to rebuild the Somali security apparatus with the right training, equipment and resources to gradually replace AMISOM. Lip service is all there is.
A few weeks ago, the commander of the police force, General Sharif Sheekhuna Maye, threatened to resign out of frustration because the meager salaries for his force never come on time due to certain questionable bureaucratic processes set by the United Nations Political Office for Somalia and AMISOM. Is such condition conducive to building a police force willing to deploy and establish law and order in newly liberated areas far from their comfort zone? Instead of addressing this kind of concern, the African Union approved a police force contingent to join AMISOM to police liberated areas. Also, the United States, Britain and France have declared their commitment to provide enhanced trainings—to AMISOM Special Forces, that is.
Against this backdrop and a number of other issues, Somalia is trying to reclaim its sovereignty as an independent nation state. And that very desire has been the carrot that the Ghost-lords dangled in front of a nation eager to emerge out of its transitional status by August 2012.
Meanwhile, the international community is pushing a controversial draft constitution to replace the one ratified in 1961, though, among other problems, this document does not define what constitutes the legal boundaries of the Somali state. And this could sow the seed for a perpetual inter-Somali territorial conflict.
Sovereignty is necessary to establish the rule of law, to govern independently, to protect the nation’s values, territorial integrity and unity, and to mobilize for defense against internal and external threats. The more the process for Somalia to reclaim its sovereignty is delayed, the more al-Shabaab, who just carried out their latest suicide bomb in Dhusa Mareeb, will be emboldened, and the more the TFG and the post-August government will be discredited.
Abukar Arman is Somalia’s special envoy to the United States and a widely published political analyst.
This op-ed was originally published in www.worldpress.org