MOGADISHU (HAN) January 30, 2016 – Public Diplomacy and Regional Stability Initiatives News.By: Wachira Maina. The Al Shabaab raid on the KDF camp at El-Adde is the fourth attack on Amisom forces in Somalia in twelve months.
In June 2015, the militants killed 70 Burundian soldiers in Lego, south of Mogadishu; in September they killed another 50 Ugandan soldiers in Janale District to the southwest.
Earlier they had ambushed and killed dozens of Ethiopian soldiers. Ethiopia, like Kenya, did not release casualty figures. The response of other troop contributing countries is likely to echo Kenya’s: A splenetic venting, a surge in force numbers and an increase in sorties against suspected Al Shabaab camps.
In military terms, this may even cripple the insurgent group.
However, even if Amisom militarily degrades Al Shabaab, the prolonged presence of foreign troops in Somalia will inevitably seed another anti-Kenya group because the country has unresolved and deep-seated grievances with Kenya — and Ethiopia. This is what history teaches.
Al Shabaab was an effectual and fringe off-shoot of the more moderate Islamic Courts’ Union, ICU when Ethiopia invaded in 2006.
By adroitly exploiting Somalia’s deep historic hostility to Ethiopia, it was able to mobilise Somali nationalism and recruit thousands of youth. If that prognosis is correct, it is time for Kenya and Amisom to redefine their Somalia mission.
As they do so, they will benefit immensely from reading the October 2015 Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia to the UN Security Council. It is a treasure trove of information and candid analysis.
The report makes three points clear: One, ineptitude and corruption have drained the vitality of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, TFG, and destroyed the scant legitimacy it originally enjoyed.
Second, some members of Amisom — principally Kenya and Ethiopia — have territorial ambitions that undermine Amisom’s mission in Somalia and seem likely to spawn Somali resentment sooner rather than later.
Third, Al Shabaab has morphed faster and become much more tactically flexible than those fighting it. Unfortunately, inability to defeat Al Shabaab in one fell swoop will compel Amisom to stay in Somalia longer, which makes it harder for it to fulfill its mission and risks inflaming Somalia’s famously incandescent nationalism.
The first point is that security and stability cannot be restored in Somalia by a terminally weak, incompetent and corrupt government. And the details in the report show that the TFG is all three.
It is now nearly four years since the TFG was established. Its only real success — with the help of Amisom — has been to reverse Al Shabaab’s territorial gains.
Other crucial reforms have stalled. Under the 2012 Provisional Constitution, Somalia was to have had elections later this year but mid last year, the country’s Federal Parliament — where votes are traded for cash through a graft-fuelled network of fixers — agreed to a sweetheart deal with the executive that elections should be postponed, ostensibly because violence and turmoil make a credible election impossible.
Not in good faith
It is a case of the TFG profiting from its own omissions: It has not implemented the Provisional Constitution in good faith. Of the nine independent commissions that the TFG is obliged to establish, only four had been established by the end of 2015.
The critically important Provisional Constitution Review and Implementation Commission was set up two years too late, in 2014.
It has since been hobbled by official antipathy, chronic under-funding and since May last year, when its chair resigned in frustration, is increasingly bereft of effective leadership.
So much for the constitutional difficulties: The report also makes it clear that corruption is so deeply embedded, the TFG just cannot deliver essential services or win hearts and minds.
Corrupt payments run up and down the system: Government revenues are funnelled to unauthorised bank accounts, bypassing the Treasury Single Account; withdrawals to fund government agencies are often made in cash and informal payment systems are not regulated.
For instance, a total of $1.8 million of port rehabilitation funds were transferred from the UNDP in 2014 to a Mogadishu Port account at the Central Bank of Somalia.
In seven days, $1.7 million was withdrawn in cash. The Monitoring Group says that it has evidence that “the then minister for ports and marine transport, Yusuf Maalim Amin ‘Baadiyow’ and the then director general, Abdullahi Ali Nur, likely misappropriated the funds.”
This financial laxity allows grand larceny but it also makes it hard to track the flow of funds. How much for example, is going to Al Shabbaab?
All told, the Somali state is a “vertically integrated criminal network”: This is the name coined by Sarah Chayes to describe the corrupt hierarchical network of the Afghan state in her recent book, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security.
The state as criminal syndicate — whether in Afghanistan or Somalia — inverts the old patronage pyramid: Money does not flow downwards, that is, from patrons at the top to clients at the bottom.
Instead, bribes, gifts and levies are collected and paid upwards, allowing juniors to buy positions that allow them to extort payments.
Chayes says that this serves a double purpose: It gives juniors permission to menace the population for cash and, by giving superiors a constant income stream, creates a mutuality of interest, increasing the likelihood that bosses will protect the juniors from sanctions.
In Somalia, officials and their bosses are on the take across ministries and a network of private companies are in on the game.
The Soma Oil & Gas Holdings Ltd, an extractive industry corporation, is a good case in point. By May 2015, Soma Holdings had given officials in the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources — including the director general and his deputy — a total of $490,000 in “capacity-building” funds.
The Monitoring Group is not fooled by this sham christening: It thinks the funds are, in reality, “part of a quid pro quo arrangement” to stop official scrutiny of lucrative oil industry contracts.
Somali fisheries are another haven for profiteers, especially foreign commercial fishing interests. Fishing licences and maritime security have been farmed out to private companies — Somali Security Services Ltd and Anglo Somaliland Resources Ltd, for example — thereby enlarging opportunities for corruption.
The ministry responsible, the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources has also issued suspect licences to Chinese fishing outfits and routed the earnings to a bank account in Djibouti.
With a 3,300km coastline — the longest in Africa — and rich marine resources, anyone who captures Somali fisheries captures easy lucre.
Yet the auditor general, who should be ferreting out bad deals such as these, now fears for his life. Last year, he was roughed up outside his office after trying to investigate illegal fishing cartels.
Mafia-style racket by army
The Somali National Army, SNA, Amisom’s ally in the fight against Al Shabaab, is no better. The report says that its paramilitary unit “Alpha 4” runs a mafia-style kidnap and ransom racket: It routinely arrests teenage boys, accuses them of being Al Shabaab and demands up to $500 per person to release them.
The shakedown is so smartly networked there are brokers to negotiate the ransom — which can go as high as $2,000 — show relatives that the abductees are actually alive and arrange eventual release.
On the commercial front, the report notes the growing influence of malignant “spoiler networks.” These are cabals of politicians and businesses that have captured the state and are busy milking its resources.
Rather than stabilise areas captured from Al Shabaab, these networks have tightened their grip on urban areas where profiteering opportunities are rife.
Meaning that any Al Shabaab retreat from previously held territory has not weakened them — as Amisom would have us believe — but merely allowed the insurgents to repair to rural areas that are less attractive to the spoiler networks.
There it has been able to finance its operations through illegal taxes and levies, fashioning a new source of revenues even as sanctions and improved surveillance at the port in Kismayo derail the illegal charcoal trade.
The sobering conclusion, then, is that Somalia is not on the mend: It is a dangerously hollowed out sham of a state. It seems set to remain so if international investments, including those of the AU — and so Amisom — stay committed not to re-building the state and protecting the Somali people but primarily to eliminating the terror threat of Al Shabaab.
The weaknesses of the Somali government are compounded by the policies and practices of Amisom, especially Kenya and Ethiopia who, some say, have territorial designs on Somalia. Ethiopia fought a bitter war over the Ogaden region from 1977 to 1978 and memories of this still rankle.
Though Addis Ababa denies territorial ambitions, those who watch its “injera diplomacy” in Somalia, note that the country is wholly dependent on the overcrowded Djibouti port, which also happens to be crawling with US and French spies. This cannot be an ideal entry point for Ethiopian munitions and other sensitive merchandise.
As for Kenya, the goal of the 2011 KDF mission was, partly, to create a buffer zone between the Al Shabaab heartlands and the Kenya border.
Before the invasion — in 2009 and 2010 — according to US government cables leaked by Wikileaks — the county’s military had trained a clandestine force of Kenyan Somali youth for insertion into Somalia with the twin objective of infiltrating Al Shabaab and driving them farther into Somalia and away from the common border.
The then minister for foreign affairs, Moses Wetangula, tried to importune the US — through assistant secretary of state Johnnie Carson — to support the initiative but failed.
According to Wikileaks, Carson worried, presciently as it has turned out, that Kenya’s Jubbaland initiative would be expensive; that it could catalyse clan and sub-clan rivalries; that it might create a rival to the TFG; that Kenya could unwittingly be providing training to future or current Al Shabaab and that there could well be domestic repercussions if the initiative failed.
The initial goal was to train 3,000 fighters but in the end only 2,000 enlisted. Even the usually bellicose Ugandans and Ethiopians balked at the plan, fretting that Kenya’s career army lacked the wherewithal to sustain “bush fighters.”
What exactly happened to those trained under this initiative is now shrouded in mystery. Some say that Kenya failed to honour the financial aspects of the deal and that the youth then fell out with the military.
The danger, as anti-terror experts see it, is that Kenya’s misguided effort may have led to blowback, defined as the painful consequences of secret operations suffered by those who mount such operations.
The 2011 invasion came on the heels of this initiative. And since the invasion, KDF may have further muddied the waters and wrong-footed its own anti-Al Shabaab strategy with its ill-advised immersion in the clan politics of Jubbaland.
In 2013, Kenya and Ethiopia cobbled together an agreement under the auspices of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development, IGAD, and arm-twisted the TFG to accept the creation of the Interim Jubba Administration, led by Sheikh Ahmed “Madobe,” Kenya’s ally.
As the Monitoring Group now notes, rather than help to forge an inclusive government, these manouvres fed fuel to the already edgy relationships between the dominant Ogaden and Marehan clans.
Excluded from this process, the Marehan and the much smaller clans — the Digil and Mirifle — have been vociferous in their opposition to the recently re-elected Madobe administration. These intrigues undermine KDF’s long-term mission to degrade Al Shabaab.
The festering grievances are a double benefit to Al Shabaab: One, they provide fertile recruiting grounds and, two, the sullen population provides a hiding place when Amisom attacks.
This and other facts, including claims about KDF profiteering, first, from the illicit charcoal trade two years ago and, more recently, from sugar imports, mean that Kenya’s Somali adventure is increasingly seen as malign by the TFG.
Beyond Kenya and Ethiopia’s mixed motives, Amisom has also failed to win hearts and minds. When its camps are attacked, as they have been recently, Amisom’s retaliation, the Monitoring Group says, has often been brutal and disproportionate, causing civilian deaths and injuries.
This isolates the force from the local community and hardens the perception that Amisom is an occupation force.
The typical response when Amisom is accused of killing civilians has been to form a board of inquiry, as KDF now has. Yet, as the report notes, these boards are so restricted in their mandate and so instinctively pro-military, they don’t give Somalis the confidence that wrongdoing will be effectively investigated, let alone punished.
The report notes, in classic UN under-statement, “This may not be the most effective mechanism to address the violence.”
Amisom has not helped itself with its foot-dragging in complying with Security Council resolution 2182, taking more than a year to establish the Civilian Casualty Tracing, Analysis and Response Cell (CCTARC), which was only established mid last year.
Finally, there is Al Shabaab’s tactical flexibility — which, according to the report, has tested the “ability of the security forces to defend the Somali people.”
The US’s favoured strategy of eliminating Al Shabaab leaders through drone attacks has been blunted by the group’s increasingly effective decentralisation in which smaller cells are given both autonomy and real authority.
Thus, even with loss of territory, Al Shabaab remains lethal: Even tactically shifting to conventional attacks on military targets — both Amisom and the Somali National Army, as the spate of recent attacks demonstrates.
By linking up with Al Qaeda, it has become more sophisticated in its regional strategy, recruiting all over East Africa and killing more people outside Somali — especially Kenya — than it has killed inside the country over the past two years.
Its recruitment reflects this regional growth too. Estimates are between 10-25 per cent of Al Shabaab recruits are Kenyans, most of them unemployed and lured to Somalia with payments of up to $1,000, a handsome salary for a country where youth unemployment tops seven million.
Particularly worrying is the group’s ability to analyse and then “exploit weaknesses in the security and governance architecture;” a fact clearly manifest in the timing of its attacks against Amisom forces. Most, including this latest one, have occurred during or just after a troop change-over.
This suggests very significant intelligence gathering capability, a fact at odds with the rag-tag image implicit in pejorative descriptions such as “fundamentalist thugs and killers.”
They are both fundamentalist and ruthless killers but they have sophisticated situational awareness. When Amison attacks villages and towns it holds, Al Shabaab withdraws into remote rural areas, from where it can “blockade essential supplies from reaching the ‘liberated’populations.”
And so, the report notes, through a flexible combination of attack and retreat, the group can wait out the security forces: Raiding only when they are weakened, demoralised or thinly stretched over extended territory.
But the group has also been adept at exploiting the wider splits in Somali clan networks. When larger clans like the Ogaden marginalise smaller clans, Al Shabaab acquires an effective recruitment tool.
As the report notes, the territorial gains against Al Shabaab by Amisom have not “been matched by the expansion of the capacity of the Federal Government to maintain security” as a result of which old inter-clan rivalries, which Al -Shabaab had suppressed when it ran the country, have re-emerged.
It is not a pretty picture that emerges from this report. Yet if Amisom is to effectively stop the Al Shabaab menace, it must take heed.
The lesson to be learnt from the US’s recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Soviet Union’s in Afghanistan is that the longer an insurgency lasts, the harder it is to defeat.
Thus, given the increase in attacks on military camps, Amisom may see a troop surge as both urgent and necessary but it won’t be sufficient if not buttressed by matching investments to rebuild the Somali state.
Admiral James George Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, is surely right when he says: “You can’t kill your way to success in a counter-insurgency effort. You have to protect the people, get the civil-military balance right, train the locals, and practise effective strategic communications.”