The government of Somalia and the African Union agreed on December 28 to launch a technical roundtable to redefine the AMISOM mission, after the UN Security Council granted a three-month extension of the mandate, which was due to expire on December 31.
In this way, the possibility of a sudden and chaotic transition of security to the Somali federal forces, in the midst of a political crisis and with parliamentary elections underway, was foiled.
The extension of the mandate, provisionally renewed until the end of March 2022, was granted subject to the holding of a technical roundtable between the African Union, the command of the AMISOM mission and the Somali government, to redefine the mandate and to establish the roles and responsibilities of the various components of the national and international security apparatus.
The agreement reached between the parties foresees that Somalia re-submits to the African Union its Transition Plan, probably foreseeing the presence of the AMISOM mission until the end of 2023, defining a new mission mandate, a reconfiguration of competencies and a plan to ensure the financing of the operation.
The presence of the AMISOM mission in Somalia, since 2007, has been criticized on several occasions by the Somali government. While recognizing its role and merit in having initially allowed the defeat of al Shabaab, the permanence of foreign soldiers in Somalia would have, according to local institutions, on the one hand slowed down the transition process towards the Somali federal forces and, on the other, created a real parallel economy within the military apparatus of the participating countries. The international financial contribution, in short, would have allowed the military structures of many countries in the region not only to pay regular salaries to their military, preventing riots and coups, but also determined the possibility of renewing the equipment and the endowments of their armed forces. These factors, according to some representatives of the Somali political and security environment, have convinced the military leadership of the participating countries of the need to constantly feed the al Shabaab threat, while reducing the capacity of Somali forces, in order to indefinitely extend the mission to their own advantage.
At the same time, under the guise of contributing to Somalia’s security and stability, some countries in the region participating in the AMISOM mission – most notably Kenya and Ethiopia – would have used their presence in Somalia to consolidate their economic interests related to the exploitation of port terminals, charcoal and khat trade, and fisheries, in addition to exerting functional political influence on broader bilateral issues, such as the Kenya-Somalia maritime boundary dispute.
The renewal of AMISOM’s mandate will most likely see the mission transformed into a hybrid mode, with the entry of new forces selected within the UN Security Council and, above all, the start of a phase of technical-bureaucratic restructuring of Somali institutions. The main problem remains that of financing, today mostly ensured by the European Union, and that member countries would like to see directly ensured by the United Nations.
In these hypotheses of transformation, therefore, the possibility of a change of management of the mission from the African Union to the UN seems to be emerging, although Somalia has made it a condition of acceptance that management remain in the hands of the African international organization.
On the general security front, on the other hand, taking advantage of the profound confusion generated in the country as a result of the political crisis caused by the confrontation between President Farmajo and Prime Minister Roble, the al Shabaab resumed its military initiative by attacking, in the early hours at dawn on December 30, the important town of Bal’ad, 37 km northeast of the capital, Mogadishu.
Bal’ad represents an important road junction and a military garrison of fundamental importance for the security of the capital, where units of the federal army and the police are stationed.
According to information coming from Somalia, al Shabaab militiamen attacked the local military garrison causing the death of at least 5 soldiers and 7 civilians, then occupying for some hours the command of the armed forces and the main police stations.
The militiamen then withdrew after the Somali National Army (SNA) forces, reorganized, launched a counter-offensive returning to the town. Nine al Shabaab terrorists were reportedly killed during the clashes, which lasted until early afternoon. According to the command of the federal military forces stationed in the town, the militiamen tried to take possession of a special machine for the laying of asphalt on the roads, without however succeeding in removing it from the warehouse where it was kept.
The case has generated embarrassment among Somali political forces, who accuse the institutional leadership of having neglected the fight against the jihadist threat, concentrating instead on the dynamics of the political clash, taking place against in background of the elections.
The al Shabaab has also claimed responsibility for the attack in which 15 Ethiopian soldiers were killed on January 1 near the village of Jawiil, in the region of Hiiran, near the border between the two countries.
The Addis Ababa-based soldiers, part of the AMISOM mission’s forces, were driving along a peripheral road in an unarmored Ural artillery transport vehicle when a powerful IED explosion overwhelmed them, killing all those on board.