AMISOM: New Start or New Band-Aid?

The coverage surrounding today’s UN Security Council unanimous decision on Somalia would have you believe that the corner is about to be turned, the end is nigh for Somalia’s problems, and help is on the way, with another 5,00 forces soon to be delivered. You would be quite wrong on that point. While today’s Security Council resolution is important, it’s not for the reasons that you may think.

Today’s vote approved Resolution 2036, the text of which can be found here. The provision that’s being most widely reported is Operative Clause 2’s increase of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)’s maximum number of peacekeepers:

Requests the African Union to increase AMISOM’s force strength from 12,000 to a maximum of 17,731 uniformed personnel, comprised of troops and personnel of formed police units;

This is true; the upper number of troops that can now take part has been raised, meaning that now more troops can be supported by AMISOM, which is itself at least partially funded by the United Nations and European Union. What the draft doesn’t make clear, however, is that the “new” troops are already on the ground in Southern Somalia.

That’s right, this resolution authorizes the status quo and allows for the bureaucracy surrounding the mission to function more smoothly. You see, the Kenyan Army invaded Somalia late last year in an attempt to suppress the growth and momentum of al-Shabaab. Ethiopia soon followed suit, with the two armies, and AMISOM, working to push back al-Shabaab. They’ve been doing a decent job of it ad-hoc so far, but the United Kingdom has been pushing for a formalization of this effort. The desire to finally lockdown security is apparent in that once you actually get into the weeds of this resolution, it reads like a strategy to end al-Shabaab. Which it is. For example, the text expands “AMISOM’s presence to three sectors outside Mogadishu and supports implementation of some of the key elements of the new strategic concept for AMISOM adopted by the AU Peace and Security Council”. S/2036 also expands the mandate of the AU mission to specifically cite al-Shabaab as an entity which it is authorized to use “all necessary means” to target.

What’s interesting about this resolution is that it spells out what is left vague in most other resolutions dealing with peace-enforcement by regional bodies. When NATO is given a green-light to operate, it tends to pick up the ball and run with whatever scant detail the authorization provides. The African Union, however, doesn’t have the budget of the North Atlantic community, and given the unwillingness for the Security Council to launch another blue helmet mission in Somalia, is content to do the fighting while the UN pays the bills. Those bills will be rising substantially now that Kenyan forces will be under the banner of AMISOM; from $250M to $550M for logistics and supplies to be taken from the UN’s regular budget, while the EU foots the bill for AMISOM’s troops. Despite the cost, several states are still dismayed that the draft didn’t go far enough. In the speeches following the vote, US Ambassador Susan Rice expressed disappointment that a maritime component was not added to the resolution’s aims, while the Indian Permanent Representative wished that the costs covered by the resolution included state’s patrols of the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters. As India, China, France, the UK, and US all have ships in the region, it would have been quite the payout.

This isn’t to say that the resolution is solely focused on the military component of rehabilitating Somalia. It does stress in several places the need for political and economic components to the efforts to rebuild Somalia after al-Shabaab is cleared from an area, as well as emphasizing the need for humanitarian assistance to be able to move unhindered. What’s interesting, however, is that the United Kingdom pushed this text through at this time. The London Conference on Somalia is set to open tomorrow, and according to Security Council Report, several states were hesitant to vote today, for danger of putting the cart before the horse.

Another provision worth noting is the ascendance of charcoal to the level of “embargoed conflict mineral”. As I learned yesterday, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has had a ban on the export of charcoal for quite some time, as its sale is a huge funder of Shabaab’s activities. Unable to enforce the ban, however, the international community has now stepped in. Under Operative Clause 22, states are to be forbidden from importing Somali charcoal, directly or indirectly. Three experts, Laura Seay, Dan Solomon, and Semhar Araia weren’t keen on the likelihood of success of this embargo when asked on Twitter, noting that enforcement issues and continuing demand will hamper the efforts, likely resulting in

It remains to be seen what lasting impact today’s resolution will have, as the London Conference convenes tomorrow. I’d like to say that I’m hopeful about the conference’s chances, but most of the reports are tinged with doubt. It doesn’t help that the final communiqué from the conference was leaked last week, leaving many wondering what the point of the conference is at all. Granted, this is the first major international conference on Somalia that actually thought to include Muslim-majority states to take part. But members of the diaspora are less than pleased, and potential new funders, like Turkey and the UAE, are grumbling at a seeming bias towards the US and Ethiopia’s views.

Tomorrow’s conference is expected to endorse the dissolving of the TFG, to be replaced by a new political body entirely, with a permanent fedeeral government to be set up by August 2012. That this is even being considered, rather than simply extending the TFG’s mandate by yet another year, is a welcome bit of new thinking that could help push Somalia on a new path after twenty years of being a failed state. It’s needed, because otherwise the “increase” of AMISOM’s forces will be just another band-aid hoping to cure a critical wound. The international community is finally acting with a renewed determination towards getting Somalia. But like most things relating to Somalia, the situation on the ground is what matters. AMISOM’s “new” forces won’t be a game-changer, but they’ll hopefully at least be the start of something big.

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