Almost every aspect of the security in Somalia is outsourced to deeply entrenched competing foreign interests of various shades. None of them are accountable to the Somali government. Not even the legally mandated African Union Mission to Somalia peacekeeping force—AMISOM.
Contrary to the noble services that it provided in its early years, AMISOM has become a serious liability to the stabilization and also the main obstacle to Somalia’s sovereignty. Like IGAD—the East Africa regional authority on development—AMISOM has morphed into a politico-security monster that does not honor its mandate. Currently, AMISOM is Ethiopia, and Ethiopia is AMISOM.
AMISOM played an aggressive role in legally ushering in the Ethiopian Trojan Horse. Along with Kenya, Ethiopia espouses a thinly disguised zero-sum objective. For the last decade, the Ethiopian military has been aggressively pursuing said objective. Today, Ethiopia is the de facto leader of the military campaign to fight al-Shabaab. And this is a serious problem.
On November 2013, right before the Ethiopian troops were accepted into AMISOM, I received a formal invitation from AMISOM’s political office to attend an event intended to solicit the Somali diaspora’s support for the group. The event was to be held in a luxury venue in a third country, and it was to be attended by high level officials.
I thought to myself perhaps this would be a great opportunity to highlight why the inclusion of Ethiopian army into AMISOM would be disastrous and, in the process, persuade the African Union leadership to turn down Ethiopia’s offer.
So, I asked a simple question to the official: “If I joined you and in my presentation made a case against inclusion of Ethiopian forces into AMISOM would that be taken into consideration; also would it appear in your public literature?” Next day, I got his response: “Have you received details of the retreat?” I thought he forgot to answer my question, so I repeated it. Next day, I got his response: “Please send me a copy of your passport so we can process your travel arrangement”. I repeated my question for the third time. Next day I received his response: “I can’t beg you. If you are not interested, I am sure others will jump on this invitation”. So I responded: “I am sure you would match well.”
The message was clear: Welcoming Ethiopia into AMISOM was a fait accompli and the event itself was nothing more than a PR stunt to preempt any negative public sentiments.
Abyssinian Empire and Its Stooges
The “global war on terrorism” could not have been declared at a better time for Ethiopia. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. He could become a terror-preneur and position himself as the Horn of Africa’s Parvez Musharraf (former President of Pakistan) and generate for his nation its sorely needed resources and political backing to swallow Somalia, one piece at a time.
Meles was a Machiavellian visionary and a brilliant strategist. Though it was no secret that he came to power by the barrel of a gun and that he would only invoked the principles of ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’ to hypnotize the progressive elements within his Western partners, he was lionized by neoconservatives.
In 2002, Ethiopia released its Foreign Affairs and National Security Policy and Strategy which lays out its foreign policy toward Somalia. “Somalia has become a haven and conduit for terrorists and extremists. Anti-peace elements are using the country as a base and place of transit in order to threaten Ethiopia’s peace.” Needless to say, at that time, Somalia was ruled by ruthless warlords who were never accused of ever having any religious affiliation.
In the same document, one of the main motives that compel land-locked Ethiopia to keep Somalia divided and to use all of its means to install a cardboard president in each region is stated: “starting from the port of Zeila […] to Kismayo, there are no less than seven ports in Somalia that can be used by different parts of our country.”
Contrary to the phrase often used by the beneficiaries of Ethiopia’s micromanagement of Somali political affairs, “Itoobiya waa dowlad eynu walaalo nahay” or Ethiopia is a brotherly state; states, due to their shifting interests and alliances, are never “brothers”. This naïve perception of international relations secures Ethiopia the privilege to maintain its embassy virtually within the presidential compound.
Keeping Political Stooges Dependent
Almost a decade since AMISOM assumed the peacekeeping mission, Somali soldiers still remain poorly-equipped and unpaid, thanks to a corrupt leadership busy squandering money in luxury hotels abroad. Within that context, it is hardly surprising that the Somali leadership depends on AMISOM for security.
In Somalia, fear is a traded commodity. And these phenomena play major roles in perpetuation of fear: ghost assassinations of patriotic civil servants with institutional memories, government officials, and activists; and periodical suicide bombings that never get investigated. AMISOM bomb experts are notoriously absent from the scene—with photo opportunities being the only exception.
Furthermore, AMISOM routinely manufactures insecurity by abruptly evacuating towns and territories gained from al-Shabaab. This is a tactic that Ethiopia was known to use in order to manufacture insecurity for political expedience. The latest were the evacuation of Burhakabe, El Salindi, and Kunturwarey. Al-Shabaab reoccupied all three areas. In Burhakabe, among other atrocities, they beheaded two brothers for “spying.” Meanwhile, al-Shabaab, which was estimated around 3,000 gunmen when the Ethiopian tanks rolled into the heart of Mogadishu almost a decade ago, is now an international corporation of terror that wreaks havoc in Somalia and Kenya, but not Ethiopia—supposedly its worst enemy.
Somalia has been kept in a state of political uncertainty and security catastrophe in which no level of the state security apparatus is independent or wholly operated and governed by Somalis.
Ethiopia seems to have taken a page out of the playbook of the global war on terrorism. In order to get leaders to dutifully march to the beating drums of jingoism, they must be psychologically terrorized beyond common sense. Neoconservatives were very effective in tightly managing this perception of reality.
Former President George W. Bush’s shining moment came when he was most vulnerable, despite the fact that he was being flown across the country to keep him safe in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. “In the thick fog of war, Bush heard (manufactured apocalyptic) reports that Camp David and the State Department had been attacked, that there was a fire in the White House, and that his ranch in Texas may have been targeted.”
President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s ‘shock doctrine’ moment or his total submission to Ethiopia and its zero-sum strategy came when al-Shabaab bypassed AMISOM barricades and attacked the presidential palace.
In conclusion, no peacekeeping operation can succeed without the support of the local population; and, under the Ethiopian de facto command, AMISOM’s credibility is beyond repair. As I stated in the conclusion of my article titled Somalia’s Sullied Security, I would like to reiterate my call for the Somali government to request UN Blue Berets to replace AMISOM. A similar call was recently made by the British think tank Chatham House.
Meanwhile, the fateful scenario of the stubborn python trying to swallow the wounded tiger continues to play itself out.