…and on continuing need for AMISOM in Somalia

The Security Council fresh from its meetings in Addis Ababa last week and the discussions with AU Peace and Security Council on Somalia as well as other issues, was briefed this week on Somalia by Michael Keating, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM). Speaking on a video link from Mogadishu on Wednesday (September 13), Mr. Keating emphasized the necessity of predictable funding for AMISOM as a "top priority" to prevent reversal of hard-won gains in Somalia. AMISOM still had an indispensable role to play in protecting progress as the national security forces were not yet ready to shoulder full responsibility. Addressing security issues and the continuing threat from Al-Shabaab required vigorous implementation of the National Security Architecture Agreement and of the Comprehensive Approach to Security. International partners had started working on this but there was still much to be done. Government forces were not yet ready to replace AMISOM and he called for the lifting of the embargo on heavy weapons.

Mr. Keating said ongoing efforts, as well as the peaceful transition of power in early 2017, had created a sense of hope and a moment of political opportunity.  "But", he added, "the honeymoon period is now over," pointing out the formidable immediate and long-term humanitarian, economic, security and political challenges that persisted. Mr. Keating highlighted both the immediate and the long-term challenges in Somalia, calling for practical support and political encouragement for the Somali leadership, both at the Federal and the state levels. He said the worst of the famine threat had been averted but it remained imperative for Somalia to escape "the vicious cycle of recurring weather-related shocks."

There were a number of pressing issues among them the way political problems could become complicated by ill-defined relationships between the various branches of the State. He mentioned that politicians and power brokers were threatening impeachment and no-confidence votes in several areas. Certainly, however, the working relationship between the President and the Prime Minister, as well as the determination of the federal Government to deliver "tangible economic and security benefits" for the population at large, was very encouraging. Equally, it was very necessary that the Federal Government managed situations in such a way as to prevent any threat to the progress on core objectives for the stability of the state. He underlined that completing the constitutional review was a critical task for the successful holding of elections in 2020-2021. He said the legislative framework and agreement on the electoral model were urgently needed, and this would help dispel scepticism on whether Somalia could move away from the "4.5 model" to universal suffrage.

Economic progress was dependent upon success in reaching a political settlement between the Government and the private sector, as well as on Government policies and capacities to implement them. He said a critical requirement was raising revenues, whether from domestic sources or from concessional finance. He noted the Prime Minister's appeal for immediate budget support to allow the Government to deliver on jobs and security, and to strengthen relations with Federal Member State. There was, he said, a UN-World Bank collaboration to devise a "surge support" package for public works, and he urged partners to follow the European Union, Norway and Sweden's lead to use the Recurrent Cost and Reform Financing Facility for this.

Mr. Keating highlighted the Federal Government's achievements in passing priority laws, drafting national strategies on pressing issues and improving the security sector.  The worst of the famine had been averted, he said, because the international community had contributed $1 billion to address needs and reach more than 3 million people. However, key issues must still be resolved, with the next step being a national conference to be held in October. This should agree on a two-year master plan and on preparations for the elections expected in 2020 and 2021.  Overall, a united Security Council and international solidarity providing practical support for Somalia's leadership was essential, he said, emphasizing that a sustainable transitional plan must ensure a smooth handover of security responsibilities.

Others agreed. The Special Representative of the African Union Commission Chairperson for Somalia and Head of AMISOM, Ambassador Madeira, also speaking on a video link, emphasized predictable and sustainable funding was central to AMISOM's continued presence in Somalia and its ability to honor its obligation to ensure effective operations to destroy Al-Shabaab, protect civilians, support the delivery of humanitarian assistance and ensure a smooth transition from AMISOM to the Somali security authorities. He said AMSIOM was holding AMISOM-UNSOM joint training sessions, tackling child recruitment by terrorist groups and working with the Federal Government and international partners on the national security architecture and a new security pact.  Referring to AMISOM's exit strategy, Ambassador Madeira said an experts' conference had addressed the handover of security responsibilities and the wthdrawal of 1,000 AMISOM troops before the scheduled drawdown in December. The conference had also discussed a possible contingency plan for early withdrawal, should financial support dry up.

The Somali Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Abukar Dahir Osman, noted the government was striving for lasting security and stronger democratic institutions.  To that end, it was sparing no effort in fighting terrorism, corruption and poverty.  Its overall vision was a strong and cooperative federal union that would work for all Somalis.  The formation of a new National Security Council marked a step closer to that objective, he said. Emphasizing that security remained paramount for the Government, he expressed confidence that its forces, working with AMISOM, could defeat Al-Shabaab in the "next couple of years".  However, he said, the long-standing arms embargo imposed on Somalia severely restricted the Government's ability to procure heavy weapons.  "The time has come for Somalia to be able to get access to qualitatively better weapons," he said, and he asked the Council for a clearly defined road map that would lead to a full lifting of the embargo. Noting that AMISOM would withdraw by 31 May 2018, unless predictable and sustainable funding was in place, he said the Somali National Army and the security forces were not yet ready to take over.  AMISOM's premature withdrawal might be a recipe for disaster, he warned, emphasizing that it was crucial to finance the Mission beyond May 2018. 

Somalia was, of course, also one of the main items on the agenda at last week's joint UNSC and AUPSC meeting in Addis Ababa. According to reports of the meeting there was a considerable convergence of views among the members of both Councils on recent progress in Somalia, including the elections and the peaceful transfer of power. Some members, speaking on behalf of the Security Council, however noted that serious challenges remained. Al-Shabaab continued to pose a serious threat to Somalia and it was critically important for the Somali government and Federal Member States to adhere to the commitments regarding security, political reform, and development made during the London Somalia Conference in May. They also underlined the need for sustainable, predictable funding in tandem with improvements in accountability and oversight and command and control. The terrorist threat in Somalia was identified as a cross-regional threat. It required multi-faceted action. Addressing the root causes of terrorism, human rights and development and the development of a strong national police were all important to the stabilization of the country. Members underlined the critical role AMISOM had played in advancing peace and security in Somalia as well as sacrifices the troop-contributing countries had paid. They strongly emphasized that more support was needed to ensure that it would be able to continue to protect the fragile stability that had been achieved. There was general agreement on the importance of AMISOM for stability and security in Somalia. There was also agreement over the necessity that Somali security forces needed to be ready to take on security responsibilities for the country before AMISOM left. There was less agreement over how this should be achieved and the sort of UN support needed in order to build up the capacity of the Somali security forces.