Somalia: The Power Struggle at the A.U. Summit
Jul 29, 2010 - 11:07:34 PM
By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein
The July 11 World Cup bombings in Kampala can be understood as a calculated risk taken by Harakat al-Shabaab Mujahideen (H.S.M.), the transnational revolutionary Islamist group that seeks to establish an emirate in Somalia, and is fighting a war for control against the country’s internationally recognized and ineffectual Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), which exists only by virtue of the protection offered by an African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM). H.S.M.’s proximate war aim is to force the Ugandan and Burundian contingents of AMISOM out of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, at which point it would fill the power vacuum.
The decision by H.S.M. to make its first major strike outside Somalia was fraught with risk. The attack would set off a panic reaction in Somalia’s neighboring states, unleashing calls for an invasion of Somalia to knock out H.S.M. or at least change AMISOM’s mandate from peacekeeping (defensive response) to peace enforcement (pro-active response). Were either of those to measures to eventuate, the balance of military power in southern and central Somalia would be altered decisively against H.S.M. On the other hand, were H.S.M.’s opponents – the international coalition of Western donor powers led by Washington, Somalia’s neighboring states ranged in the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (I.G.A.D.), the A.U., and the T.F.G. – unable to reach consensus on a move to peace enforcement, H.S.M. would have revealed and deepened weaknesses in its adversaries – splits, tensions, conflicts, disaffection, and disillusionment – weakened will. The July 11 bombings were another incident in H.S.M.’s “long war” – a challenge to and a test of its opponents.
Somalia at the A.U. Summit
The test came two weeks after the bombings, at the A.U. summit, which was held in Kampala from July 25-27, insuring that, although the theme of the meeting was maternal and child health, the focus of attention would be on what to do about H.S.M./Somalia.
The shock administered by H.S.M. precipitated a political force field among its opponents. On one side was Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, who advocated “sweeping” terrorists off the continent, said that he wanted a “license to kill,” and threatened that Uganda had the “right of self-defense” to invade Somalia unilaterally. If nothing else, Museveni wanted a beefed-up AMISOM with a peace-enforcement mandate.
Museveni’a reaction was intelligible; the bombings had damaged his domestic position, had unleashed public anger and triggered calls for action, and had awakened open opposition to Uganda’s participation in AMISOM in the inter-party coalition that plans to oppose him in 2011 presidential elections. He had every interest in sparking a juggernaut against H.S.M., or at least in pushing for one.
Joining with Museveni were the I.G.A.D. states bordering Somalia – Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti – all of which are threatened by attacks from H.S.M. and the possible emergence of a Salafist emirate in Somalia. In early July, before the bombings, an I.G.A.D. summit had approved sending new troops to bolster AMISOM. Through the run-up to the A.U. summit, I.G.A.D. reiterated its calls for more contributions to AMISOM, a lifting of the 8100 cap on its force level, and a peace-enforcement mandate for AMISOM, if the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) would not approve a U.N. mission to replace it.
On the other side of the force field, Washington had made it plain in the period following the bombings that it approved of beefing up AMISOM, but not on expanding its mandate. For Washington, the bombings were not a “game shifter,” as Chatham House’s Sally Healy thought they might be, but an embarrassment that had to be managed in such a way that the current U.S. policy of procrastination would remain intact with as few concessions as possible to the East African hawks. The U.N.’s secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, and his special representative to Somalia, Augustine Muhiga, provided Washington and Western powers with cover.
Washington’s push back against Museveni and I.G.A.D. was a strong vector, since the donor powers would have to finance any expanded AMISOM presence and activities in Somalia.
The A.U. was at the center of the force field, pressed by Museveni and I.G.A.D. to adopt mandate expansion, which would have to be approved by the U.N.S.C., and counter-pressured by the U.N. and donor powers to reject it.
The unfolding power struggle and the pressures on the A.U. were revealed by A.U. peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, on July 20, as the run-up to the summit began. Lamamra announced that if the donor powers, particularly Washington, provided sufficient logistical support, an additional two thousand troops would bolster AMISOM by mid-September, bringing the force to its U.N.-authorized limit of eight thousand. Lamamra said that the summit would consider removing the cap on forces and bringing it up to the twenty thousand requested by I.G.A.D., and allowing states bordering Somalia, which are now banned from military activity there, to participate in the mission. Most significantly, Lamamra did not come out in favor of mandate expansion, instead offering that with proper equipment, mobilization, other assets, and “enablers,” AMISOM’s current mandate could cover “the legitimate right of self-defense” and allow AMISOM “to engage in some very bold actions aimed at pre-empting the actions of the terrorists and insurgents;” that is, keep the mandate as is, but alter the “rules of engagement.”
The A.U.’s equivocal position was clarified by the vice president of the A.U. Commission, Erasutus Mwencha, in an interview with Uganda’s New Vision newspaper. Responding to criticism that, except for Uganda and Burundi, A.U. states had not contributed to AMISOM, Mwencha said that the A.U. could “send twenty thousand troops today” if the donor powers provided financial and logistical support, and opined that the donors’ reluctance to commit was due to the fact that they had not yet felt H.S.M.’s “pinch.” Mwencha added that the donors had only become interested in Somalia after piracy had erupted off that country’s coast.
On July 23, the chair of the A.U. Commission, Jean Ping, announced that Guinea-Conakry, which has been suspended by the A.U. following a 2008 military coup, had pledged a battalion to AMISOM. He repeated Mwencha’s criticism of the donors, saying that the U.N.S.C. was “ignoring Somalia” and had the obligation to send a peacekeeping force of its own to replace AMISOM. Ping reiterated the charge that the “international community” was “preoccupied with piracy.” He noted that AMISOM needed tactical helicopters and that its forces needed a pay raise. Finally, Ping urged the U.N.S.C. to allow states bordering Somalia to participate in AMISOM.
As Ping attempted to excuse the A.U. and confront the donors rhetorically, Great Britain’s minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, expressed support for lifting the cap on AMISOM’s force level, but rejected the call for an expanded mandate, which, he said, could “backfire” by impeding “political progress in Somalia;” that is, it would dash any hopes held by the donors that H.S.M. could be split, thereby isolating its transnational wing.
On the same day, All Africa published an interview with Bellingham’s U.S. counterpart, Under Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson, who avoided the issue of AMISOM and concentrated on exhorting the T.F.G., which is confined to an enclave in Mogadishu protected by AMISOM, “to do more” – provide services to the population, work toward stability, be more inclusive, and bring in more groups opposed to H.S.M.
The thrust of the East African hawks reached its high point when A.U. foreign ministers met in preparation for the summit. Kenya’s East African newspaper reported agreement that AMISOM’s mandate be expanded to peace enforcement, and on the need for “regional military action” against H.S.M., although a rift had developed between Kenya, which wanted the forces of the East African Standby Brigade to compose the mission, and Uganda, which wanted to rely on its forces and an expanded mandate; others favored pressing the U.N. to send a mission. Ping announced that the A.U.’s Peace and Security Commission was “already planning the next phase in the deployment of AMISOM in terms of the enlarged mandate, increased troop strength and appropriate equipment.”
When the summit opened on July 25, A.U. chairman, Binju Wa Mutharika, the president of Malawi, did not announce a commitment to AMISOM. A U.S. State Department official told the East African that “it might be premature to start translating these attacks [the World Cup bombings] into an increase” in AMISOM’s strength. The counter-thrust had begun.
The confrontation between I.G.A.D. and the donors transpired in a hastily-called, closed-door “mini-summit” of I.G.A.D. on the sidelines of the A.U. summit that was attended by the presidents of Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Tanzania, and Somalia, and by representatives from the U.S., France, Great Britain, European Union, and U.N. Museveni called for rejecting the “new form of colonialism through terrorism” represented by H.S.M., which he said should be “shifted out of Africa.” According to an exclusive report in Uganda’s Observer newspaper, Museveni pushed for an “all-out offensive” against H.S.M. and was strongly supported by Djibouti’s president, Ismael Omar Guelleh. Both leaders reportedly pressed Carson, with Museveni saying: “These people have brought terrorism to our doors. We need to flush them out.” Carson reportedly replied that “the Somalia situation needed to be handled cautiously lest it explodes,” noting that even after a recent surge of twenty thousand new U.S. forces in Afghanistan, that country still remains “volatile.”
After the meeting, Carson said that there was a need for more AMISOM troops on the ground and that Washington would aid those forces “as we supply the present force.” Refusing to speak for Washington, Carson instead reported that the U.N. secretary-general’s representative to Somalia, Augustine Muhiga, had opposed a mandate expansion for AMISOM, arguing that the present mandate permitted AMISOM forces to “act in a more responsible and robust fashion.” The head of the E.U. delegation, Amb. Vincent de Vischer, acknowledged calls for more action from the East Africans, promising that financial assistance would materialize soon, but adding that the only results of the meeting had been “an agreement in principle” to raise salaries of AMISOM troops from U.S.$500 per month to $800.
Uganda’s Monitor newspaper reported that the counter-thrust of the donors had been met with anger from the East African leaders. Museveni, leaving behind Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa, walked out of the meeting early, along with Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, and Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikiweti. All of them refused to comment on the meeting. A source from Uganda’s cabinet told the Monitor: “Unfortunately, while Washington has deep pockets, they are failing to commit in definite terms.” Ugandan government spokesman, Fred Opolot, noted that many countries had extended condolences over the bombings, but were not “committing to do more.” He added that Uganda had been counting on Washington to take the lead and encourage other countries to support a more robust approach.
Insight into I.G.A.D.’s negotiating position at the mini-summit was provided by Uganda’s permanent secretary of the Foreign Ministry, James Mugume, who told Agence France Presse that there was a “realization that chapter seven [a U.N. peace enforcement mandate] is difficult;” thus I.G.A.D. would have settled for “6 ½,” an “adjustment in the rules of engagement.” Even that proved to be impossible, leaving Ugandan military spokesman, Lt.-Col. Felix Kulaligye, to say:”Where there is a realization that you are about to be attacked, you are mandated to attack.” That is the interpretation that AMISOM had consistently given of its mandate – well before the summit – except when it was pushing to have it expanded.
On July 29, Uganda’s Eye newspaper published an exclusive report quoting an officer of Uganda’s military who said that failure to expand the mandate was “a big set back for the forces on the ground,” and a diplomatic source who declared: “You can’t insist on increasing the forces that are going to stand and wait to be attacked in order to respond.” Confirmation that the rules of engagement had not changed appreciably was provided by AMISOM spokesman, Maj. Barigye Ba-Hoku, who told Voice of America that higher force levels would serve as a “platform” for reconciliation among Somalia’s domestic factions, adding that the mandate should be re-examined.
On July 27, when the summit ended, the A.U.’s inability to mediate between the East Africans and the donors, and its implosion on the question of Somalia became evident when, in his closing speech, Mutharika called for international cooperation on Somalia and said that the AMISOM mandate had not been debated.
Ping clarified that an expanded mandate would require new equipment, such as helicopters, which were not “available.” Discussions on equipment with Washington, London, and Paris were, he said, “promising.” The A.U. would raise the pay of troops to U.S.$750 per month and there would be four thousand new forces – two thousand from I.G.A.D. and the others from Guinea and Djibouti, which had a battalion prepared, but could not deploy due to the prohibition on intervention by states bordering Somalia. The rest of the issues (including, presumably the participation of neighboring states in AMISOM) would, Ping said, be taken up by the A.U.’s Peace and Security Council and eventually by the U.N.S.C.
On July 27, at the daily U.S. State Department press briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley said that Washington would be “looking to” improve AMISOM’s capabilities.
A Blow to Africa.
The power struggle between the I.G.A.D. states and the donor coalition led by Washington placed the A.U. in a compromised position. The majority of member states in an African region were calling for help in their efforts to contain H.S.M., yet the donor coalition did not want escalation of the military conflict in Somalia, because it might backfire into an H.S.M. “recruitment boom,” would eliminate the possibility of splitting H.S.M., and would cost money that might not gain any return. The A.U. and its member states had every reason to back I.G.A.D., were it not for the fact that not only is AMISOM dependent on donor financing, but African states in general depend on aid from the donor coalition. Dependency is the obvious cause of the A.U.’s implosion over Somalia. Whatever the A.U. and its members wanted, the donors would only satisfy their interests if they were convergent with their own.
Since the donors had long been in favor of an increase in AMISOM force levels, they were willing to uncap the 8100 limit. How high it will go will depend upon what the donors are willing to pay.
Everything else that was requested by I.G.A.D. – mandate expansion, intervention by border states, and embargoes at H.S.M.-controlled airports and seaports – would amount to escalation of the conflicts in Somalia, which the donors did not desire. At the end, push came to shove on the question of “6 ½.” The donor coalition accepted Muhiga’s formula of a “more responsible and robust” interpretation of the existing mandate to acknowledge the right of AMISOM to respond pre-emptively to direct threats on its positions; that is, a doctrine of pre-emptive self-defense that, as mentioned above, AMISOM has consistently held.
Donor acknowledgment of pre-emptive self-defense is the loose end left from the A.U. summit. It is (intentionally?) vague and ambiguous, allowing for everything from a broad interpretation that would sanction any aggressive action under the pretext of self-defense to a narrow construction that would only sanction pre-emption of an immediate threat. A repeat of the power struggle at the mini-summit might take place over pre-emptive self-defense, but it is likely that the donor powers would prevail; they hold the purse strings, and things will remain the same as they have unless the donor powers decide that a more “robust” approach is warranted. The remarks of the Eye’s sources and Ba-Hoku’s statements to the Voice of America indicate that AMISOM believes that its posture will remain defensive.
AMISOM does get more forces, which will either give it more protection and, perhaps, allow it to expand its perimeter around T.F.G. installations; or awaken resentment of the mission among Somalis and consequently increase support for H.S.M. Should AMISOM move too aggressively in pre-emptive self-defense and harm civilians, it will have eroded its position to a point that it would approach being untenable. Pre-emptive self-defense, in short, is hedged on every side.
H.S.M., which set off the rift in its opposition and the resulting power struggle among the latter, made good on its calculated risk in executing the World Cup bombings. H.S.M. made plain the lack of donor resolve, showed that the donors would not honor African interests, and created resentment, all of which tend to erode support for AMISOM in Africa. I.G.A.D. wanted to ride the wave of sympathy, panic, and anger following the Kampala bombings to a game-shifting change in Somalia; it found out that what plays in Kampala leaves the donors unmoved. On July 26, speaking for H.S.M., Sh. Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal commented that AMISOM was “an American project implemented through the A.U.” Above all, the summit showed that the A.U. was powerless to act on Somalia as an agent.
It is always possible that the donors will re-calculate their interests and allow a war to be fought against H.S.M. with their support. At present, there is no indication that they are moved to do so. As the donors see it, a beefed-up AMISOM will be able to protect the T.F.G. without suffering undue harm, allowing procrastination to continue.
Report Drafted By: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University in Chicago
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