The much-ballyhooed conference on Somalia hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on Feb. 23 was long on grandstanding but short on new substance. The meeting was clearly more about crowning a new leader (Britain) and celebrating the limited military successes against Islamist militants than about building a foundation for peace.
Conference attendees included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Presidents Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, and other dignitaries from 40 countries. Also represented were regional organizations such as the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the European Union. Notable newcomers to the Somalia scene included Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
According to Cameron, the purpose of the conference was to build on the momentum gained by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has retaken most of Mogadishu from the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabab militants on behalf of the Transitional Federal Government.
Britain has recently taken the lead in the international campaign to stabilize Somalia. On Feb. 1, Britain announced that it had appointed its first envoy to Somalia in 21 years. Foreign Secretary William Hague said on a visit to Somalia on Feb. 2 that dozens of British citizens were attending al-Shabab terrorist training camps in Somalia. Hague said it was only a matter of time before the militants strike in Britain.
He said that the objective of the London conference was to “strengthen counterterrorism cooperation to make it easier for countries in the region to disrupt terrorist networks” and restrict their movements and financing.
The most important outcome actually came the day before the conference when the U.N. Security Council expanded the mandate of the African Union mission in Somalia (AMISOM). UNSC Resolution 2036, which the U.K. proposed, raised AMISOM’s troop strength to 17,731 and authorized its troops to pursue rebels outside the capital city of Mogadishu.
The resolution authorized AMISOM to “take all necessary means to reduce the threat posed by Shabab and other armed opposition groups in order to establish conditions for effective and legitimate governance across Somalia.” It also doubled AMISOM’s budget from $250 million to $550 million. The U.N. funds the mission with most of the support coming from the EU.
Western and Asian pirates are operating criminal enterprises under the noses of the international anti-piracy armada.
This expanded mandate means that AMISOM has essentially moved from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. Its initial peacekeeping mandate limited AMISOM to self-defense and the defense of the Transition Federal Government’s offices in a small part of the capital, Mogadishu. This meant that its troops were not allowed to take offensive action unless directly attacked.
The limited mandate and lack of troops and resources limited its effectiveness. Its designation as a peacekeeping mission was also problematic in the sense that there was no peace to keep. The current mandate, therefore, makes more sense. The question is, however, whether the expansion will include enablers such as attack helicopters that would extend the reach of AMISOM outside the capital city.
Most of the additional troops come from the re-hatting of Kenyan troops who invaded southern Somalia in October after a rash of kidnappings of tourists at coastal resorts near the Kenya-Somalia border. The goal was to create a buffer zone along the border to stop frequent cross-border incursions by Somali militants.
The problem, however, was that Kenya lacks the resources to fund an extended occupation. The re-hatting, therefore, lifted a heavy burden. Henceforth, AMISOM’s funders at the U.N. and the EU will pay for the costs of the occupation, including the Kenyan troops’ salaries.
Cameron also highlighted the issue of piracy. He called on the international community to maintain pressure on Somali pirates by stepping up maritime security patrols and prosecuting suspects. He praised Tanzania, Seychelles, and Mauritius for agreeing to imprison pirates arrested by Western militaries in the Indian Ocean. Cameron noted that the United Arab Emirates has provided $15 million to strengthen the Seychelles Coast Guard. The U.K. and Netherlands are also establishing a center for coordinating intelligence.
Although the conference reaffirmed the international community’s determination to fight piracy on the Indian Ocean, no new ideas or policies were presented. The discussion centered instead on strengthening the awesome global armada that has been parked off Somalia since 2008.
The problem with this approach is that the shock-and-awe tactics have failed to significantly reduce acts of piracy. The U.N. estimates, for instance, that the pirates in Somalia are still holding over 170 hostages. In 2011, pirates captured over 20 ships and attacked over 200.