Aa stakeholders in Somalia were still butting heads over a proposed drawdown of peace enforcers deployed the African Union, news reports from Mogadishu indicated massive desertions by elements of the Somali National Army from their duty stations.
Troops from the Shabelle region withdrew from at least three bases, after going for months without pay.
The desertions pose a serious problem. The troops are prime fodder for Al Shabaab recruiters, since they can sell arms and information to the enemy, or simply engage in criminal enterprise themselves, complicating an already difficult situation.
Just 30 kilometres north of the capital, the Shabelle region is critical to the fight against Al Shabaab because it forms a buffer between Mogadishu and the terror group’s remnants.
It is also one of the few places where the nascent Somali National Army has cut its teeth, leading efforts to fight off the enemy.
That way, the SNA’s experiences in Shabelle have played the dual role of building self-confidence while also containing and learning more about the enemy. It was partly successes of the SNA in Shabelle that led the federal government last May, to broach the idea of a phased withdrawal of African Union peacekeeping troops under African Union Mission in Somalia, Amisom.
On the surface, the latest desertions will justify the fears of those opposed to a reduction in Amisom’s troop strength at this point in time.
On the flipside, it raises the possibility that the federal government is using the proposed drawdowns as a metaphor for what it considers to be Somalia’s more fundamental needs.
In a notoriously fickle world, no nation will want to premise its sovereignty on the whims of an external coalition. In any case, the tell-tale signs of fatigue in international support for Amisom would seem to vindicate the federal government.
July will mark 12 years since Ugandan troops first deployed in Mogadishu after endorsement by the African Union. That mission, at first restricted in scope, would soon morph into an offensive operation that routed Al Shabaab from Mogadishu.
As more boots arrived from troop-contributing countries, Amisom slowly expanded the federal government’s territorial control. Yet as the current difficulties with paying troops show, those gains have not been matched by a comprehensive nation-building programme that can anchor the progress on the military front.
What Somalia really needs is a full recovery programme that considers the social and economic aspects of the state. As the current discontent among the military demonstrates, to stand on its own, Somalia needs to have an active tradable sector that is integrated into the global economy.
That calls for a new round of soft and hard investment but such efforts will require a capable military for protection.