Monday, November 25, 2013

The Future of Security in Somalia


     There is no question that security and peace in the Middle East is tantamount to life or death in foreign policy today.  With various terrorist groups making their mark known, security and governance must be supported by the international community and a priority must be established to stop the fighting in the most volatile region on Earth.  Somalia is no exception to this trend and has been thrust back into the limelight with the Somali terrorist organization al-Shabaab’s attack on the Westgate Mall in Kenya and the United States’ Special Forces raid in Somalia to take out high valued targets of al-Shabaab.  These recent events have, again, brought the dire concern of the security of this ailing state to the forefront and how it will fare in the future. 
     The terrorist group al-Shabaab was formed in the wake of the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in 2004.  During that time, what is known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was established in Somalia and was internationally recognized.  The TFG overtook supremacy from Islamic organizations who controlled much of the state – namely the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).  Despite their best efforts, the TFG could not maintain order and Ethiopian forces, backed by the United States, intervened to quell the Islamist radicals and regional border disputes.  Ethiopia maintained they did not want to establish a government in Somalia but were merely contributing regional stability and border control.
     The Christian Ethiopian forces angered the ICU and inspired further sectarian violence and radicalization.  While the TFG was originally established to bring stability to the nation, they lost the support of many Somalis as reports of corruption, rape, and Islamic sympathy began to surface.  It became clear that the TFG was not working and Somalis wanted TFG's supporters, including Ethiopian forces, out.  Ethiopia officially withdrew in 2009 after suffering various defeats at the hands of Islamic guerrillas leaving behind unequipped African Union peacekeepers to combat radicalization.
     After the conflict, the ICU began to disband and other groups began to form. Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen or al-Shabaab, which means “the youth,” was one such group.  Their leadership is believed to have stemmed from al-Qaeda and Afghanistan where many of al-Shabaab’s fighters have trained.  Daniel Kebede, a former police officer in Ethiopia who spoke at a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center recently on the security of Somalia, stated that al-Shabaab’s main infantry forces consist of 25-30 men, which allows them to move easily.  He also stated they have Special Forces units as well.
     According to Kebede, al-Shabaab’s overall objective is to spread Jihad using military and political strategies.  The two can be closely associated for achieving a greater goal but militarily, they organize for assassination and to gain control of areas or regions to demonstrate their presence.  Politically, their ideology and beliefs keep them together and focused on their radical occupations.
     Regional security is paramount to combating terrorism and instilling good governance.  The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is a regional peacekeeping group, which formed in 2007 during the armed conflict.  The United Nations Security Council authorized their peacekeeping mission in Somalia in an attempt to shore-up the TFG.  AMISOM’s mission is to champion the peacekeeping process and assist in stabilizing the security of the Somalian state.
     Somalia’s security remains weak and regional security is essential to their growth.  “Regional security in Africa is so interdependent on a multi-national network,” stated George Mason University Professor Terrence Lyons at the Wilson Center panel.  Mr. Lyons stressed the importance of a unified Horn of Africa which includes Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia.  He noted it is hard to pull these nations apart and they each have a stake in maintaining order and security in their region.
     According to Lyons, Somalia's situation is not quite sufficient enough for a repatriation effort and Ethiopia must remain a major player for their long term security.  While many Somalis may still fervently disapprove of Ethiopian efforts, which date back to the war, their presence is much needed.  Lyons stated that Ethiopia is already in Somalia so the real question must focus on whether Ethiopia is going to act unilaterally or if they are going to make security a joint effort.  He seems to agree with the latter, partly due to their timid efforts with AMISOM.
     While regional security is immensely important to peacekeeping efforts and combating future terrorism, good governance is really the glue which holds everything together.  Terror cells flourish in regions with poor governance.  The Taliban is a key example ruling regions and villages in Afghanistan.  United States forces were able to push them out of several regions but the fear remains that if U.S. forces pull out, these groups will come back.  Ultimately, the host country must take strides to achieve good governance otherwise joint efforts are futile.  When discussing the future of Somali security, many experts focus on a strong federal government rather than strengthening the individual states.  This is a more top down, Hamiltonian approach to security and governance.
     Somalia recently entered into the New Deal for Somalia.  In Brussels on September 16, 2013, a conference was held between the Somali government and the European Union along with other international partners which focused on fragile nations and set forth principles to put them on the right track.  The importance of this conference lies in Somalia's recognition of their fragility and their commitment to take steps towards improving their security.
     According to Melanie Greenberg, President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, there is a three-legged stool to maintaining this peacekeeping deal.  First, Somalia recognizes and acknowledges it is a fragile state.  This is important because they need to build a stronger federal government in order to ward off future insurgencies and discourage terrorism.  Next, wealthy donor states must provide aid to the Somali security efforts.  Lastly, civil society must play a major role in the host nation.  Each is just as important to the other in committing to Somalia's security.
     Al-Shabaab is the greatest threat to Somali security.  The United States recognizes this which is why they have taken a more active interest in the region.  Global terrorism appears to be on the rise.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram, a newly recognized terrorist organization by the State Department, has demonstrated their presence through targeted attacks.  Mr. Kebede noted that there are no strong ties between Boko Haram and al-Shabaab mainly due to their distance but online communication and social media has made coordination much simpler for terrorists.
     Thomas Joscelyn, a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies stated at a Senate Subcommittee hearing last week on the Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa, that al-Qeada specifically focuses on regions rather than a more central control or command.  For example, specific regional factions of these groups are blamed for attacks such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in northern Africa or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) rather than al-Qaeda as a whole.  He maintains that regional dominance is a top priority, not centralized, global occupation.  
     Despite his assertion, terrorism is rapidly spreading westward through Africa creating a network through which organizations such as al-Qeada, their affiliate al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram can spread Jihad and gain regional dominance.  Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, maintains in his book that goods travel from east to west, not north to south.  His prime example is the rapid urbanization and industrialization of Europe (a more horizontal axis) over the Americas (a vertical axis).  This can be true for the spread of terrorism from its central location in the Middle East, outward all the way to Algeria and Mali.
     The lessons to be learned in Somalia ring true throughout all of Africa and developing nations everywhere.  During testimony at last week’s Subcommittee hearing on security in Africa, all witnesses stressed the importance of unified regional security as well as assistance from abroad.  It is also important to note that state sovereignty must be held in high esteem and not trampled upon while instituting security assistance. 
      Dr. William Lawrence, visiting professor at George Washington University states that in Northern Africa, “change is happening fast.”  The question remains for these nations in the balance:  Will this change be for the better, or will Islamic extremism prevail?  Lawrence equates the current situation in Africa to 19th Century Europe where, instead of Marxist revolutions, radical Islamic Jihad is rising.
    Governance is the key to maintaining long lasting security.  While Somalia has taken great strides forward, their commitment to good governance will be the linchpin.  The Horn of Africa can only support Somalia’s weight for so long before resources and soldiers begin to wear thin.  Foreign partners have a stake in the overall tempering of terrorism by ensuring that fragile nations, such as Somalia, can govern authoritatively and disperse insurgents who thrive in economic and political vacuums.  Let’s hope Somalia is up for the challenge this time.    

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