Saturday, November 16, 2013
A file photo taken on March 2, 2012 shows Ethiopian soldiers displaying weapons left behind by Shebab militias at their former base in Baido, which was taken over from Shebab rebels on February 22. Ethiopia’s official declaration last week to join the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia, African Union Mission in Somali (Amisom), has been widely praised as “positive” by the key Western nations. PHOTO | AFP AFP
Addis Ababa - Ethiopia’s official declaration last week to join the African peacekeeping mission in Somalia, African Union Mission in Somali (Amisom), has been widely praised as “positive” by the key Western nations, a welcome step likely to inject fresh momentum into the flagging counterinsurgency campaign in Somalia.
“The view (of the EU, US and other key donors) is positive and many hope Ethiopia’s full integration into Amisom will allow for better coordination in military operations and inject fresh momentum into Amisom’s campaign against Al-Shabaab, which seems to have stalled since May this year,” a source familiar with EU thinking on the matter told the Sunday Nation.
“Despite the additional financial burden and constraints, I do not see any serious problem that could hinder Ethiopia’s membership,” the source added.
Though Addis Ababa has not confirmed making a formal request to join, the assumption is that nothing stands in the way of its admission, not least, because the move would simply formalise a process that has been underway in the last few months.
The Somali Federal Government, which in recent months has forged close ties with Ethiopia, and whose views matter in the debate, appears favourable, promising to facilitate and fast-track its admission.
Kenya, on its part, is said to be “thrilled” at the prospect of Ethiopia joining Amisom and “lobbied hard behind the scenes” to convince the Ethiopians.
According to one source, Nairobi’s keenness to see its ally join Amisom is motivated, in large part, by a desire to secure the military gains it has achieved in the Juba Valley and prevent a repeat of the March 17 episode when Ethiopian troops pulled out of the strategic town of Huddu.
The incident rattled many Troops Contributing Countries (TCCs), but more so Kenya, which had relied on the Ethiopians to secure the Gedo front and keep Al-Shabaab pinned down, thus ensuring the KDF units in Juba had their northern flanks protected from possible attack.
There is awareness in Nairobi too that Ethiopia’s political role is indispensable in stabilising the Juba Valley and that its membership in Amisom provides the two allies with the required multilateral framework to better coordinate their objectives and responses with their regional allies and keep their Somalia’s strategies in sync with the rest.
It is worth noting that the two regional allies have in recent months been closely cooperating in stabilising the Juba Valley and Addis Ababa’s role in the diplomatic efforts to win support for the Sheikh Ahmed Madobe administration was instrumental.
While Amisom has not yet given a formal response on Ethiopia’s bid to join, sources have told the Sunday Nation that Addis will bring enormous benefits to the alliance.
“We are 100 per cent confident it will bring an added value and I anticipate no hindrance,” an Amisom source said. “As the Horn’s pre-eminent military power, Ethiopia brings formidable expertise and firepower which, if properly harnessed, have the potential to qualitatively transform Amisom’s overall military campaign in Somalia.”
The source said Ethiopia’s “superior knowledge of the Somali theatre” and its specialised combat kits, such as helicopter gunships, could be immensely beneficial in executing the counter-insurgency campaign more effectively.
Ethiopian intelligence and logistical support have been instrumental in the recent gains made by the African peacekeepers, added the source, citing the presence of an Ethiopian army liaison team led by a colonel at the Amisom headquarters in Mogadishu, as well as its “vital” contributions in the two important Amisom organs— the MOCC (Military Operations Coordination Committee) and the JCM (Joint Coordination Mechanism).
Ethiopia’s desire in joining Amisom is seen by observers as largely motivated by financial considerations. Even though it has not put a figure on the cost it has incurred as a result of its Somalia troop deployment, there is evidence the financial burden is being felt and is having an impact on troops morale.
“Ethiopian troops in Somalia are not the best paid and there may be discontent…” Dr Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa Project Director of the Brussels-based think tank, the International Crisis Group, told the Sunday Nation.
In fact, the surprise pull-out from Huddur and threats to draw down its Somalia operation in March, was primarily triggered by a biting cash crunch, and reflected, to an extent, a growing frustration its expensive deployment was not fully acknowledged or compensated by the key Western powers funding Amisom.
“Ethiopia has long argued that it has paid huge costs in Somalia, in blood and money, and not just for its own interests… It is, therefore, keen to get recompense for the work it has been doing in Somalia,” Dr Barnes said.
Amisom’s allowances bill for the close to 18,000 uniformed personnel in 2012 stood at 162 million euros, according to a report by the Rift Valley Institute published earlier this year.
Ethiopia’s entry is certain to substantially increase this figure and further complicate Amisom’s parlous state of finances, and compound what the RVI report said was Amisom’s lack of “secure predictable and sustainable operational funding”.
But the Westgate attack in Nairobi has galvanised the international community and donors seem more amenable to funding a new troop surge. However, the negotiations for new funding to accommodate Ethiopia are unlikely to be anything but difficult and protracted, as Kenya found out when it decided to join Amisom.
According to some analysts, Ethiopia’s desire to be part of Amisom is animated by a geopolitical calculation— a strategic imperative to maintain its influence in Somalia and not to lose out to competitors in Somalia. And this consideration, said Dr Barnes, is more important and trumps the financial concerns.
“Ethiopia has been under pressure for some time to either join Amisom or to see its role in Somalia diminish… Fundamentally, I think, in the last six months in particular, Ethiopia realised it risked losing influencing in Somalia.”
Fears have been expressed in some quarters that an Ethiopian membership could potentially strain Amisom’s command structure and undermine cohesion.
But Amisom sources dismiss such fears and say the alliance has matured and overcome many of the challenges of expansion and problems of taking on new members.
“We are not a militia outfit. We are a collection of disciplined militaries with a robust and unified chain of command and all operational and tactical matters are collectively decided,” an Amisom source said.
The source rejected claims Kenya was not “fully integrated” into Amisom and that its membership had strained cohesion.
“Those are baseless allegations. Kenya is a fully-integrated member of Amisom, whose role in pacifying the Juba and Gedo regions has been extremely beneficial for the overall campaign.”
Cedric Barnes was optimistic Ethiopia’s ambition to become a member would not destabilise Amisom, as some fear.
“Amisom has many challenges, but the entry of Ethiopia is not going to kill it. Ethiopia is a skilful player and it is not going to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
Dr Barnes attributed Ethiopia’s new diplomatic bid to be part of Amisom and the apparent new-found appetite for multilateralism to the respected Foreign Minister Tewodros Adhanom.
“I think he wants Ethiopia to be seen as a team player and as a constructive partner.”
Kenya’s relative success in securing its perceived national interest in the Juba Valley through multilateralism and under the Amisom umbrella may offer Addis a model and an incentive to adopt a similar approach, says experts.