On Sunday, February 22nd eleven Burundian soldiers belonging to the African Union Mission to Somalia(AMISOM) were killed in Mogadiscio while fifteen others were wounded in a suicide bombing attack against their camp. The attack had been carried out by two Shebab militants and for observers of the Somalian scene, this was highly predictable. What is worse is that there is more to come.
This is why the 3,700 Burundian and Ugandan soldiers with AMISOM who are present in Mogadiscio should rapidly be taken out. Why? There are several reasons for this unorthodox recommendation:
1. The AMISOM soldiers now in Somalia are under-equipped, under-trained, and have a low morale. They do not know why they are there, their mission is opaque and their cultural environment is hostile. Contrary to what would seem to be the case, the label “African” does not carry much weight in Somalia. Somalis, like many people of the Horn, do not consider themselves to be “Africans.” While they may be classified as such in the rarefied and politically correct environment of the UN-New York or the AU-Addis Ababa, they are Somali first and then Muslim. “African,” yes, perhaps, if you insist, but the Ugandans and the Burundians are Christians and therefore kufar (singular: kafir). As for having a black skin it is even worse: in Somalia that makes you a very low sort of kafir. Not a very auspicious start when you are asked to risk your life in order to save people who despise you. Like the troops of Operation Restore Hope and the Ethiopians, earlier this month, AMISOM troops indiscriminately killed the very civilians they had come to save. Clearly, saving the Somali is tough business.
2. The AMISOM military situation is awful. They are exactly in the position where the Ethiopian Army was during the two years of occupation through January 2009. Yet, AMISOM is without the military training and the capacity of the Ethiopian Army, and without the grudging respect the Ethiopians could elicit from the Somali. The Somali are warriors and they respected the macho courage of the Ethiopians, even if they hated them. They do not respect the AMISOM soldiers, which puts the soldiers in a situation of double jeopardy: they are asked to perform an impossible task under unreasonable conditions in an environment where the “beneficiaries” want them to go away.
3. Far from helping to “restore order” for the benefit of Somalia’s new Transitional Federal Government (TFG) President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, they instead hamper the desired order. Why? Simply because they are foreigners and the Somali hate foreigners, particularly armed foreigners, as the white troops of Operation Restore Hope discovered between 1992 and 1995. This hatred of “invading” foreigners, which is a traditional trait of Somali culture, has gotten even stronger as Somalia sank deeper and deeper into a morass of anarchy and economic collapse. Pride is the only thing left to the Somali and they have a double dose of it. Sheikh Sharif is desperately trying to restore some semblance of a state and the presence of AMISOM, far from helping him, gives a focus point for the most rabid anti-Christian, anti-foreign elements among the Somali Islamists. Sheikh Sharif is beginning to be seen as “pro-American” and “pro-Ethiopian,” a political kiss of death in Somalia. Just like the presence of the Ethiopians enabled the Islamists to unite under their banner, the presence of the AMISOM soldiers greatly helps the Shebab to present themselves as defenders of the Somali nation. A good propaganda line.
This is why, in everybody’s interest, the AMISOM soldiers should go before more of them die uselessly and before they kill more Somali civilians. Let the Somali sort out their own affairs. Seventeen years of foreign meddling has not proven to be very efficient, especially when the meddling is carried out by armed foreigners.
Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe focuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.