According to AU security head Ramtane Lamamra, Ethiopian troops in Baidoa will be replaced with AMISOM in April. The announcement comes when Shabaab fighters still are at the outskirts of Baidoa. One day before the AMISOM delegation visited Baidoa, Shabaab militia attacked the city killing 12 people. The plan to hastily replace Ethiopian troops in midst of war not only is ill-conceived but it could quickly turn the war messy and the political dividends fail to materialise.
There are warning bells and signs of local opposition to the plan. Recently there are calls to hold off AMISOM plan until the areas are liberated. The Speaker of the Parliament Sh Hasan Aden, who is visiting Baidoa, gave interview to VOA cautioning about the plan, prior to that the TFG acting defence minister Mohamed Ali Atosh spoke against the plan when interviewed by the BBC and prominent elders and intellectuals also issued statements raising their concerns.
Recent military gain against Shabab creates an opportunity to establish a local administration. However, if AMISOM proceeds with its troop replacement plan, of course, many things could go wrong on the military and political front. Many of the liberated areas – whether in Mogadishu, Hiran, Galgudud, Mudug or Baidoa and most recently Hudur – remain unstable and ill-governed and it is not yet clear the extent to which the war is being co-ordinated and who, if anyone, is taking the lead. This will create instability and may simply leave a power vacuum, to be filled in short order by Al Shabaab that are not yet defeated militarily.
The suggested AMISOM troop numbers to replace Ethiopian troops are not adequate to secure vast area that is recently wrestled from Shabaab. It is not clear the role of 1200 AMISOM troops to be posted in Baidoa and whether their mandate include securing thousands square kms liberated from Shabab in south western Somalia, when for four years the 12,000 strong AMISOM troops in Mogadishu struggle to maintain security of a city of 10 square kms.
Though the Ethiopians refused to re-hat, during the short period that they were in Baidoa they have built strong relationship with the local community and gained their trust. The decision and timing of troop replacement begs the question why AMISOM could not work out a practical withdrawal plan with Ethiopians after all Shabaab controlled areas is secured.
On the other hand, Ethiopian troops have been in the area on a number of occasions and they understand the society and their political and clan dynamics. AMISOM could face a daunting task to understand local culture and sensitivity around complex clan relationships.
The local community are very sceptical about AMISOM plan. There is speculation that the plan was crafted to favour Islamist group in Mogadishu whose ambition is to create Banadirland and prevent Ethiopian led troops liberating Lower Shabele region. Local community pose the question why these troops aren’t used to boost AMISOM contingent in Mogadishu so they could liberate surroundings of the city. Unfortunately, AMISOM delegation has missed an opportunity when they recently visited the city to meet local community and explain IGAD’s decision.
IGAD and the international community should consult with local communities and support the formation of effective local administrations and strengthen TFG army by boosting troop numbers, providing them with training and adequate firepower.
By Mustafa Mohamed