Need to secure Somalia even after ATMIS leave

As Somalia prepares for the exit of the African Union (AU) troops, which have played a key role in stabilising the country, there is concern among neighbouring nations over what the future portends.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has been a beacon of hope in a country ravaged by conflict for several decades. The United Nations Security Council says the remaining 4,000 ATMIS troops will pull out at the end of next month. Another 5,000 troops exited last year, creating a gap that Al-Shabaab has been keen to exploit. But nine operational bases have been handed to Somalia National Army (SNA).

Developments in Somalia are of interest to the region, more so after its admission to the East African Community (EAC) last November. It became the eighth member in March, joining Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The regional bloc is crucial for economic co-operation and solidarity.

SNA, which has been building its capacity to take charge, has a tough job ahead. Large swathes of the Horn of Africa nation remain under the control of Al-Shabaab, who carry out terror attacks in Somalia and the region. Mogadishu also had to deal with suicide bombers in the capital and elsewhere. The terrorists have also been using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket-propelled grenades. In the first week of last month, IEDs explosions in three districts killed a soldier and two Turkish aid workers. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility.

ATMIS took over the enormous task from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Unisom) in 2022. The mission, which began with about 18,000 troops contributed by Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, was authorised by the AU, with support from the UN. Its objective was to restore order and peace and foster national stability and development.

A lawless and unmanageable Somalia poses a grave danger to the East African region as a launch pad for cross-border attacks. Forging regional stability is crucial for greater economic co-operation and trade for development and prosperity.