Once among the strongest armies in Africa, the Somali National Army (SNA) dissolved when the civil war broke out in 1991, a specter that continues to haunt the Nation of Bards. But the flip side of the tragedy is that Somalia has reached a positive tipping point. After relentless efforts by the Federal Government of Somalia and its international partners to re-establish security in the country, the SNA finally began to take shape.
A decade or so ago when the deployment of the African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Somalia was authorized under the U.N. Security Council resolution 1744(2007)13. It was expected when the African Union mission in Somalia would eventually come to an end and an interim U.N. peacekeeping mission will take over.
However, that plan has since been changed to transferring security responsibilities directly to Somali forces, after the withdrawal of African Union troops from Somalia as stipulated in U.N. resolution 2431(2018). Things change so quickly!
For the first time in three decades, in July 2019, 152 highly trained officers, including 81 lieutenants and 71 sergeants, graduated from the Turk-Som military training academy in Mogadishu.
The military support from NATO member Turkey to the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) started soon after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had visited Mogadishu in 2011. Turkey spent fortunes to build its largest overseas military training camp in Mogadishu. It also trained and still trains hundreds of Somali soldiers in Turkey. The Somali people appreciate the moral and military support from the brotherly people of Turkey.
Apart from the continued support from Turkey and others, the FGS stepped up and pushed through with praiseworthy security sector reforms. Reforming and rebuilding the SNA has always been a priority for successive Somali governments but the jigsaw puzzle of an effective SNA was missing a piece, namely a national security architecture.
In April 2017, the FGS and the Federal Member States (FMS) reached a historic political agreement on a National Security Architecture. The agreement focuses on the following issues: first, the numbers of Somali security forces and the civilian oversight role of the executive over the armed forces. Second, the distribution of Somali security forces at the federal and state level. Third, the command and control of Somali Security Forces and fourth, the fiscal responsibilities for respective Somali Security Forces at the federal and state level.
To get the new security plan off the ground, the FGS conducted an Operational Readiness Assessment (ORA) of the National Army in 2017. The ORA was an attempt to understand the capabilities of the Somali Armed Forces. However, the study yielded some shocking results: Lack of basic equipment, including weapons, ammunition, communications kit and vehicles, inconsistent recruiting standards, army largely confined to defensive and localized operations, and on average battalions had only 63% of their authorized strength. It was a sobering reality.
On Dec. 4, 2017, at a Mogadishu security conference, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, said: "The Operational Readiness Assessment is completed and we have learned the strengths, gaps and lessons for the police and National Army. We will use this as a springboard to identify and implement necessary reforms."
The most daunting task of the security reform is overcoming the endemic corruption in the SNA. In 2017, the U.S. suspended aid for most of Somalia's armed forces over corruption concerns. Hence, the FGS put corruption front and center in a bid to regain trust in government and public institutions.
On Sept. 21, 2019, Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed signed the anti-corruption bill into law. It is a very important piece of legislation that will herald the creation of independent anti-corruption commissions both on the federal and regional levels.
The FGS launched a biometric registration program for the SNA. As a result, 9,000 ghost soldiers were removed from the records. The biometric identification system is also being used for direct bank payments to soldiers, cutting out the corrupt officers. Additionally, as a cost-cutting measure, the SNA departments were reduced from 23 to 13.
The government has also succeeded in coordinating partner countries that provide military training for the SNA – an endeavor that proved to be difficult in the past due to lack of clear strategy and the vested interests of donor countries in the strategically located Somalia.
As part of the implementation of the Transition Plan issued in March 2018 by the FGS, AMISOM has started to gradually handover security responsibilities to Somali forces. Several important places were handed back to Somali security forces, including the Warsheikh Forward Operating Base, the Somali National University, Mogadishu Stadium, Jaalle Siyad Military Academy and Via Afmadow in Kismayo.
The current power
Moreover, the SNA now leads and conducts offensive operations against al-Shabab. At the beginning of this year, the strategic bridge town of Sabiid was captured in the recovery operation led by Somali forces.
Ambassador Francisco Caetano Madeira, the AU Special Representative for Somalia, said: "This operation is a concrete delivery in the implementation of the Somali Transition Plan."
In subsequent operations, SNA captured key al-Shabab areas including Ali Hared locality in Bardhere district in the Gedo region and Awdhegle, a strategic agricultural town in Lower Shabelle in June 2019 and in August 2019 respectively.
On Oct. 2, 2019, Somalia Partnership Forum (SPF) meeting between Somalia and its international partners was held in Mogadishu. The communique issued after the meeting commends the extensive security reforms and pays tribute to the Somali security forces for their successful recovery operations of the territories previously held by al-Shabab.
On the other hand, Somalia's international partners remain fully remain supportive. The U.S. resumed assistance to the Somali Military. In April 2019 the 1st Somali Commando Infantry Battalion returned to Somalia after they completed their training from Mountain Commando School in Isparta in Turkey. In August 2019 98 specially trained soldiers graduated from British military training in Baidoa, the capital of Southwest State in Somalia. The British Ambassador to Somalia, Ben Fender, said: "The Somalis are working to improve security after decades of conflict and terrorism."
For greater effectiveness
In conclusion, there has been significant progress toward the re-establishment of the SNA in the last couple of years. The Federal Government of Somalia's notable strides in improving the SNA warrant optimism for immediate recovery and reconstruction.
Nevertheless, to achieve a sustainable and effective Somali Army hinges on two things: firstly, the separation of the army from complex tribal politics and secondly making the SNA into self-sustaining and modern force. Thus, the SNA must not hold any allegiance to one particular group and should serve the elected government and the country as a whole.
To enable the SNA to be self-reliant, the U.N. arms embargo imposed on Somalia in January 1992 should be completely lifted. Somalia has made considerable progress in the areas of political, economic, social and human rights. Somalia is clearly on an upward trajectory.
Let's be proud and support our men and women in uniform.
* Activist, freelance writer and documentary filmmaker based in Northampton, U.K.