In a guest post at CFR, Mohammed Jallow argues for a stronger AU military intervention in Somalia to complement Kenya’s incursion (currently bogged down in Somali mud). Jallow writes, “With all these converging forces pressing on al-Shabaab, there is once again another opportunity to end the Somali conflict, at least from a military perspective.” He also claims:
If the AU manages to secure more troops and contributions from other countries, launching an offensive against al-Shabaab from the north could shrink the size of al-Shabaab controlled territory, and cut off its supply lines, effectively starving it of much needed resources to sustain a long fight. Simplistic as that may sound, there is real potential here for a military end to al-Shabaab’s dominance over Somalia, as well as removing the threat it poses to the transitional government and the AU forces protecting it.
But is this right? It is unclear to me that a stronger military to response is any kind of solution to the manifold problems accompanying Somalia’s twenty-year collapse. There is no evidence to indicate that Somalis will respond with anything other than hostility to significant foreign military intervention. Every major foreign intervention since Somalia’s collapse has been unwelcome: the U.N. and U.S. intervention in 1992; the Ethiopian intervention in 2006; and the ongoing African Union mission to Somalia. Worse, none of these interventions has delivered any sort of measurable progress in terms of stabilizing Somalia—in fact, Ethiopia’s invasion arguably did more harm than good by ousting (and subsequently radicalizing) the closet thing that Somalia had seen to a central government in twenty years.
After twenty years of failed attempts to graft a solution onto Somalia, one would expect the international community to take stock and try something else. In particular, the international community ought to look north of Mogadishu to the Republic of Somaliland. Although it has been basically ignored by the international community, Somaliland is a model of success. Its success is attributable to its organic, indigenous conflict resolution process—a process that relied at the outset on traditional power centers and a gradual enlargement of participation to ensure legitimacy and buy-in from stake holders including tribal leaders, rebel fighters, and the people of Somaliland. Importantly, this process of indigenous conflict resolution occurred in parallel with a home-grown disarmament campaign that successfully demilitarized a population that had been engaged in a decade-long civil war.
The success of indigenous conflict resolution among Somalis need not be limited to Somaliland, however. It is little wonder that the closest Somalia has come to a functioning central government in the last twenty years was the brief reign of the Islamic Courts Union. Unlike the farcical Transitional Federal Government, the ICU earned the buy-in of a substantial portion of rump-Somalia’s populace, it was able to administer justice, and it had a stabilizing effect. While we may bristle at the draconian operation of some of the Courts (they were disaggregated), there is a lesson to be learned from their brief success—and from the abject failure of everything before and everything since Ethiopia’s invasion. Namely, that external solutions—especially those that rely on or incorporate individuals with no real constituency within Somalia—are non-starters.
It is for this reason that Jallow’s hope is misplaced. No amount of Kenya, Ethiopian, Uganda, South African, or Nigerian troops can fix Somalia unless they mean to permanently occupy the country. Even then, it is far more likely that a protracted nationalist insurgency will arise to oppose such an occupation than Somalia would be stabilized. Nor is it an answer that the TFG has given the AU or Kenya or any other actor its blessing to operate in Somalia. The TFG has no writ and its collaboration with (and reliance upon) outsiders serves only to underscore this fact.
So, to answer the question posed in Jallow's title: No, collective military action is not the answer.