Fighting for Peace in Somalia: A History and Analysis of the African Union Mission (AMISOM) 2007-2017. Paul Williams. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Paul Williams’ Fighting for Peace in Somalia: A History and Analysis of the African Union Mission (AMISOM) 2007-2017 is a definitive accounting of valuable lessons observed—though perhaps not learned—about how and why the African Union’s effort of remarkable scale, singularity, and complexity has been thwarted.
Covering all phases of the mission, from its inception in 2004 through the ongoing planning for the eventual drawdown and withdrawal of international forces, Williams’ work is foundational reading for anyone interested in Somali security issues or broader regional military and political dynamics. After providing historical context for African Union Mission in Somalia’s (AMISOM) development, the second part of the book addresses six challenges that have plagued the mission: logistics shortfalls, ambitious security sector reform initiatives, protection of civilians challenges in complex environments, strategic communication and messaging against a capable al-Shabaab propaganda machine, broader stabilization efforts in a country with young governance structures, and having an agreed upon exit strategy and transition plan to Somali primacy. These often-overlapping points of weakness continuously robbed the mission of success. Williams’ book is instrumental to understanding the history, current standing, and feasible future courses of action for the most concerted stabilization and security mission in the Federal Republic of Somalia.
Ten years after the African Union’s Peace and Security Council created AMISOM on January 19th, 2007, with an initial six-month mandate, the UN Security Council issued resolution 2372, enabling the gradual transition of security responsibilities to the Somali security forces. First deployed in March of 2007, the AMISOM military component has been instrumental in helping Somali National Security Forces push the Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group, al-Shabaab, out of much of southern Somalia, including most major towns and cities. It has created a relatively secure environment, allowing the Somali peace process to take root. Critically, this has provided the opportunity for the local population to begin establishing accountable local governance institutions as well as rebuilding local economies and creating linkages to the national economy and the Federal Government of Somalia. The military component is currently comprised of troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia, who are deployed in six sectors covering south and central Somalia.
Williams is pointed, but fair, in his criticism of how support mechanisms continuously failed to adequately sustain the needs of a mobile fighting force.
Williams’ well-supported explanations of the motivations of each troop-contributing country to the AMISOM mission provides critical insight into the initial and enduring—and often-differing—interests of African Union member states who have sent troops and trainers to Somalia. Unsurprisingly, the alignment of the goals of contributing countries is unlikely, at best. Understanding the incentives and national caveats of each troop contributing country is critical to understanding the politics behind AMISOM’s support, planning, and capabilities. These incentives range from gaining operational experience, to the acquisition of military equipment, to financial incentives at both the individual soldier and institutional armed forces levels, to the prestige and international credibility gained from participation in a multilateral mission in a foreign country.
Williams is pointed, but fair, in his criticism of how support mechanisms continuously failed to adequately sustain the needs of a mobile fighting force. Since its inception, AMISOM has faced the dual challenges of assisting in the construction of a Somali national security apparatus—its army, police, and intelligence services—in addition to broader rule of law support. Simultaneously, AMISOM faces the daunting challenge of defeating the militarized insurgency and criminal organizational functions of al-Shabaab such as the ability of waging improvised explosive device warfare as its tactical center of gravity to predatory tax collection from civilian populations in accessible territories. This practice of building a plane as it is being flown continues to be problematic. Both AMISOM and Somali Federal Government security sector reform initiatives are faced with the challenge of developing institutional capacity and comprehensive future organizational planning while also being in a warfighting stance against an insurgent force. Given that al Shabaab’s reach spreads across a vast amount of undergoverned countryside, this dual-pronged posture is made more difficult by insecure main supply routes and unreliable logistical support for troops in the field.
Williams’ well-researched book builds on the limited work of others. Fighting for Peace stands as the first work to compile and analyze the comprehensive internal disparities and external limitations of the effort. While Opiyo Oloya’s 2016 book Black Hawks Rising: The Story of AMISOM’s Successful War against Somali Insurgents, 2007-2014 laid the foundation for an in-depth analysis of AMISOM, Williams’ work further contextualizes the AMISOM intervention in a regional and global framework. Separate foundational texts about the modern Somali state are provided by Mary Jane Harper’s 2012 Getting Somalia Wrong?: Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State, while last year’s Inside al Shabaab: The Secret History of Al-Qaeda’s Most Powerful Ally by Harun Maruf and Dan Joseph is core reading to understand the evolution of the Federal Government of Somalia’s primary opponent.
Further, Fighting for Peace is a timely work given that the AMISOM mission celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, yet it continues to face both systemic challenges and recent setbacks such as the anticipated withdrawal of the Burundian contingent, ongoing contention about the role of the different troop contributing countries and their commitments, and the loss of acting Police Commissioner Christine Alalo through the Ethiopian Airlines tragedy. After a decade of intervention, AMISOM priorities are reorienting towards the transition of security responsibilities to Somali security forces, thus adding an additional element of instability via transition of power in an already complex environment.
Complementary to his scholarship on the African Union Mission in Somalia, Williams has also recently published a parallel ten-year analysis of “Building the Somali National Army: Anatomy of a Failure” detailing the operational challenges of building an army while simultaneously fighting a war not only of territory, but also of ideology. Williams’ works are foundational for readers interested in host nation capability to combat the al-Shabaab threat––a timely issue given the increase of drone strikes in the first quarter of 2019 alongside the recent assertion that “If the Trump administration is seeking to leave Somalia, as has been rumored, it may be seeking cover to withdraw by claiming a military victory of Shabaab.”
Given his field research experience, extensive network of and unique access to practitioner experts, a decade-plus of monitoring peace operations across Africa, and record of academic publishing, Williams remains an authority on the sociopolitical dynamics of peace and stability operations in Horn of Africa, and Fighting for Peace is an achievement that will only serve to solidify this reputation.
Whitney Grespin has experience as a Peace Operations Analyst at the U.S. Army War College's Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. She is a Ph.D. candidate at King’s College London, a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the Military Writers Guild, and an elected member of the International Studies Association’s Peace Studies Section Executive Committee.
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Header Image: The Force Commander of the African Union Mission in Somalia, Lt General Osman Noor Soubagleh, visits Adaado, Somalia, on October 22, 2016. (AMISOM)