Bardera affair spells trouble for governance and intervention
SOMALI REVIEW EDITORIAL
Bardera is an agricultural town along the Juba River in Gedo region, southwestern Somalia. For the past seven years, the town had been under the control of Al Shabaab militants. However, on July 23nd, Somali government forces aided by African Union troops (AMISOM) seized control of Bardera. It was another short-term victory against the Al Shabaab menace. But whose victory was it?
This question remains at the center of a controversy over the Bardera affair. Somali media began speculating as to ‘which group’ of Somali troops took part in the liberation of Bardera. Was it Somali National Army (SNA) troops or Jubaland government forces? Jubaland Vice President Gen. Abdullahi Ismail ‘Fartag’, himself a native of Gedo region, was quick to visit Bardera for a photo-op and insist that Jubaland was part of the operation: “The troops began the military operation on July 5th from Dolow headquarters and divided into three columns towards Bardera. The troops comprised of Jubaland, [Somali] Federal Government and AMISOM forces”.
Col. Abbas Ibrahim ‘Gurey’ is the SNA commander in Gedo. He told local media that he led SNA troops in capturing Bardera. He made no mention of Jubaland when he said: “Bardera was liberated by AMISOM and SNA troops”.
However, Middle Jubba regional governor Abdirashid Jire had an altogether different take, telling local media that, “the media interviews some unknown persons. Naturally every person likes victory and to be part of it…Politics aside, this [Bardera military] operation was jointly conducted by troops from Ethiopia and Kenya who are part of AMISOM, and Jubaland forces”.
Irrespective of which version is true, the fact remains that the Bardera affair spells trouble for the Federal Government’s governance capacity and the long-term effectiveness of the AMISOM intervention.
The Federal Government faces many hurdles. It’s a government in need of everything: human capital, technical assistance, and foreign aid to achieve objectives in peace and reconstruction. It’s rebuilding the SNA – but with little or no input from regional states (such as Jubaland), some of who feel marginalized by Mogadishu’s lack of consultation. SNA troops, some trained through an E.U.-run program, are deployed in many parts of south-central Somalia. The Bardera affair tests the Federal Government’s ability to maintain neutrality in intra-state disputes, navigate through local tensions and power rivalries, and project Somali national unity. It’s a tall order for a government dependent on foreign aid and military support for its survival.
AMISOM member countries routinely complain of funding and logistical constraints. However, AMISOM is also hindered by its operational policy which effectively divides south-central Somalia into distinct ‘military zones’, each administered by an AMISOM member country. This policy undermines organizational cohesion and coordination, while enabling each AMISOM member country to operate independently of the AMISOM command (in Mogadishu) mandated by the UN Security Council. It’s a policy that also weakens AMISOM’s operational effectiveness and accountability. A review of this policy is in order, along the lines of AMISOM’s long-term intervention strategy to deliver outcomes in Somalia.
After the dust settles, the victory should be for the Somali people and state.