Will Somalia's Elections Change the War on Al-Shabaab?

October 11, 2016 Topic: Security Region: Africa Tags: SomaliaAfrican UnionAl-ShabaabTerrorismDefense

Will Somalia's Elections Change the War on Al-Shabaab?

Stabilization is long and difficult. Global partners need to be patient.

The most challenging aspect of continued U.S. engagement will be supporting Somalia’s transition towards better governance, a sine qua non of stabilization. Above all, this will require patience and pragmatism. The U.S. government should be prepared to condemn any egregious electoral violations this year, but it should also be realistic in its expectations. The United States should compare this year’s elections to the 2012 elections—by which standard they are a marked improvement—while also establishing a series of benchmarks in the coming years to measure standard indicators of effective governance, such as anticorruption measures, political pluralism and security-sector effectiveness. As Paul Miller recently argued in his compelling case for a global counterterrorism strategy, increasing development aid is key to rolling back jihadism in Africa. In conjunction with the EU and Arab Gulf states, the United States should increase its financial commitment to the Somali government as well consider expanding even-handed support to local NGOs and civil society actors, which are increasingly prevalent in Somalia. To avoid corruption, effective aid monitoring is also crucial. The United States can facilitate such monitoring by reestablishing its embassy in Mogadishu, which was closed in 1991.

Somali stabilization is proving a long and arduous process, and international donors are understandably frustrated with this year’s flawed elections. But frustration should not translate to a loss of international support. The United States abandoned Somalia once before, after the infamous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident. While politically expedient, the withdrawal did nothing for either the Somali people or American interests. In 2016, tailored U.S. engagement minimizes the risk to American lives, while the political situation, though fragile, has improved markedly since the warlord years of the 1990s, and indeed since 2012. With al-Shabaab on the retreat and Somalis increasingly optimistic about their future, continued U.S. engagement remains the most responsible course of action.

James Barnett is a Boren Scholar in Tanzania and has previously researched at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. You can follow him on Twitter @jbar1648. All views expressed are his own.

Image: A soldier serving with AMISOM takes up a defensive position during a joint operation to seize and liberate territory from al-Shabaab. Flickr/AMISOM Public Information