Mali and Somalia have both suffered Islamist-inspired insurgencies, and in both African Union-led peace operations have been a central pillar in political and security stabilisation efforts. This article argues that, despite challenges in transferring lessons between unique situations, the AMISOM experience can offer some useful lessons for Mali. Factors that helped to drive success for AMISOM included the determination of troop contributors and their funding partners, actively pursuing the support of the host population, adaptability, and working with allied armed groups.
African military operations in Mali and Somalia are at very different stages of maturity. The force, and its supporting partners, in Somalia have accumulated a wealth of context specific knowledge and expertise over six years of operations and under its own command. In Mali, AFISMA has only recently been thrust into operations around different areas in the north, with considerable support from the French.
The major factors that helped to drive success for the AMISOM mission (despite serious deficiencies in its early years) were:
- the determination of troop contributors and their funding partners
- effective mechanisms to fully engage contributors of troops and police in planning and decision-making
- blending bilateral support with a long-term and predictable funding stream
- the gradual escalation of force
- providing key specialised equipment and enablers
- actively pursuing the support of the host population, and being mindful of the unfolding political process.
In addition, the African character of the force has been a visible hallmark of the AU intervention in Somalia, with the leadership and initial bulk of the fighting forces deployed by a lead-nation, Uganda. And it was important that the lead-nation was generally perceived by the population as a relatively benign actor in Somalia.
At the operational and tactical levels, the following features of AMISOM have been helpful: context-specific training, autonomy in commanding operations, a high degree of adaptability, working with allied armed groups in Somalia, and a dogged determination to see the fight through by the nations contributing troops.
The next stage for both operations may be the most challenging yet as African Union troops are called to keep a complex and fragile peace in Mali and Somalia. Of additional interest will be the evolving relationships of the AU operations with the UN peace missions in each country. In Somalia, despite the conditions not being right for a UN peacekeeping mission, a larger UN political office is set to engage closely with AMISOM, while in Mali a UN peacekeeping mission may soon absorb the mission.