Does Nigeria have the best Somalia policy?

From the first moment that an African Union peacekeeping mission shipped to Somalia in 2007, backers of the force have engaged in an unrequited courtship with the continent’s peacekeeping powerhouse: Nigeria. At first, it looked like the country would send troops; it promised a battallion. But time went on and it never came. The foreign ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
PETER BUSOMOKE/AFP/Getty Images
PETER BUSOMOKE/AFP/Getty Images
PETER BUSOMOKE/AFP/Getty Images

From the first moment that an African Union peacekeeping mission shipped to Somalia in 2007, backers of the force have engaged in an unrequited courtship with the continent's peacekeeping powerhouse: Nigeria. At first, it looked like the country would send troops; it promised a battallion. But time went on and it never came. The foreign ministry understandably waffled (Somalia is quite possibly the most toxic foreign policy question in the world -- it's just too deadly and too many people have gotten burned.) And now there is no promise of troops -- unless a few things change. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations today in Washington, Nigeria's Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia talked about what that would mean.

In short, it would mean a lot more support from the West and a much fiercer mandate from the United Nations. "[I] don't think a peacekeeping force where there's no peace to keep is a good strategy," he said. "The African Union is now advocating a change of mandate in AMISOM from peacekeeping to peace enforcement." With the mandate, resources, supplies and logistics would also have to be boosted dramatically. "[A]nything short of these conditions will not only render [the mission] ineffective but will also expose [the peacekeepers] to unacceptable danger," exacerbating rather than ameliorating the problem.

This is a policy that Nigeria has pushed before, and it's also a refreshing step back from the rush to send in more troops in the wake of the recent bombings in Uganda. The AMISOM mission as it stands is something of a death trap -- with little payoff. In fact, so terrified, underequipped, and massively out-gunned are the blue helmets that they have reportedly taken to indiscriminate shelling of Mogadishu neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, the casualities are likely to involve civilians. This is not a constructive approach, and it will take a lot more umph behind the mission before that changes. 

From the first moment that an African Union peacekeeping mission shipped to Somalia in 2007, backers of the force have engaged in an unrequited courtship with the continent’s peacekeeping powerhouse: Nigeria. At first, it looked like the country would send troops; it promised a battallion. But time went on and it never came. The foreign ministry understandably waffled (Somalia is quite possibly the most toxic foreign policy question in the world — it’s just too deadly and too many people have gotten burned.) And now there is no promise of troops — unless a few things change. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations today in Washington, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia talked about what that would mean.

In short, it would mean a lot more support from the West and a much fiercer mandate from the United Nations. "[I] don’t think a peacekeeping force where there’s no peace to keep is a good strategy," he said. "The African Union is now advocating a change of mandate in AMISOM from peacekeeping to peace enforcement." With the mandate, resources, supplies and logistics would also have to be boosted dramatically. "[A]nything short of these conditions will not only render [the mission] ineffective but will also expose [the peacekeepers] to unacceptable danger," exacerbating rather than ameliorating the problem.

This is a policy that Nigeria has pushed before, and it’s also a refreshing step back from the rush to send in more troops in the wake of the recent bombings in Uganda. The AMISOM mission as it stands is something of a death trap — with little payoff. In fact, so terrified, underequipped, and massively out-gunned are the blue helmets that they have reportedly taken to indiscriminate shelling of Mogadishu neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, the casualities are likely to involve civilians. This is not a constructive approach, and it will take a lot more umph behind the mission before that changes. 

I find all this impressive at a time when much of the West seems to have thrown up its hands in exasperation on Somalia policy. Nigeria gets it; they get that their men and women would be the ones to suffer if the world doesn’t get this right. Hopefully that call to action carries the diplomatic weight it deserves. For this mission to succeed, the United States (which is pushing for more troops) and other backing nations really need Nigerian blue helmets. And they’ll have to fight to get them.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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