East African Community (EAC) members Kenya, Uganda and Burundi, along with Ethiopia and Djibouti, have opposed the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) decision in September 2017 to withdraw peacekeeping troops from Somalia, as part of the UN-funded African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Using Resolution 2372, the UNSC had ordered the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) — an eight-country regional traded bloc in the Horn of Africa — to reduce its uniformed troops by 1,040 from 22,126, and a further reduction to 20,626 by October 2018, citing irregular funding. A full withdrawal is scheduled for 2020. At the recent summit of the troop contributing countries (TCC) in Kampala, the countries noted that the situation was still ‘too fragile’ to withdraw from, even though AMISOM and Somali troops now cover around 80% of the country.
Each TCC has an interest in sending peacekeeping troops. Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have suffered from attacks by al-Shabaab and affiliated entities, and therefore have a strong interest in addressing the presence of radical Islamic terrorists in the region. At the same time, UN missions are typically financially attractive for developing countries. This is because their troops’ salaries are paid by the UN which reduces the cost of paying for salaries and training. There are other reasons.
Troop contributing is a method of building political influence both regionally and internationally. Participating troops may allow TCCs to leverage their positions in the region’s politics but also to improve a country’s international reputation.
Linked to the above, for Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, the Somalia mission was, and continues to be, welcome to keep his generals engaged while domestic political discontent rises over his efforts to remove the presidential age limit.
Kenya has a large ethnic Somali community and has long had an active sugar and other smuggling trade across the porous border with Somalia. After their invasion in 2011 following several al-Shabaab attacks on tourists on Lamu Island — which later led to their integration into the UN troops — the Kenyan military reportedly took over al-Shabaab’s charcoal trade, effectively funnelling cash back to the terrorist group.
Somalia is by no means a secure country, and peacekeeping is a drawn-out process which requires patience and funding. But the issue of peacekeepers reveals the the politics of peacekeeping in among East African nations.