After two decades of investment, Why Somali Army still remains fragile?

May 31 ( Since 2000 Somalia has had six presidents, and all of them placed the issue of the National Army (Somali Army) on top of their agenda during their maiden speech.

In 2019, Somalia’s cabinet, in a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Kheire, approved an annual budget of $459 million, a bulk of it allocated to the army.

The Prime Minister, in a move to demonstrate the commitment of the Federal Government of Somalia in rebuilding the capacity of the Security Forces, particularly the Somali National Army (SNA), went ahead and approved a 70% salary increment for soldiers.

Somalia’s army enjoys multiple support in the form of foreign aid, mentorship programs, monitoring, training, military infrastructure and equipment from international partners and other countries, under bilateral arrangements.

Countries involved in the capacity building process of the Somali Army include: Turkey, Italy, UK, Qatar, USA, Britain, and the EU. Each of these countries plays a vibrant role in the composition of the Somali Army in terms of finance and capacity building.

Neighboring and regional countries were also not left out. One such example is Eritrea, which also started training some Somali soldiers, but the venture collapsed due to queries over quality.

Despite the above efforts, over the past two decades, the issue of the Somali National Army, remains delicate, owing to mixed approaches and doctrines.

The issue of the capacity/capability of the SNA/Somali Security Forces is critical, especially in light of the envisaged exit of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), currently (ATMIS) as endorsed by the Military Operations Coordination Committee (MOCC) of AMISOM, in a meeting held in Nairobi late August 2019.

Presently, there is little conviction, from both the international community and Somali people, about the preparedness of the Somali Security Forces to take over the security responsibilities of the country, from AMISOM.

This article explores the challenges faced in developing a fully integrated national force/ army, and also looks at the reasons why Somalia’s army is still very fragile.

1.  Lack of Political Inclusivity:

Building a strong and integrated army is not a straightforward affair: rather it is an entire process rooted in the grassroots, and to large extent, military doctrine and training.

It is built on trust and confidence involving, this is critical, especially if the trust and confidence flows from all sectors of the country. Of course, political power and interest is a major player.

The Somali government adopted a federal type of governance in the year 2004 in Kenya. However, this has been met with a degree of pessimism, especially by the Somali elite, who argue that this type of administration is not feasible, since it does not enjoy the support of the masses.

Federalism is generally meant for societies that are intensely divided along the lines of ethnicity, religion, value, language and cultural practices.

However, none or little of the above holds true for Somalia, which is largely homogeneous   and enjoys a number of common denominators. The issue is politics.

Competition for dominance among the five regional administrations which have been plagued with clannism and internal wrangles have greatly affected the formation of a fully integrated Somali National Army. For any country emerging out of conflict, political intermarriage between the parties is inevitable. In the case of Somalia, this has been because of clan dynamics which are so deeply rooted and entrenched in the communities, to the extent that the country has no common defense and security policy. Presently, the existing army is perceived to be more as “Praetorian Guard” loyal to the government rather than to the nation.

Developing shared defense and security policies, will promote a culture of peace and peaceful co-existence among Somali federal states and members within the regions. This places emphasis on the use of peaceful means of conflict resolution rather than the use of force. Such peaceful means include preventive diplomacy, negotiation, the use of good offices, persuasion, as well as mediation, conciliation and adjudication.

The federal member states in Somalia have no trust and confidence in the Somali army in its current form. This was highlighted in the recently concluded National Consultative Forum, hosted in Mogadishu, between the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and the regional states.

Each of the regional leaders deployed his own security detail in Mogadishu, which spoke volumes of the mistrust, and a lack of confidence by the regional states in the Somali army. This is informed by the fact that they were not involved in the process of its formation, and secondly, regional states were also sending a message to the government and other regional administrations that any act of aggression, will be met with equal force.

The vision of the establishment of a fully integrated Somali Army will never come to fruition until the political marriage between the Somali parties is settled as reiterated by the Acting Deputy Representative of the United States to the United Nations, Ambassador Cherith Norman Chalet, during the UN meeting. She underlined that her country injected $3.5 billion in the security sector of Somalia but with little impact. The only existing political agreement between Somali stakeholders, presents the other plausible chance at reorganizing the Somali Army.

 2. Military training, doctrine and discipline:

Discipline and training are at the heart of every army or disciplined force in the world. Discipline and training have a direct influence on how the military operates or conducts itself, and ultimately, on the command and control of the institution. Ideally, this should have been true for Somalia, but that is not the case.

The Somali Army has no harmonized military training, based on the needs of the Somali. In the recent past, the Somali army has been trained by various countries under some bilateral arrangements. Turkey, USA, UK, UAE, Qatar and EU, are some of the countries or partners presently training the Somali Army, albeit with almost no collaboration and coordination between them.

Oftentimes, the training provided by these countries are not based on the interest of the army but other hidden agenda. While some countries are heavily involved in tackling international terrorists, operating in Somalia, others are merely in it for international visibility.

Quite often, the military training offered by these partners is heavily influenced by the values of the respective countries and not of Somalia. The products of these trainings, are exposed to new culture and language, greatly impacting on them. It is therefore not strange, to find Somali soldiers speaking English, Arabic, Turkish, and even at times, Italian.

The issue is not only the acquisition of new languages, but rather the critical issue of military doctrine, values and principles. The problem arises when soldiers trained by a particular country, perceive themselves to be superior to the rest considering where they were trained. Additionally, there is the issue of differing military doctrines, affecting cohesion in the army.

The other key issue is the discipline of the army. Generally, the conduct of any army is hinged on how disciplined and well drilled the army is, and its command and control.

The army of Somalia revels in less command and control, due to a glaring absence of many basic rights.  The discipline of the army is wanting.

The Somali army does not have adequate medical cover, military base at unit and commander level, military barracks, accommodation and housing (both service and office level), adequate salary payment, fair promotion system, pension rights after timely or early retirement, and many other basic rights that any soldier would wish for, affecting the normal operations of the army.

In Somalia, many soldiers are hired by the ministers, MPs and other government officials, as part of their personal security detail, for a little pay to supplement the salary paid by the government.

3. Leadership crisis:

Strong leadership is the only way to sustain and develop a strong army. The leadership of Somali army has not been stable, given the frequent reshuffles of the top echelon of the military, in the recent past heavily influenced by clan dynamics rather than professionalism or qualifications, with the position of the Chief of Defense Force and his deputy, the most affected.

These changes in the military leadership/command and control are fused with the politics of the country. It is therefore not strange that, when a new President is elected to office, he comes with sweeping changes in the leadership of the security institutions, rooted in past practice.

The other issue is the clan arrangements. This has affected the entire Somali political system and the army has not been spared. The clan arrangements are usually taken into consideration in the appointment of military commanders and heads of security institutions in Somalia.

The turnover rate in the army leadership was very high as the former president(Farmajo) has appointed more than four army commanders in the space of four years, prompting scholars to argue that such a leadership crisis is counter to efforts to build the capacity of the security institutions in Somalia.

4. Intervention by neighbors:

Somalia is a country of mixed fortunes- blessed and cursed at the same time, in equal measure. Blessed because of its strategic geographic location, and cursed because it has witnessed some of the most dangerous crime incidents in East Africa like piracy, kidnappings and terrorism.

Somalia has never witnessed stability and the worst was during the military regime, which conflicted with almost all its neighbors in the region, with the 1977 war between Somalia and Ethiopia, a clear example.

Normally going to war is the last resort option. War is expensive, and therefore any military confrontations among member states will greatly impact on regional security and stability.

Somali people are said to be a homogeneous community and having a strong army will not be received kindly by its neighbors because the ambition of” a greater Somalia” is still firmly etched in the minds of the Somali people as reflected in the country’s flag.


The stability of leadership is the glue that holds the army and it’s the main avenue for the army to prosper. The newly elected president Hassan Sheik Mohamud should consider that the minimization of reshuffles in the army leadership will enhance the capacity of and sustainability of army to grow.

The second recommendation is on the military training and doctrines. The harmonization of military training is inevitable if a country is to have a fully integrated army, with a shared doctrine and training.

The third recommendation is the creation of suitable military infrastructures such as barracks, military health facilities, accommodations and proper logistic systems.

The fourth recommendation is to set up the political differences between the regional administration and the federal government.  This enables to have a Common Security and Defense Policy which has the pleasance of the Somali political actors.

Finally, to constitute a committee led by the chief of defenses with the objectives of vetting the cadets join the army and also the committee will set up a proper and fair system of promotion of the army officers.

Author: Ali Said Ali
Senior Political Analysts in East Africa.

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