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Building Somalia’s state and security and stabilising the Horn of Africa

Sunday September 18, 2022
By Josep Borrell

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during his meeting with the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Union Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles on Sunday, September 11, 2022/ Villa Somalia

For decades, Somalia has suffered from being a “failed state” and the current drought is making things worse. The EU is providing economic and humanitarian support to the country while our crisis management missions are helping to stabilise the security situation in a region that is of critical importance for Europe’s security. During my recent visit, I could see first-hand how our operations make a key contribution to maritime and wider security.

Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa and has the longest coastline on Africa's mainland. For more than 30 years, it has been suffering from an ongoing humanitarian crisis and enduring political and social instability. The poverty rate of the 17 million population is around 70%; more than 50% are illiterate; and the average life expectancy is just 48 years. In recent years, the humanitarian situation has worsened further, due to a severe a drought and the risk of famine (the UN just said this week that hunger levels leave more than 500,000 children at risk of dying) and climate change affecting above all the lives of the most vulnerable, plus the lingering impact of COVID-19 and enduring conflicts. Finally, Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has further increased food insecurity with soaring food and fuel prices.  

Why does this matter for Europe, given that Somalia seems so far away? To start, because around 40% of world shipping lanes and 25% of the EU maritime supply transit through the Gulf of Aden. Although piracy has been largely suppressed through international efforts, and above all the EU Operation Atalanta, it remains an underlying threat to maritime security including illegal trafficking and illicit trade. And because international terrorism threatens us all if we don’t tackle it. The security situation remains highly volatile, with the terrorist groups Al-Shabaab and Da’esh remaining active, as illustrated by the attack against the Hayat hotel in Mogadishu last August, with 20 persons killed and 120 injured.

That is why . The European Union needs to sustain its efforts in this part of the world, as elsewhere, to promote stability and security. And this is what we have been doing. From 2014 to 2022, the EU has invested more than €3.5 billion to support Somalia’s political, security and economic reform efforts and to address the humanitarian situation. We do so through humanitarian aid and cooperation programs on governance and the rule of law, peace-building, social inclusion and education, and on resilience and adaptation to climate change.

Crucially, we support Somali through three Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions to support peace and stability in the country and to help it to be able to take full ownership again for its own security:
  • Operation Atalanta to support the fight against maritime crime;
  • EUTM Somalia to train the Somali military and more generally to build its autonomy (including its capacity to train its personnel by itself);
  • EUCAP Somalia to advise coast guards and police.
Last Sunday I met Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who has been elected by members of Parliament in May 2022 (the new Cabinet was only appointed in August 2022). I also visited our two land-based CSDP missions and the Naval Force Operation Atalanta flagship, the Spanish frigate Numancia, which is patrolling the Somali coast.

Atalanta was the first EU naval operation ever, launched in 2008 and it has made a big difference in the fight against piracy. Indeed, it is one of the most remarkable success stories of the CSDP. Beyond piracy, it is now also engaged in other maritime security challenges, like the fight against narco- and arms-trafficking and illegal fishing.

Atalanta has turned into a maritime security actor of reference, offering a platform to develop our partnerships and for joint exercises with India, Indonesia, Oman and Japan. The operation is our main asset in the Indian Ocean, protecting freedom of navigation and demonstrating the EU's ability and commitment to enforce a rules-based order. It has been a pioneer shaping the maritime dimension of the CSDP and that continues to do this.

However, while Atalanta is a success, it is fair to recognise that our operations EUTM and EUCAP Somalia on shore have achieved only limited results. The Somali National Army (SNA), coast guards and police continue to face considerable force generation and efficiency challenges and we did not progress to the extent we had wished for, in terms of providing capacity building through advice and training to Somali authorities. However, having trained 8,000 Somali military so far, we will continue to do so and the SNA has already increased its capacity to train its personnel by itself.

We do this as part of wider efforts of the international community. The African Union Transition Mission (ATMIS) has an UN mandate that authorises AU states to deploy some 19,000 uniformed personnel in the country and the EU is the mission’s main financial supporter. Other countries are also active, with for instance Turkey running a big training mission and controlling the port of Mogadishu.

Visiting the missions and speaking to our soldiers and trainers, gave me first-hand insight on how our staff work on the ground, how they bring our security and defence policy to life. I praised our staff for their hard work and commitment in Mogadishu, as well as in Hargeisa, Garowe and Berbera. This work, far from home and in often very tough and difficult living conditions, takes courage and resilience and the dedication of our people in the field is a key element to promote and protect the EU’s values and interests. It a fundamental work, to preserve regional security and to demonstrate that the EU is Africa’s most reliable partner, supporting African peace efforts with in eleven missions across the continent.

We intend to continue to strengthen the Somali security institutions while diminishing gradually our support. The aim is that Somalia takes full ownership for its own security by the end of 2024. I assured President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud that our missions would stand by the army, the police and the coast guards to help them fulfil this objective. I also acknowledged the new leadership's efforts to promote economic and social reform and advance state-building in cooperation with federal member states –underlining that indeed cooperation between the federal government and the federal member states is crucial.

However, I also stressed that we are moving towards a more transactional partnership with the Somali authorities. EU support cannot be taken for granted and European citizens need to see that our engagement in Somalia bears fruit. For that, Somalia’s leaders have to deliver a more secure, stable and democratic Somalia, delivering basic services and security to its people.  


Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission


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