The African Union is on the spot over a request by Burundi and Somalia to convene an urgent summit of troop contributing countries to discuss withdrawal of the African Union Mission in Somalia.
The continental body has not responded, amid a threat by an angry Bujumbura to withdraw all its 5,432 troops from the Amisom.
Burundi’s threat was sparked by an announcement that Burundi will have shed 1,000 troops by February 28. On February 19, President Pierre Nkurunziza and his Somali counterpart Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo held a meeting in Bujumbura and called for an urgent summit of the five troop contributing countries to review the decision by the AU Peace Support Operations Division, which Bujumbura rejects as discriminatory.
President Nkurunziza had invited the Somali leader for consultations in which they called for urgent talks at the heads of state level about what they see as a decision targeting Burundi, and further agreed to carry out operations against Al Shabaab as soon as possible.
“There is a decision that was taken by the Peace and Security Council of AU that we Burundians didn’t welcome and we know Somalia wasn’t pleased with it. That’s why we have called for an urgent summit so the decision can be reconsidered,” said President Nkurunziza at a press briefing.
Later on Thursday, the Burundi parliament debated the matter and called on the AU chairperson and Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to convene a summit of the TCCs to address the “injustice” against their country. The MPs made the call on the day 200 soldiers left Somalia for Bujumbura as part of the withdrawal.
Defence Minister Emmanuel Ntahomvukiye said that his country will withdraw all its soldiers from Amisom if the AU does not reconsider the order to withdraw 1,000 troops from Burundi.
“Instead of planning to pull out 1,000 troops from Amisom, the African Union should prepare for the withdrawal of all Burundian troops,“ said Mr Ntahomvukiye.
He said that the order to withdraw only Burundian troops from Somalia in a short time could leave the troops more vulnerable.
The decision to withdraw 1,000 soldiers from the Burundi National Defence Forces in Sector 5 in Hirshabelle came from the AU Peace Support Operations Division, in line with the new Amisom operations blueprint known as the Concept of Operations (CONOPs).
Under CONOPS, several Forward Operating Bases will be reconfigured and others wound up as troop numbers fall. This started in Sector 5, where Burundi troops are based.
CONOPs is part of the implementation of the Somalia Transition Plan, which involves reconfiguration of the forces into new sectors in preparation for final handover of security responsibility to Somalia’s security forces by 2021, when Amisom finally withdraws.
Early this week, Amisom commanders agreed on key operations and activities to be executed under CONOPS, which include targeted operations to flush Al Shabaab out of their hideouts.
Simon Mulongo, the Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission, said the Somalia Transition Plan will be implemented in three phases.
They include; phased and conditions-based troops’ withdrawal and handing over of priority locations in Mogadishu to the Somali Security Forces; degrading Al-Shabaab and securing main supply routes; and supporting the Somali National Army as it takes full charge of the country’s national security responsibilities.
The last time the heads of state from the troop contributing countries met was in March 2018 in Kampala, where they called on the United Nations to reconsider the phased withdrawal programme because it was not realistic and would lead to a reversal of the gains made by Amisom.
AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat was at the meeting. Due to reduced and irregular funding, the UN Security Council Resolution 2372 issued in 2017 had instructed Amisom to reduce its uniformed personnel to a maximum 21,626 in readiness for a full pull-out in 2020.
The first batch of 1,040 troops left in December 2017 on a pro rata basis, with Uganda withdrawing the highest number, 250 out of its 6,223 troops, followed by Burundi (217 out of 5,432), then Ethiopia (176 out of 4,395), Kenya (146 out of 3,664) and Djibouti (40 out of 1,000).
Additional reporting by Moses Havyarimana.