India-Somalia relations: Indian response to the new government?

By Rohit Kumar Sharma

The past few days have been significant for the Federal Republic of Somalia, a country in the Horn of Africa, marked by a crisis that has lasted for decades. On May 15, Somali parliamentarians elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president of the republic. It was a re-election for Mohamud, 66, who reigned from 2012 to 2017 and defeated incumbent President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo. The nation of 15 million has endured conflict without a strong central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and has also faced severe drought and severe famine crises. Moreover, the previous president’s attempt to extend his term has also deeply divided the security forces, leading to street battles between different factions of the security forces.

The resurgence of the Islamist insurgency led by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab group, which controls swathes of the country, has doubled its attacks on Somali security forces and their Union Transitional Mission counterparts Africa in Somalia (ATMIS). The volatile security situation prompted US President Joe Biden to authorize the redeployment of hundreds of US troops to train, equip and support elite Somali security units. Following the election of a new president, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has extended its support to Somalia under its extended credit facility, which the country desperately needs to respond to the calamity which, according to aid agencies, could prove much more serious than the 2011 famine in Somalia. James Swan, who heads the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), welcomed the election results and urged the international community to seize this “moment of opportunity”. However, Swan also noted numerous irregularities in the selection of parliamentarians and violence in many places during the election. Furthermore, he noted that only 21% of elected members were women despite a 30% quota.

Despite all the complexities and ongoing crises in the country, the new government presents immense opportunities for India to assist the African nation in its endeavors to achieve economic stability and national security.

India-Somalia Bilateral Relations

Indian traders have traded with the Horn of Africa since ancient times. There were significant numbers of Indians in the country before the outbreak of the civil war. However, after 1991, most Indians left Somalia for other stable neighboring countries like Kenya. On the security front, after the outbreak of the civil war, Indian peacekeepers served in both the United Nations Task Force (UNITAF) and the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM). About 4,600 Indian peacekeepers, led by Brigadier MP Bhagat, participated in UNOSOM II in 1993-1994. Even the Indian Navy has played an important role in UNITAF and has been involved in anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden since 2008. India is also a member of the United Nations Contact Group on Piracy off the Coasts of Somalia (CGPCS) established in 2009. .

India offers Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Training Scholarships and Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) Scholarships for Somali students. In 2018-2019, Somalia benefited from 24 places under these programs, while 17 Somali students were offered ICCR scholarships in 2021-22. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Somalia in 2018 to train young Somali diplomats at the FSI.

Somalia is also eligible for India’s Duty Free Tariff Preference (DFTP), a unilateral preferential tariff scheme offered by the Government of India to least developed countries. The total trade between the two countries in 2020-21 was estimated at around US$560.12 million, which is miniscule compared to India’s total trade with the region.

India’s response?

India’s approach to the region was recently summed up in a column by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar who noted that India would respond to “Africa’s priorities, demands and needs”. , rather than imposing its programme”. India’s policy towards the region is also anchored in the SAGAR doctrine, an acronym for Security and Growth for All in the Region, which emphasizes maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean to strengthen economic and security ties with its maritime neighbors. . Somalia’s geographical location fits perfectly into India’s broader pattern in the region, which could mutually benefit both countries. India can align itself with the priorities set by the new Somali president, including national reconciliation, tackling the security threat from Al-Shabaab, constitutional and judicial reforms, and focusing on the severe drought. The number of drought-affected people has risen to nearly 6.1 million and rising food prices have amplified the famine crisis.

Apparently, India is committed against terrorism by reiterating its support for Somalia and its people “in their collective desire for a stable, secure and peaceful future” following the terrorist attack by Al-Shabaab in Mogadishu airport in March 2022. With its time-tested military institutions and training academies, India can train young Somali recruits in its academies as it has already done with recruits from other countries Africans. India can also share its counter-insurgency experience with Somali forces to respond to terrorist threats. Interestingly, India can also benefit from President-elect Mohamud’s ties to India, as he earned a master’s degree in technical education from India’s Barkatullah University.

India can also help Somalia to strengthen its democratic institutions and share its experience in upholding democratic values. India has contributed US$1 million to the United Nations Trust Fund in Somalia to support the African Union in 2021. The Indian government may explore other avenues to support the Union forces African in the country. Considering the lack of internet penetration in Somalia, India can help build its digital infrastructure in cooperation with other major international market players.

Interestingly, amidst all the crises in the country, the current situation in Somalia is ripe for India to act and build a strong and stable partnership with the country. The sooner the Indian government responds, the better. This aligns with India’s foreign policy objective in Africa and would aid the beleaguered nation at no cost to India’s broader goals in the region.

(The author is a PhD student at the Center for West Asia, School of International Studies, JNU. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).