One year after Islamic militants forced aid organizations from Somalia, NGOs plan to return to the turbulent country within two months. The recently announced increase of African Union troops has convinced aid workers that they will be more secure in cities like Mogadishu, and autonomous regions like Puntland and Somaliland in the north. Notably, the United Nations and some foreign missions will return to the country after a 17-year absence.
The perception of safety is based, however, on an increase of AU troops from 6,200 to 8,100 — Mogadishu alone has an estimated population of at least one milion. Exact numbers are hard to come by because thousands of civilians are routinely forced to flee their homes to escape fighting between the weak government and various militant groups. It is unlikely that this meager increase will help secure significantly more of the vast country; rather, it is now more likely that there wll be more incidents like the Ugandan shelling of a soccer game, which killed seven children.
The AU troops increase itself is due to the recent bombings in Kampala, Uganda, which in turn were a response by militant group al-Shabaab to the very presence of Ugandan troops in Somalia — a classic case of blowback. More troops in Somalia may not just increase the potential for violence in Somalia, but the justification of groups like al-Shabaab to attack occupying troops’ home countries.
It is also unclear how the foreign missions will interact with the so-called "Transitional Federal Government" — "in transition" now since 2006 — as it officially controls only a slice of the capital, having lost even its main base of support to al-Shabaab last year. While Puntland and Somaliland are relatively stable and have regimes that enjoy sufficient local support, the southern part of Somalia is ruled according to clan loyalties, and under the control of competing warlords and militant groups. This reopening of diplomatic stations in Somalia may be more a propaganda play to shore up the prestige of the "government" than to effect any meaningful change in the lives of Somalis.
AU troop presence may increase yet more, as the organization has lifted the cap of 8,100, and other African countries have pledged small contingents that could bring the total over 10,000.