Two reports on the BBC recently suggest that in their own way the various military operations working on Somalia are having an effect.

EU NAVFOR expects the next piracy season to be a difficult one, but they believe that it is generally getting harder for pirates to be successful.  They argue that the number of successful hijackings versus the number attempted has “dropped from 50% a few years ago to 20-30% this year”.  The problem seems to be that this frustrates the pirates, so the crews and vessels they seize are likely to have a harder time of it.  Ransom demands are inching higher, and the amounts actually paid are also increasing.  And NAVFOR expect that sooner or later a sailor is going to get killed.

The African Union Mission in Somalia or AMISOM say that they are starting to gain the upper hand over the insurgents who have so far made Mogadishu a particularly uncomfortable military posting – mostly for soldiers from Uganda.  AMISOM argues that it needs another 14,000 troops and a lot more money to be effective.

Both of these apparent successes seem to have something in common.  They both rely on the increasing difficulty the Somali side is encountering in keeping their forces together.  At sea, the pirates are having to range farther and farther afield, and even their legendary resilience is being tested.  (And it seems that pirate discipline breaks down almost completely – and potentially dangerously – when the spoils are divided.)  In Mogadishu, AMISOM’s successes appear to have as much to do with divisions amongst the insurgents as it does with the strength of Africa’s forces. 

But both successes seem to overlook the same thing: military force cannot hope to defeat an enemy whose main recruiting mechanism is poverty and social, economic and political exclusion.  The idea of fighting the enemy until it drops and then moving on the state building has been clearly devalued in Iraq and Afghanistan and is about as appropriate in Somalia now as a re-run of the Charge of the Light Brigade.  Neither of the international military forces fighting in or off Somalia now are part of a coherent plan for future peace- or state-building. 

The cost of these military interventions is extremely high – hundreds of millions of US dollars a year.  But the real winning strategy would be to make a business case for peace, and invest in its success.  Failure to do so will see many brave African soldiers die, many innocent (and a few not so innocent) Somalis die – and one or two foreign sailors die too.