Africa Defense Forum
ADF is a professional military magazine published quarterly by U.S. Africa Command to provide an international forum for African security professionals. ADF covers topics such as counter terrorism strategies, security and defense operations, transnational crime, and all other issues affecting peace, stability, and good governance on the African continent.

Veteran Peacemaker Takes on New Challenge

A Conversation with Ambassador Francisco Madeira, head of the African Union Mission in Somalia


Ambassador Francisco Madeira took over in December 2015 as the African Union’s special representative for Somalia and the head of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). A native of Mozambique, Madeira is one of Africa’s most distinguished diplomats. He served on the delegation that negotiated the end to the civil war in Mozambique in 1992. He was special envoy of the AU chairperson to São Tomé and Príncipe after the July 2003 coup d’état in that country. From 1999 to 2010, he was special envoy for the Comoros. He served in the National Parliament of Mozambique from 2005 to 2010. Since 2010, he has been the AU special representative for Counter-Terrorism Cooperation and director of the Algiers-based African Centre on the Study and Research on Terrorism. In 2011, he was named the AU special envoy for the issue of the Lord’s Resistance Army. This interview has been edited to fit this format.

ADF: Your career has spanned decades, and you have mediated conflicts across the continent. What have you learned are the essential skills of a mediator? 

Madeira: What I have learned very clearly is that no matter what persuasive approaches you might take, no matter how good you are, no matter how firm you might be, if either party is not yet ready for the negotiation, you won’t get anywhere. They will play around, they will bide their time and employ stalling tactics. They need to be ready for the negotiations. And being ready might mean coming to the conclusion that the way they are pursuing it won’t get them what they want. Or you may have to show them that whatever they’re doing is a nonstarter, and they are playing a losing game. Sometimes that’s why I feel that some kind of pressure — diplomatic, through the help of strategic partners — can play a role. We cannot automatically just call for negotiations. The other side needs to feel the need to negotiate. If he feels no pressure, then he has no interest in negotiating. If he feels that by continuing to do what he’s doing he might weaken the other side, he will do that. So we must be able to show both sides that they have an interest in finding a negotiated solution because otherwise nobody will prevail. If they understand that, maybe you will have a breakthrough.

ADF: How does your previous experience prepare you for your new role as head of AMISOM? 

Madeira: I will try to use whatever skills I have, but I am very clear that this is not a one-man band. We need to work with everybody who can make a contribution to this effort. I will look for people with experience in all walks of life: people in the economy, politics, civil society and all that. I know this has to involve the military, the diplomats, the politicians, and it has to involve the elders, the clan leaders, the women and children. And we have to have very good technical experts, civil servants, with the knowledge of the situation. We meet with them, get their advice and then check that advice based on the reality and the facts on the ground.

ADF: The core of the ongoing instability in Somalia is the destabilizing effect of the terrorist group al-Shabaab. From your experience as director of the African Centre on the Study and Research on Terrorism, what have you learned about why young people join extremist groups?

African Union Mission in Somalia Soldiers mark the arrival of Madeira at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu on December 4, 2015.
African Union Mission in Somalia Soldiers mark the arrival of Madeira at Aden Adde International Airport in Mogadishu on December 4, 2015.

Madeira: What is important to keep in mind is that terrorism is a political crime. Being a political crime, it pursues political objectives. So these people are individuals who want to access power to exert influence or, in this case, implant the so-called Islamic caliphate that would stretch from the Middle East all over the world. It is a political objective. As such, they need recruits to work for them. They cannot do it by themselves. So they exploit anything they can to persuade people to join them. The youth are the most [numerous] section of the population, and at the same time some are naïve. They can easily be persuaded, whether they are educated or uneducated. Particularly if they don’t fit into the society they find themselves in. If they’re not integrated, they feel disenfranchised, isolated and excluded. These things can lead to them being radicalized. Unfortunately, these extremist groups have developed a lot of skills in terms of how to approach, groom and eventually win these youths to their side. So we need to open a front to reduce the number of youths that are vulnerable to radicalization and violent extremism. We cannot do that, in the case of Somalia, unless we have a functioning government.

ADF: It sounds like you believe that radicalization thrives in the absence of a viable state. When the state isn’t present and isn’t fulfilling its duties, radical groups have more credibility. 

Madeira: That’s the message I’m trying to convey. We need the government of Somalia to be a viable and present entity that can be felt in each region and district, and respond to the needs and the requirements of the population. The state must be in a position to train troops, to train intelligence officers, to train the police to maintain law and order, and also to pay salaries to these people. Because if you don’t pay salaries, these people just take the skills you’ve given them and go somewhere else. Only a viable government with working institutions can do these things. It has to be seen as something that is part of the population and not an alien entity that will impose itself on them or be used to impose one clan against the other clan.

ADF: One disturbing phenomenon is that teenagers from the U.S., Canada and Europe have traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabaab. These radicalized youths don’t fit a standard profile. Many are from educated, middle-class families with much to live for. Many have had little to no religious training prior to radicalization. What can governments do to address this problem?

Madeira: My strong impression is that we are not yet winning the battle of counternarratives. We have to develop convincing counternarratives that show that what these radical groups are transmitting are lies, manipulations, and they should not be believed. Unfortunately, our propaganda machine is not sophisticated enough to be able to persuade these youths otherwise. These radical groups succeed because, in our societies, there are situations of unjustness and unfairness that, once exploited by these extremists, we are not in a position to contradict because they are true. There is corruption in our societies. There is lack of food when a few have so much. We practice democracy, but what our leaders are doing is a completely different thing. Instead of one man, one vote, they buy votes; they manipulate and they extend their terms when their terms have ended. These things affect our capacity and the seriousness with which we can be seen by the youth. We want to say that our democratic system is far better than what these violent individuals are doing. What I have learned is that the fight against terrorism is a fight against all these evils in our society, which terrorist groups exploit to have the youths on their side.

ADF: So to combat the effectiveness of some extremist propaganda, you have to improve the conditions on the ground? 

Madeira: Radicalization is an extremely individual, personal process. But if you go and talk with some of those people that have been caught in this situation, they tell you, “I joined this group because one ethnic group has committed crimes against my ethnic group.” Or they say, “I joined because my father was jailed without justification; I joined because I want justice.” Some say, “I joined because I was expelled from my job because one leader wanted that place for his son.” They say, “I came out of the university, I am roaming the roads of my city and I see that only the ones who have connections are getting jobs.” These are things that we need to correct. It’s not that everyone who experiences these things turns to terrorism, but in certain conditions when these things get together and we find radicalizing agents like ISIS, these can lead to terrorism.

ADF: As al-Shabaab is defeated on the battlefield or fighters choose to lay down weapons and defect, there will be a large number of people who need to be deradicalized and reintegrated into society. How do you think this should be accomplished?

Madeira: First of all, we need to look into the process of DDR [disarmament, demobilization and reintegration]. We have to disarm these youths. Then we need to find psychologists to look into each one of them and see what their background has been and try to win them over, back into society so they can become useful citizens of their own community. For that, we need to have downstream deradicalization resources that address the ideological factors, the social factors and also address the economic factors. We need to give these individuals the skills to discern what is good and what is evil, to understand the way they were being deceived by these terrorist groups, see that the ideology they adhered to is a false thing, that life is only possible with mutual tolerance. They need to see that we are a society not only made of one type of individual. You have Christians, you have Muslims, you have animists, you have atheists, so you have to accept each other and not try to impose your will on each other. We need social reintegration programs and a strong partnership between the government, the civil society, the intellectuals, the scholars, the media. All must be brought together, and it must be done now. Because, as I’m talking to you, there are some al-Shabaab members who have surrendered, but they come, they’re received, we try to deradicalize them, but then there are no means and they don’t even know if they’ll have anything to eat for the evening. So, after some time, they go back. We need to address this now.

ADF: For several years, al-Shabaab has declared its allegiance to al-Qaida. However, there have been some overtures from ISIS that it would like to form an alliance with al-Shabaab and expand its reach in Somalia. How concerned are you that this may happen and escalate the conflict? 

Madeira: Every day in Mogadishu I hear of confrontations between two factions of al-Shabaab because some want to join ISIS and the others want to remain with al-Qaida. This is an ongoing situation. So it is possible, and it should not be surprising to us that sooner or later one of these groups will formally pledge allegiance to ISIS. Now, if ISIS comes into Somalia and it becomes what they call a province of the caliphate, that is a serious problem. We know that ISIS has fighting skills, they have capacity to make bombs, and they have money. That could strengthen al-Shabaab’s hand. We need to do our best to prevent this from happening. We need to improve our capacity at collecting intelligence, infiltrating al-Shabaab and knowing where this contact with ISIS is done. Especially now that ISIS is suffering defeats in Syria and Iraq, these people might try to come to Somalia and elsewhere in Africa to run away from the pressure. So we need to be better prepared, be better armed, more mobile and have more enablers to face this coming and potential danger.

ADF: AMISOM is nearing the end of its ninth year and has had many successes. What are your primary goals for your time as head of AMISOM?

Madeira: First of all, I want to thank my predecessors for the good work that they have done. Second, the issue of Somalia has two important fronts. One is the political front. We need to continue to pursue the issue of political reconciliation, national reintegration and unity. We need to take the country to elections that are credible. Of course, it’s a bit difficult, and bear in mind that the first elections were divided on the clan basis. We need to make sure that this coming election [in 2016] is an improvement over the previous electoral approach. Something that becomes more democratic or at least is on the path to a better democratic approach. Something that is more inclusive in the sense that it is not only the clan leaders that command everything, but also other sections of the society like the youth and women. People must be legitimized, and governance must be legitimized, so we must push the agenda towards that.

The second is continued stabilization of the country in order to be able to have these government institutions present, relevant and reactive in different regions of the country. Of course we’re happy that the interim administrations are becoming components of the federal state of Somalia. Now we want those interim administrations to become an entity that is acceptable by the people they represent. For that, we need a strengthening and stabilization of the country. That means AMISOM must be capacitated to continue to carry out decisive military operations against al-Shabaab in order to degrade it to an extent in which governance is possible. We need to capacitate the regional police, the Somali National Army, the intelligence services, for them to provide people the security they need. Of course, we are here. We are African troops from a number of African countries. But sooner or later we will have to leave Somalia, so we need to prepare Somalia to take over and maintain law and order and stability in the country.

For quite some time AMISOM has been able to dismantle and take al-Shabaab positions when they were administering territory, and they were visible so you could target them and uproot them. Today, al-Shabaab has changed tactics. It has split into small groups. It has created a mobile, active and resilient intelligence group, the Amniyat; it has a sophisticated spy network. We in AMISOM, in the SNA [Somali National Army] and NISA [National Intelligence and Security Agency] need to raise our skills much higher than al-Shabaab. We need to penetrate them when they mingle amongst the population, to identify them and know where their hideouts are and dismantle them, to pursue them and not let them have a minute of rest wherever they are. Unless we develop this capacity, we will face difficulties. I intend as much as I can to work with all partners to ensure that we get this capacity.

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