Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

How do you solve a problem like Somalia?*

SECOND FLOOR - After al Qaeda struck America on September 11, 2001, the US government declared war on Iraq and Afghanistan. The Bush Administration argued that it was in America’s interest to fight terrorists on foreign soil than on US territory.

In our case, we deployed troops to Somalia to try and hold the pieces of that country together. On July 11, the al Shabaab terrorist brought the war to our territory with the twin attacks in Lugogo and Kabalagala that have so far claimed 76 lives.

Such dramatic events have the potential to force rash or irrational decisions – in our case of whether to bring our troops home, as many people are now urging, or defiantly keep them there as the government appears inclined to do.

What we must do is rationally debate the Somalia question. It is a debate we should have had – but did not have – before sending our troops into Somalia. Now it is a debate that we must have, seeing how ordinary civilians in Kampala can become victims of a conflict thousands of miles away.

Somalia is not a new conflict; the country ‘failed’ in 1991 and has since then been a collection of tribes and clans struggling to control the territory and the people. The Americans tried to sort it out in 1993 but beat a hasty retreat when 18 US soldiers were killed by armed militia and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The Somalis were then left to their own devices (usually guns and mortars) until they started harbouring suspected al Qaeda terrorists fleeing the fighting in Afghanistan, and hijacking ships off the Indian Ocean coastline.

Clearly, therefore, Somalia is a global problem and an African problem but is it a Ugandan problem? Yes. A failed state in the neighbourhood is bad for everyone – especially a state that is willing to harbour terrorists who have had a record of spreading terror in the region.

But if a failed Somalia is a danger to global commerce (through piracy) and world peace (through terrorism), why has it been left to Uganda and Burundi (itself a state not too far from the precipice of failure) to try and save the world?

The Ethiopians went in before us, beat back the militias and helped install a transitional government. They then left us and Burundi to keep the peace – but there is no peace to keep in Somalia and our troops have, in some cases in the past, been sitting targets, unable to pre-emptively strike at al Shabaab even when they are aware of plots by the militia to cause mayhem.

Even worse, they are labelled as invaders or foreign occupying forces helping prop up a regime whose popularity is suspect. If it looks like Iraq and smells like Afghanistan then it just might be Somalia.

We must change the rules of engagement. First, we need more countries to commit troops to Somalia. It is a shame to the African continent for only two countries out of 53 to commit troops.

Secondly, we must change the mandate of those troops; there is no peace to keep in Somalia so they must go in to try and achieve what the US army failed to do; disarm the militias and create meaningful peace.

Thirdly and most importantly, however, the solution to Somalia will have to be political, not military. The people of Somalia have to decide how they want to be governed and by whom.

We must use the 7/11 attacks to galvanise Africa to sort out the Somalia problem once and for all – the African Union Summit in Kampala next week could not have come at a more opportune moment – otherwise those killed in the Kampala blasts would have died in vain.

*Article first published in Daily Monitor column, In My View, on July 15, 2010.