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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.

3 Comments:

Blogger Rhino said...

The 7/11 attack has way too much convenience to it. That aside, judging from America's success in Iraq and Afghanistan, I don't think all out war is going to help us very much, unless we're in the business of selling body bags. If we are to go to war, then we need to have that debate. I would go so far as to suggest that President Museveni's declaration of war is premature at best, at worst its a gross miscalculation.

Al Shabab and it's counterpart Al Qaeda are not conventional military forces, their existence, like you said, points to a political failure that is at least a generation old. I don't think guns and bombs are the way to solve it.

Somalis and Africans all over the world need to unite behind one banner, as to who the bearer will be, it would seem that we have been pushed into the light, but we would do well to remember that we have a choice.

6:34 pm  
Blogger Electronic Reports, Inc. said...

What about "rules of disengagement"? does that ever cross Musevini's mind? Never mind, we are actually zombies, the lowest bidders in the "fight for terror". So we have to take orders from our masters when it comes to important issues like this "body bag" issues.
Musevini has no control, period. The constant aplogietic and justification commentaries BS designed to cover up the truth behind Ugnada's despicable mercenary role in Africa.

The best way to minimize violence & terror in East Africa is to not be party to it. Uganda has no business to be in Somalia or any other country under any reason or excuse (AU, EU, UN, USA, CIA, UK, whatever). That is just a cover for the corruption and servitude.

4:21 pm  
Blogger wesonga said...

Just leave the Somalis alone. But secure the international borders, airspace and waters.

Somalia is simply a home. And the different Somali clans are the husband and wife. Like in any marriage worth its name, there will be fights.

Al Gore stood the ‘fights’ for forty years, and then put a stop to it all in June. So let the Somalis fight like the Crusaders; they will eventually get tired and talk.

Now let us look at the suggestions you have made: like changing the rules of engagement.

First, we need more countries to commit troops to Somalia. Okay. Many African heads of state, I believe, would want to do that, not only because it will make them friends with Uncle Sam but also since Somalia has muddied the image of the continent.

But must a certain number of countries send troops? How many countries? Says who? Then how many troops should each send? And who will foot the bill for their sojourn?

Granted, if more countries are involved it grants the exercise legitimacy. Then get the 53 countries to do that.

By the way, the United Nations, which has bigger biceps than the African Union had troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo for many years. But the MaiMai still roamed the jungles of that country.

It seems the countries that are ready for such an adventure are usually those that have a history of fighting for whatever cause. They are also happier serving Uncle Sam’s interests than stocking their health centres, building durable roads, securing borders.

That is much unlike Botswana which had offered the African Union troops for the Somalia mission. But Botswana’s Foreign Minister Phandu Skelemani later remembered that their country has to protect her wild animals from poachers.

Secondly, the Force should disarm the militias. Easy, eh. Just dress many characters in bomb-proof overalls and drop them in Somalia - the way the Israeli commandos did on to the flotillas.

Thirdly, the people of Somalia have to decide how they want to be governed and by whom.

You are right; even the Algerians and Palestinians at one time wanted the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Hamas to govern them respectively.

But did Big Brother and his acolytes sit pretty with that? Nah.

We cannot galvanise all the African countries to sort out the Somali problem. If we could, we could have already nudged them apprehended the Sudan’s President, Omar el Bashir, and carted him off to The Hague, Holland - his diplomatic immunity notwithstanding – to answer war crimes and genocide charges for whatever happened in Darfur under his watch.

Do not pump the AU with money. Some countries, like many nongovernmental organizations, are in Somalia just to make money. And the big guys are middlemen who get a cut from the head-chest-and-elbow-padded-soldiers salaries.

So, people, in as far as Somalia is concerned, just leave those blokes to their own devices. You could cut off the weapons supplies – if you can police that embargo.

7:09 pm  

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