Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Stranded I Online Edition

Somalia’s problem is not just piracy or terrorism threats

Published on 18/07/2010

By Billow Kerrow
In recent months, there have been explosions in Bujumbura, Kigali, Nairobi and Kampala raising concerns that insecurity may bedevil the region and reverse economic gains. In the wider Eastern Africa region, Ethiopia, DRC, Sudan, and Somalia were already hotbeds of violence, now spreading fast to the neighbouring countries.
 It is politics that underpin the genesis of these violence bringing to the fore the fragility and immaturity of our democracy.
In Kampala, the explosions were carried out by terrorists and hence have nothing to do with political conflict in Uganda.
Yet the Al Shabaab, which claimed responsibility, are part of the many groups agitating for political control of Somalia and who view AU’s support for the Transitional Federal Government and the presence of African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) forces as foreign intervention. However, the attack on Kampala in which dozens of innocent people were indiscriminately killed was unjustified and irrational.
Political analysts have invariably argued in recent times that the US must change its approach to the conflict in Somalia. The UN Contact Group on Somalia, in its March report, also criticised their approach, and warned against potential collapse of TFG. Rather than seek an inclusive political solution to the crisis in Somalia, AU and other regional institutions have pursued US-led approach whose focus has largely been to fight terrorism.
But what confounds critics is rationale of the attack. The premise that countries contributing to Amisom are enemies of Somalia is totally misplaced as these countries are doing so in the belief that they are helping the people of Somalia. It is stretching too far to imagine that they are all in the country to fight Al Shabaab or prop up the TFG.
It may be that some in Igad or AU may be playing a proxy role for the West in its war on terror but certainly not Uganda and Burundi.
A statement attributed to the group that they attacked Uganda because it is the enemy of Somalis and Islam shocked me. Clearly, these folks probably have no idea that these countries have a larger Muslim population than Somalia itself. Or that its people do not really support the Amisom mission itself, and in fact wish well for that country. It is not the fault of the people of Kenya, Uganda or Burundi that Somalia is in doldrums.
The conflict in Somalia is a political civil war and requires a political solution, not a military one. I do not believe sending in more Amisom soldiers to beef up the TFG troops would be a solution, or will taking up of arms by groups in that country to right the situation. Indeed, it is counter-productive as it is likely to worsen the situation. All the groups in the country need to genuinely engage each other in dialogue to find a solution to the decades-old problem.
The international community has for the past 20 years pursued various solutions packaged outside the country that have come a cropper. Commitments to the regimes once they are set up do not go through and hence the failure of these regimes to get recognition from its people, and take control of the country. It baffles many that TFG, which enjoys wide support across the UN, lacks resources to make a difference in that nation when a small group such as Al Shabaab can operate with effectiveness and control most of the country.
Museveni’s statement that absolved all Muslims or Somalis from the actions of the group was a refreshing change from the stereotyping that invariably accompanies such terrorist actions. Clearly, regional countries need to genuinely urge Somali’s groups to negotiate an end to the political conflict. There will be no solution if governments in the region see Somalia’s problem only in the context of piracy or terrorism threats.
The writer is a political economist

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