SOMALIA: A tortuous road ahead in search of peace

Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The deployment of African Union (AU) troops to Mogadishu signals a fresh effort to contain the volatile security situation in the Somali capital, but stabilising the fragile Horn of Africa nation still has a long way to go, observers say.

According to civil society groups in Mogadishu, at least 18,000 people have left the city to escape the daily exchange of mortars and artillery between Somali government forces and insurgents believed to be sympathetic to the ousted Union of Islamic Courts (UIC).

Ethiopia, which helped the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to rout the UIC, has started pulling back its troops. "We have brought back significant numbers in terms of our commitment," Bereket Simon, special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, told IRIN in Addis Ababa.

"We promised to make sure we synchronised our departure with the arrival of the AU troops," he added. "We will continue our withdrawal … and the last ones will be out in a very short time."

Urging the international community and the TFG to seize the moment, Bereket added: "The situation in Mogadishu requires a lot to bring it back to normal. People are looking at the new changes as an opportunity - as long as the Somalis work to achieve their basic interests, the TFG does not squander this opportunity and the international community comes to assist."

The AU says its mission is to assist the Somali people achieve dialogue and strengthen the transitional government. "The removal of the Islamists from Mogadishu created a window of opportunity," Assane Ba, communications specialist at the AU peace and security department, told IRIN in Addis Ababa. "There were conditions that needed to be met [before] we could help; we deal with states."

Uganda has made the first contribution of 1,600 troops. According to President Yoweri Museveni, the Ugandan army is "not going to impose peace on the Somali people but to empower them to rebuild their state and help them to rebuild their army".

Somali government officials are upbeat that the country, which has lacked a central government since the regime of Siyad Barre was toppled in 1991, can be stabilised within six months, pointing to plans to deploy the 8,000 AU troops across the city, to patrol the coastline and to disarm various armed groups in Somalia.

"We cannot, as a government, allow the situation of insecurity to continue any longer," Salad Ali Jeele, Deputy Defence Minister, told IRIN on Monday. "The population has suffered enough. We will secure the city in 30 days."

The newly trained security forces were in position and would start operations as soon as a few technical details are ironed out. "I cannot give a timetable as to when it will start, but it will be done within those 30 days," Jeele said.

On Monday, the Somali parliament voted to move from its temporary seat in Baidoa back to Mogadishu.

Deployment welcomed

The deployment of an AU force into Somalia was endorsed by the UN Security Council in a resolution urging AU member states to contribute troops for six months. The Council also asked the Secretary-General to explore the possibility of setting up a UN operation to take over from the AU.

A Nairobi-based analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, said the AU mission should give priority to strengthening the transitional government. "The international community should give priority to the transitional process stipulated in the Transitional Federal Charter: the development of a new constitution, a constitutional referendum and free and fair elections," he said.

"It should provide direct support to the independent national commissions responsible for implementing these tasks. The TFG's role is to provide an environment in which the commissions can complete their work, and to support them to do so - not to entrench itself in power as a de facto authority," he added.

According to the AU, the countries providing the troops are responsible for their command structures. "The AU was part of the Somali peace process and is providing guidelines, has signed agreements with troop-contributing countries and will facilitate bilateral meetings with partners," Ba said. "But the countries are responsible for their own command structures and deployment."

He said the main problem facing the operation was not troops, but financial and logistical challenges. "The attacks [on the troops] could force a review [of operations], but right now getting the troops in is not the problem because we have 53 AU member states," Ba said. "The main problem is financial and logistical."

The plan to deploy the AU troops has been welcomed by several countries and international organisations, including the United Nations, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealing last week to the international community to assist the AU in mobilising funds and other assistance.

Ban also called for dialogue among Somalia’s warring factions. The risk of renewed and prolonged insecurity, he said, would increase unless the TFG rapidly consolidated its authority and ensured stability and the rule of law. "An inclusive dialogue and a genuine political process are the only way to achieve a sustainable peace that denies dissatisfied groups a rallying point," he said in a report to the Security Council last week.

Already, he added, the semblance of order and security had begun to deteriorate in Mogadishu, with armed roadblocks, checkpoints, banditry and violence. The fall of the UIC had also brought to the fore some clan rivalries that had been suppressed, while the "true intentions and future influence of the former warlords remain to be seen. The [TFG] must reach out to key political and social forces in Somalia and engage in an inclusive dialogue," Ban stressed.

"Those who renounce violence and extremism and pledge to constructively engage in achieving a sustainable political settlement in Somalia should be included in the process," he added.

Challenges ahead

Observers say any immediate improvement in the situation will depend on how the transitional government led by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed handles the aftermath of the routing of the UIC from the city.

Already, the violence in Mogadishu sucked in the first AU troops from Uganda after they had barely been in the country for a week. On 6 March, when they arrived, mortar bombs hit the airport as insurgents clashed with Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops. Two days later, two were injured by gunfire.

"I do not think the AU mission has been at all well thought through," said Richard Cornwell, an analyst at the South African Institute for Security Studies. "The assumption is that Abdullahi Yusuf is going to broaden his government. But at whose expense? There is little or no chance of a negotiated settlement of the political question in the short to medium term, so what is AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] meant to achieve?"

Apart from Ugandan troops, Burundi has promised 1,500-1,600 soldiers; Nigeria 850; Ghana 350; and Malawi an unknown number. Algeria is helping to airlift the Ugandans while the United States is providing cash and logistics to Uganda, and France will help the Burundians.

Cornwell said the way the mission was planned was unclear. "The command and funding structures are makeshift, and the mission’s aims opaque and liable to change rapidly as circumstances alter," he said. "What is the exit strategy? How is success even to be defined? It looks like the old problem: the diplomats and politicians being at a loss, they send in soldiers. To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail."

The Nairobi analyst warned that the AU mission could become part of the problem rather than the solution, in the absence of a political settlement.

"Many Somalis will view [the AU troops] as a potentially hostile force aligned with the TFG. Insurgents are likely to view them as high-value targets," he said. "The AU and other international actors must pressure the TFG to engage in genuine political reconciliation leading to power-sharing and a comprehensive ceasefire."

The TFG has said it will call a month-long reconciliation conference in April - a proposal strongly supported by Somali civil society groups.

Diplomats in the region warn that such a gathering can only have a lasting effect if it is held in a spirit of forgiveness, true reconciliation and with the participation of all the parties involved including the UIC.

They warned that in the run-up to the April conference, those opposed to the AU deployment are likely to try to make the situation worse, including launching more direct attacks on their positions.

They also worry that Eritrea's opposition to the deployment of AU troops could pose a fresh problem. Last week, the Eritrean government asked Uganda to pull its troops out of Somalia.

But speaking in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Monday, Museveni said: "I will call the President of Eritrea. Uganda is there as part of the African Union. If they have ideas about the situation, they should call for an AU meeting to discuss that matter."

The stand taken by Eritrea, which reportedly supported the UIC, could embolden the insurgents in Mogadishu. "The troops will be a choice target for everybody with a gun, including the warlord militias trying to re-establish the hold they had before the Islamic courts kicked them out," Cornwell said.

Ethiopia has warned any ‘extremists’ who may still be active in the war-torn country. "The average Somali is not interested in anything except the restoration of life and peace," Bereket said. "Extremism does not have any sound support … We still have enough troops in Somalia to neutralise any counter-forces."

Explaining why his country attacked the UIC in the first place, he added: "We did not go in under [United States] influence. It was because of a clear past and present danger to Ethiopia from Mogadishu - the extremists were infiltrating our borders, declaring Jihad, serving as a magnet for anti-Ethiopian forces and others who have an axe to grind with us."

He hoped that improving the security situation could reduce the numbers of Somalis displaced across the region. "Ever since the cloud of war hovered around this region, people who were scared of war drums opted to go to Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia," he said.

According to aid workers, millions of Somalis have been displaced by 16 years of conflict, severe drought and recent heavy floods.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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