Any hope for war-ravaged Somalia?
It is almost two decades of unrest in Somalia but the situation does not seem to be getting better. However, as Sunday Monitor’s Risdel Kasasira writes, those involved in the process of returning peace to the country say there is hope:-
After 18 years of fighting between rival warlords and inability to form a strong government, Somalia has become one of the most dangerous places in the world.
As a result of this statelessness and volatile situation, an estimated one million people have died of disease, hunger and war, according to human rights reports.
In reaction to the continued violence and the humanitarian disaster, in 1992 the United States organised a military coalition with the purpose of creating a secure environment in southern Somalia for the conduct of humanitarian operations.
But efforts to bring sanity hit a snag after a disastrous attack on the US soldiers forced them to prematurely end the Operation Restore Hope.
From then, the international community and neighbours left the conflict to Somalis to manage until 2007 when Uganda boldly deployed two battalions to back the transitional government of President Abdullahi Yusuf, under the umbrella of African Union.
The mandate given to the peacekeepers was to support the transitional government and also facilitate dialogue between the rival groups.
According to the Amisom report of December 2009, the mission has achieved 60 per cent of its mandate.
However, external forces, especially foreign fighters being recruited from all parts of the world to fight the peacekeepers and the transitional government, are the biggest threat to the mission.
The Force Commander, Maj. Gen. Nathan Mugisha, warns that potential troop contributing countries do not deploy in the next two years, the situation will be worse.
“If we don’t deploy more troops in the next two years, the situation will be more complex and we will need about 100,000 soldiers to handle the situation”, Gen. Mugisha warned during a workshop in Kampala this week.
Despite the complexity of the mission, Gen. Mugisha says the mission is “doable” and “we have shown the world that we can make it”.
Currently an estimated 5,000 peacekeepers comprised of Uganda and Burundian forces are deployed to guard the presidential Villa, the airport and Mogadishu Port. But Gen. Mugisha says they need 20,000 forces to pacify the whole country.
The thin presence of the peacekeepers has made it impossible to dislodge the Al-shabaab and Hizbul. “If you want to dislodge them, you must attack and occupy their bases. But we don’t have enough manpower to occupy their bases,” says the Amisom spokesperson, Maj. Ba-hoku Barigye.
Pacifying Somalia would mean that the transitional government or peacekeepers must go into a full conventional war against anti-peace forces who control almost the whole country.
However, Maj. Barigye said the Somalia war can only be won through dialogue. “This conflict can end using 70 per cent of sensitisation and 30 per cent of the gun. The one, who takes the war of words in Mogadishu, takes the issue,” he told Sunday Monitor on Thursday.
The Al-shabaab has stronger propaganda machinery than the TFG government. This precisely explains why breaking news on their attacks against government or peacekeepers circulates faster than when their positions are attacked.
But Maj. Barigye said the creation of Radio Mogadishu owned by government and opening of Amisom radio due in March would do a great job to help sensitise the Somali community against the war.
Maj. Barigye’s notion that propaganda is central in any war counts, but their enemies are not only good at propaganda. They are training and recruiting from all parts of the world.
According to Djiboutian foreign affairs minister, the Al-shabaab on Wednesday elected an Al-Qaeda operative, Fazul Abdul Mohammed as the new leader.
According to security reports, this new leader has been described as the most dangerous man in the East African region.
He is said to have been tremendously involved in the recent suicide attacks that killed three ministers during a graduation party at Shoma Hotel in Mogadishu.
Mr Mohammed is taking over from Salah Ali Nabhan, who was killed in a US aerial attack on September in the coastal Somali town of Barawe.
The recruitment of foreign fighters, according to the Deputy Special representative for the Chairperson of African Union, Mr Wafula Wamunyinyi, must be encountered with a change in the military strategy.
“These fighters are coming with new knowledge on terrorism. We must train the peacekeepers to fully engage these elements,” he said.
The countries which had pledged forces for the mission like Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia and Malawi have continuously shown reluctance to deploy. At a recent conference on confidence building for troop contributing countries, delegates from Nigeria, were claiming that they have not deployed due to lack of clarity of the mandate to define how they would be compensated for their military hardware.
But the UPDF spokesperson, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, argued that the international community has ignored Somalia, but concentrated on conflicts in Darfur, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “In Somalia, there are only two resources-trapped African countries. But in Afghanistan, there are 43 countries fighting for the same cause,” he said.
Despite hostile environment, the peacekeepers have continued to offer humanitarian assistance to the Somali community. Maj. Barigye says the peacekeepers supply 60,000 litres of water daily and treat between 800 and 1,000 patients.
“Our soldiers will not sit and see people dying of hunger and disease. The priority is given to elderly women and children,” he said. The prescription to the Somalia problem will come from Somalis, Gen. Mugisha says.
“We will not be perpetually in Somalia. They understand their problem better than us. The solution lies with them,” he said. “But we will not hesitate to help whenever we are called in. Because we are Africans, we must find solutions to our problems”