African business, politics and lifestyle
Why is the world ignoring Somalia?
I’m blogging from the African Union’s annual summit in Addis Ababa and can see the Somali delegation from where I’m sitting. They’re mingling right now, cups of coffee and croissants in hand, pressing the flesh and smiling and joking with leaders and ministers from all over the continent and beyond. Delegates are responding warmly to the men who represent a government hemmed into only a few streets of the capital Mogadishu as they fight an increasingly vicious Islamist rebellion.
But you get the sense the other delegates are responding so warmly to compensate for something: The fact that the Somalis are here looking for help and nobody is really willing to stick their neck out and give it to them.
Somalia’s strife — as well as the conflicts in Sudan and DR Congo — have dominated the agenda at these summits for years now. But there’s something different about this year. The African delegates seem confused – really genuinely confused – about why the international community is dragging its heels.
When Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero — a guest at the summit – stood up on the opening day he made some of the most dramatic remarks any world leader has made on the Horn of Africa country.
“If we do not support the transitional government more, Somalia could become a place that could destroy humanity,” he said. “The proper response is a strong response from the international community, led by the U.N. Somalia is suffering.”
Strong stuff, but Zapatero didn’t offer any real help. African leaders will have taken heart, though, from the fact that he seemed to be pushing the UN to send in peacekeepers — something the African Union, with its beleaguered force of 5,000 under constant attack in Mogadishu, has been crying out for.
After Zapatero, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon took the podium.
As soon as the word “Somalia” came out of his mouth, journalists started scribbling. But it was the same old. The country was a “threat to global security” but the UN would only send in peacekeepers when “the time is right.”
Many Somalis must be wondering what needs to happen to make the time right. A government only held in place by AU peacekeepers, resurgent rebels, food aid disrupted, a harried population, and constant pirate attacks off the coast.
The bemusement on the face of AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ramtane Lamamra, was clear when he gave a news conference yesterday.
“Now is the time for the international community to act,” said the man charged with overseeing AU peacekeeping operations. “We hate to make comparisons to other situations but the time has come for the world to look at Somalia in a similar way to the approach towards Afghanistan. It is as big a threat to global security. The international terrorism is the same and there is the link to the same mother organization, al Qaeda. And there is also piracy.”
The West says it’s worried Somalia could be the next al Qaeda training camp, a launch pad for international attacks — a role, let’s not forget, played by Afghanistan before the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
But with his mention of piracy, Lamamra was perhaps signaling to the West they should bear in mind there are more than geo-political considerations to be taken into account when dealing with Somalia. It’s costing the world money, too.
So, why the inaction? Why the focus on Afpak and Yemen only? Does the United Nations think it could never succeed in such a complex country? Are African breeding grounds for militancy not considered as immediate a threat as others? Does nobody want to prop up a government that was never elected by its people? How should the world react? Is it just that it really doesn’t have a clue how to?