All Amisom’s men and all Obama’s guns can’t put Somalia together again

Monday July 19 2010


Al Shabaab, the African Union and the United States ironically all seem to share the same thinking on one aspect of the Somalia crisis: That the failed state must be put back together again, by force if necessary, and regardless of what ordinary Somalis themselves might think.

This may well be the flaw at the heart of the current military strategy in Somalia, that has seen the stakes raised even higher with the bombings that claimed nearly 80 lives in Kampala last weekend, with promises of more to come.

It is not yet clear what effect this gruesome attack will have on the Ugandan government’s assessment of its ability to effectively deal with this aspect of its involvement in Somalia, or whether such an assessment will induce it to take real leadership within the region by forcing a rethink on this continent-wide challenge of viability.

The other big risk is whether the militarists in Uganda’s government will be able to resist the temptation to take advantage of this security problem and develop another strategy for regime preservation.

Under former US President George Bush’s war on terror, they were able to use American money for upgrading their security apparatus, which was then turned on the local opposition, thus dividing local security resources between looking for terrorists and terrorising government opponents.

Albert Einstein once opined, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”

Somalia’s quagmire typifies the perverseness of Africa’s post-colonial identity crisis perhaps more starkly than any other country on the continent, but could well be the common destiny of all the others, unless their leaders find a way to raise the level of their collective thinking.

The decision to commit troops to the African Union Mission to Somalia was one presented to, and approved by Uganda’s NRM-dominated parliament in 2007.

This was in marked contrast to Uganda’s other well-known foreign military venture in the claimed spirit of pan-Africanism

On that occasion, the army commander of the time famously remarked that he learned of his troops’ move across the border into Kabila’s Congo the day after it took place.

This therefore presents an opportunity for a wider discussion on the challenge of building regional stability, as it obliges the same national parliament to now undertake a considered review of the efficacy of its earlier decision on Uganda’s involvement in the AU mission.

The major selling points for the deployment, during the parliamentary and media discourse that preceded it, were that apart from helping curb the illegal regional trade in small arms, there was virtually no chance of Uganda being directly targeted by the belligerents, given her robust internal security.

The Kampala bombings have now put paid to the attraction of those initial arguments.

The standard approach to “peacekeeping” and regional security in Africa remains premised on compelling any collapsing country to put itself back together again, regardless of how illogical or otherwise its initial construction was.

Somalia is a good example, being an amalgamation of two former European colonies.

Even its name is something of a misnomer, as it does not live up to its implied aspiration of a state bringing together all people of that ethnicity.

Neither the AU nor its predecessor have been able to address the conundrum of significant portions of essentially Somali territory being located in neighbouring states, which was the cause of much post-Independence conflict.

It is yet another post-colonial African state making a claim to an artificiality but then failing to even realise the full logical extent of that artificiality.

In the immediate future, a review would therefore have to ask blunt questions such as: Why it is the AU’s numerous Muslim-majority member states have failed to commit any troops to the Amisom expedition?

What animating effect does the military presence of armies from Christian-majority countries have on the politics of the insurgency?

Would Amisom be more credible to the locals, if it also tackled the illegal fishing and waste-dumping that ships from rich countries are doing in Somali waters?

There are more: Could the breakaway Somaliland offer a viable model for a way forward?

In particular, how is the US support for the Amisom mission perceived among both insurgents and ordinary Somalis, given past US support for the notorious Siad Barre dictatorship that made Somalia the wreck it is today in the first place?

In other words, to what extent is Amisom’s mission perceived by Somalis as an attempt at a Pax Americana, as opposed to a Pax Africana?

Above all, there needs to be a greater examination of Amisom’s definition of success.

If the effort is aimed at rebuilding Somalia, does this not portend future wars, even if Al Shabaab were to be militarily defeated, given that at least two regions within the failed state have already declared secession?

Ironically, this is a question that Al Shabaab would also have to ask itself, if it did prevail.

The Africans wait to see: Will their collective leadership finally raise its thinking to match the level of the problems it faces?

Or, having equipped itself with an Amisom hammer, will it find it hard to resist the temptation to see every challenge as a protruding nail, in need of a few hard blows?

And as we wait, we die.

Kalundi Serumaga is a political and cultural activist based in Kampala