Africa, Armed Conflicts, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights

Somalia Centre Stage Ahead of AU Summit

KAMPALA, Jul 17 2010 (IPS) - The African Union summit opens in Kampala on July 19 amid heightened security following twin bomb attacks a week earlier.

Ugandan soldier with the AMISOM mission in Somalia. Credit:  TS/IRIN

Ugandan soldier with the AMISOM mission in Somalia. Credit: TS/IRIN

The official theme of child and maternal mortality will likely be overshadowed by discussion of the AU’s mission in Somalia.

The blasts, which killed at least 74 people and wounded 82 others watching the World Cup finals on big screens at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kampala’s Kabalagala neighbourhood and at the Kyaddondo rugby grounds.

The attacks came just two days after a spokesperson for Somalia’s al-Shabaab group, which is fighting against the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) for control of the country, said Uganda would be targeted for its role in the conflict.

Targeting the AU mission in Somalia

Uganda contributes the majority of the 5,000 troops in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which has helped the TFG maintain a tenuous hold over parts of the capital, Mogadishu, but little more.

“We are sending a message to every country who is willing to send troops to Somalia that they will face attacks on their territory,” said al-Shabaab spokesman Ali Mohamoud Rage following the attacks. He added that Burundi, the second-largest troop contributor to AMISOM after Uganda, “will face similar attacks if they don’t withdraw.”

Questioning military solutions

Some analysts argue that a troop surge will achieve little, pointing to the difficulties faced by Ethiopia. Ethiopian soldiers entered Somalia in December 2006 to push back the Union of Islamic Courts, an Islamist group with ambitions to establish sharia law in Somalia, from which al-Shabaab subsequently emerged.

But while the UIC's bid for control was halted, this larger force was unable to fully capture the capital or impose itself in the countryside; the Ethiopians pulled out and were replaced by the Ugandan-dominated AMISOM.

Makerere University political scientist Yassin Olum believes it is time for Uganda to review its position in Somalia, with a view to withdrawing.

"We have to ask ourselves why other African countries are not sending troops to Somalia. Maybe they have realised it’s a hot potato or they view it as an internal matter," says Olum.

Bahoku Barigye, spokesperson for AMISOM, told IPS that the mission’s mandate should be expanded from peace-keeping – its terms of reference originate in a U.N. resolution authorising a “training and protection” mission – to one of peace enforcement, for which more soldiers would be needed.

“We have troops guarding the airport, the presidential palace, the port and other key installations. This leaves us with few men to defend the civilians,” says Barigye.

Security personnel in Uganda have so far made 20 arrests; two men have also been detained in neighbouring Kenya in connection with the bombings.

Despite previous commitments by members of the African Union to contribute to a force of 20,000 peacekeepers, there are only about 5,000 troops in the Somali capital in support of the weak transitional federal government. Over 3,000 of these are from Uganda, the rest are from Burundi.

Uganda undeterred

At a Jul. 14 meeting called after the Kampala bombings, the Inter Government Authority on Development, a regional bloc of countries in the Horn of Africa, agreed to send an additional 2,000 soldiers.

Uganda has indicated it will send in more of its own troops if other countries are not willing.

Addressing a news conference at his private home in Ntugamo, western Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni said, “It was a very big mistake on their side; we shall deal with the authors of this crime.” He is also reported to have assured the U.S., which takes an active interest in Somali Islamist activity, that Uganda would not try to disentangle itself from the conflict in Somalia.

The U.S. ambassador to Uganda, Jerry Lanier, said, “We believe the Uganda mission is more important than ever now.”

The ambassador said the U.S. planned to increase assistance to Uganda and AMISOM.

Political scientist Yassin Olum says the Ugandan president needed more time to reflect on the matter before making statements.

Development goals overshadowed by conflict?

African civil society has voiced concerns that the AU summit to be held in Kampala from Jul. 19-27 could be dominated by the Somalia question.

The official theme of the summit is "Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa," but consideration of this development goal seems likely to suffer the same fate as previous themes on water and sanitation and promotion of agriculture: a formal declaration will be made, but the summit will be dominated by al-Shabaab's bombing of Uganda, the leading contributor of troops to the AU's mission in Somalia.

Civil society organisations organised a forum in Kampala ahead of the summit to enable civil society, ordinary citizens and key stake holders deliberate on the key issues and demand action, but now doubt they will get a platform to present their case to African leaders.

“What this means is that we are no longer neutral in the conflict and we are fighting on the side of the Transitional Federal Government which is dangerous. This is not conventional warfare where you need more troops to defeat the enemy.”

Fred Bwire, a Kampala city resident, voices the attitude of many ordinary Ugandans towards the Somali mission. “What are we doing there? Our people are being killed for nothing. Why aren’t Kenyans – who are neighbors with Somalia – bothered?”

Hussein Kyanjo, an opposition member of parliament, believes the main beneficiary of Uganda’s continued involvement in Somalia is President Museveni himself. “He knows that the United States of America opposes the al-Shabaab and so he fights U.S. enemies to blind them to his dictatorial tendencies.”

Amama Mbabazi, Uganda’s minister for security, responds that Kyanjo forgets that Uganda has suffered terrorist attacks long before it sent troops to Somalia.

“The Allied Democratic Forces – another rebel outfit with links to Al-Qaeda – killed many people in the past and my friend Kyanjo seems to have forgotten this.”

In their struggle against the government, the Islamist ADF rebels attacked police posts, schools and trade centres in the west of the country beginning in 1996; in 1998, it carried out several bombings in Kampala, killing five and wounding six others. Military action by the Ugandan army largely destroyed the group the following year.

 
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