Global Policy Forum

Somalia - 'A Depressing Prospect'


By Paul Reyolds

May 15, 2007

"I do not think you can say this is a recovering city. It is a fairly depressing prospect," is how the senior UN emergency aid official John Holmes describes Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.

He should know. He had to leave Mogadishu in a hurry last Saturday when bombs went off near the UN compound and killed three people. His words sum up the international view of Somalia as once again it fails to emerge from upheaval, this time the overthrow of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in a counter-offensive in late December launched by Ethiopia in support of the somewhat hopefully named Transitional Federal Government. Such is the chaos that the main international effort at the moment has to be on the humanitarian crisis.

Aid needed

The UN's Central Emergency Response Fund says that one million Somalis, of whom 400,000 are displaced from their homes, are in need of assistance and protection. 71% of the population is classed as undernourished. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says: "Somalia is into its worst humanitarian crisis in nearly 15 or 16 years. Of the estimated 430,000 to 350,000 who fled to Mogadishu due to heavy fighting, only 60,000 can be reached by the humanitarian community." OCHA puts the number of Somalis in need of help at 1.8 million.

Response plan

There is of course an international plan to make things better in Somalia. There is always a plan in these crises. The question is whether it can be implemented. The plan was put forward in UN Security Council resolution 1744, passed in February, in the aftermath of the quick victory declared by Ethiopia over the Islamic Courts, a victory whose completeness has been called into severe question by continuing unrest and attacks.

The idea is that there should be a national reconciliation effort led by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and the "Transitional Federal Institutions" and that the African Union should send in a peacekeeping force to help with this process, with possibly a UN force to take over at a later stage. The pessimism of international diplomats even at that stage, however, was expressed in the remarks of the British and French representatives. The British ambassador said that it was "but one small step" and that the Somali people had to "work together". So did the French envoy, who said that it was "up to the Somalis and to them alone to seize the unique opportunity the African Union is offering them... the future of Somalia is in their hands." Since then, not a great deal has been accomplished, as Mr Holmes found out.

The AU has got about 1,000 Ugandan troops in the country and has pledges of more from Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi and Burundi. But whether it will ever get deployed to any significant level, let alone to its planned force level of 8,000 is not at this point known. And the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has said on a visit to Kuwait that his troops will "complete their withdrawal" only after the AU force arrives. That could be a long wait. It is unlikely that Ethiopia will want to leave until it knows that its achievement in routing the Islamic Courts will not be reversed.

US position

The American view was put forward in a speech on 21 April by James Swan, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, who from 1994 to1996 covered events in Somalia from his post in Nairobi. US policy, he said, had three main objectives. The first was help the humanitarian effort, mainly by providing food aid but with the aim of moving into development when that became possible. The second was to support the "establishment of effective government in Somalia". The third was "to prevent Somalia from becoming a terrorist safe haven".

"This is not an idle risk," he said. Several of the suspects in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the Mombassa hotel bombing in 2002, he stated, "took refuge in Somalia and were harboured by certain extremist elements with the Islamic Courts structure." Such fears about such al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda inspired links make it also likely that, like Ethiopia, the US will not want anything that might allow a return of the UIC. This could make the task of finding a national reconciliation even harder. In the meantime, the problem of finding and helping refugees remains. No wonder Mr Holmes was depressed.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Somalia
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea
More Information on Peacekeeping


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