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Somalia peace process needs paradigm shift to address realities: experts

Thursday, January 08, 2015

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KAMPALA, (Xinhua) -- While the African Union (AU) peacekeeping operation in Somalia has been lauded for creating relative peace in parts of Somalia, experts meeting here are now warning of a backlash.

Top army generals of troop contributing countries, diplomats and the African Union Commission officials are meeting here in a two-day retreat to discuss how to address new challenges facing Somalia.

According to the office of the AU Special Representative of Somalia, the prevailing political and security realities in Somalia are likely to undermine the success achieved in stabilizing the country.

At the retreat which started here on Wednesday, Maman Sidikou Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission said the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) needs a new paradigm shift in its operations if it is to remain relevant in helping to stabilize the Horn of African country.

"There is the critical challenge of how effective we have been in supporting the government in meeting the needs of the populations in those places we have recovered from Al Shabaab," he said in a statement read by his deputy Lydia Wanyoto.

"We run the risk of turning the populations against us if we do not now turn our full attention to the population in the recovered areas. Today's liberation army could become an occupation force tomorrow if the people cannot benefit from tangible peace dividends," he added.

The new realities in Somalia are lack of political cohesion, lack of international consensus on how to solve the decades long crisis and the delayed relief support to populations in areas that have been captured from the Al Shabaab, the militant group fighting government.

Crispus Kiyonga, Uganda's minister of defense argued that the continued lack of political cohesion is greatly undermining the peace efforts. He said since the peace operations started seven years ago, the politicians in Somalia have been fighting each other. He argues that even if the troop contributing countries send the finest troops to the battle ground, there cannot be sustainable stability in Somalia without political cohesion.

"We could have more political cohesion in the body politic of Somalia, that is very critical. If we don't then we are wasting time," he said.

Abdirahman Sheikh Isse, Somalia's National Security Advisor argued that the lack of ground access to towns, regions and communities that have been liberated from the Al Shabaab is a major obstacle facing Somalia.

"Eel Buur in the Galgadud region and Bulo-Burte in Hiran region remained cut off for almost whole year after its liberation. Consequently it is the only area in which all their residents have subsequently become Internally Displaced Persons," he said.

He said agencies have resorted to airdropping of relief food to these cut off towns, a move that is expensive and also limiting the amount of food that could be delivered.

The lack of ground access has also limited the delivery of health and education services which increases the vulnerability of the already burdened communities.

The fear is that the Al Shabaab may use the lack of supplies to intimidate the already burdened communities into submission.

Uganda is critical of the operation of the international community in helping to stabilize Somalia. Kiyonga argued that while the financial and material support is hailed, there is lack of cohesion. He argued that the uncoordinated international effort and selfishness of some donors was affecting the delivery of peace to Somalia.

He argued that some donor countries have fragmented the Somali National Army and trained them separately. He said the training should be uniform and not every donor country should train the Somali forces independently.

"Every country has national interests but let us build Somalia first then they can come back and negotiate with the leaders where to invest," he said.

Uganda is also critical of the UN Security Council mode of operation. Kiyonga said while Africa wanted to put more troops on the ground, the Security Council limited them. He said that it is time for Africa to stop leaning on the international community in such situations.

He said Africa can use the current formation of the Africa Standby Force to deploy troops in Somalia.

Abdirahman Sheikh Isse, Somalia's National Security Advisor said that while the troops are thin on the ground, the Somali government should be assisted to build the capacity of the Somali national army. He argued that in areas that have been liberated, local militias could be recruited and armed to provide security to the communities.

"The government of Somalia recognizes the critical importance of having reliable and responsive access to these newly recovered areas for the provision of essential governance and security to the local communities," he said.

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