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Ethiopia’s Next Steps on Somalia

Letter from Somalia


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By Mulugeta Alemu
Friday, December 21, 2007

Prime Minster Meles Zenawi’s timely interview with the BBC on 20 December 2007 reaffirms what his administration tirelessly has been saying for quite a long time now; that peace-keepers should quickly be deployed in Somalia and that the international community ought to robustly support the transitional government and its institutions. So far both are unfulfilled promises, and the international community risks failing Somalia for the second time. It was the lack of coordinated international support which in the first place severely weekend the TFG and its institutions after its establishment in Nairobi in 2004.

Following TFG’s capture of Mogadishu on 28 December 2006, the African Union had adopted a resolution calling Ethiopia’s role as a positive development which created an opportunity for a durable political solution. One year on, many hold the view that not all is lost in regaining the momentum in Somalia. Sadly enough, the international community particularly the United Nations has played a far less constructive role. First was that spectacularly embarrassing statement by the Secretary General in November that Somalia was too unstable and risky for a UN peace keeping mission to be considered there. Then followed a series of ‘activist’ statements and pronouncements by officials from UN humanitarian agencies who started talking too much and doing too little in Somalia.

But what does the international community want Ethiopia to do? For too long, Ethiopia did conspicuously little to challenge those who are so opinionated about Somalia but who have insignificant presence in the country. This status quo should change. Ethiopia needs an aggressive campaign strategy so that the choices for its disengagement in Somalia are clear to everyone. In this respect, Meles’s rebuke of the UN is salutary.

Voice of America on 16 December 2007 indicated that officials within the Bush administration are debating whether the US should continue to support the Somali government or consider other alternatives. It is healthy that all interested parties are debating and weighting their policy options in this troubled country. The US is yet to show a robust and genuine support to the TFG. But is there option other than supporting the transitional government and its institutions? Support to the TFG need not be confused with support to certain individuals within it. Expanding the political base of the transitional government through a continuous political process should be pursued. Not doing would only encourage and further strengthen the unruly Islamist Jihadists and terrorists who don’t have any vision for the Somalia and the region. This also needs to be made quite clear even to those who are doing the ‘Somali talking’.

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