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Somalia: Time to Act

Thursday, May 10, 2007

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If the interim Somali government’s assessment is correct, then with the violence in Mogadishu diminishing, there is an opportunity for lasting peace, hammered out by rival parties in a conference mooted for next month and guaranteed by the presence of 8,000 African Union peacekeepers. Unfortunately seizing these chances will not be simple.

First, the planned conference in Mogadishu lacks $9 million funding. Second, only 1,500 AU troops, all from Uganda, are currently deployed around Mogadishu. Other AU states, including Burundi, Malawi, Nigeria and Ghana, which indicated they would contribute to the AU force, are pleading lack of funding and the necessary logistics to deploy their troops. The reality seems rather that with the difficulties of Darfur in mind, these AU members are reluctant to become embroiled in another shooting war without any clear resolution in sight.

A successful peace conference — in which the rival clan warlords buried their personal differences and agreed to work for the greater good of their shattered country — would perhaps change AU attitudes about military intervention. Unfortunately it is far from clear that there is any intention to invite the Islamic Courts movement to be part of the conference and any settlement. Unless all factions in Somalia can thrash out their differences around a conference table, whatever deal is struck will not stick. Peace cannot be achieved unless everyone signs up to it. The Islamic Courts enjoyed a popular groundswell of support precisely because they did not represent the self-interested warlords who had torn their country apart. The brief rule of the Islamicists may have proved disorganized and too proscriptive for many Somalis, but their political constituency still exists and must be represented in any settlement.

As to the funding of the conference and the AU peacekeepers, the West should write the checks immediately. Washington was quite prepared to finance Ethiopian intervention in Somalia. Now that Addis Ababa’s troops have become part of the problem, Washington should organize the funding of their replacement by the AU and provide the essential logistical support for this force.

Unless it actually suits the US to have Somalia continue as a failed state, now is the time to act. The longer the delay, the greater the chance that Somalia will slip back into bigotry and chaos. The decision by the government to ban face veils and the way in which women wearing them have had them torn from their faces is a disturbing sign of such hardening attitudes. The excuse is that insurgents have disguised themselves as veiled women. If true this is a cowardly and reprehensible action by the insurgents. Nevertheless, to treat women who choose to go veiled in so high-handed a fashion is a miscalculation by the authorities. Somalia cannot be reunited on the terms of any one faction. Its people have to respect each other’s differences. Sixteen years of bloody anarchy have proved that no one faction has the power to impose its will on the others. Future peace has to rely on compromise and understanding. There is simply no other way. And Washington’s money could help it happen.

Arab News Editorial

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