Somalians wish to forge their own destiny

Somalia is one of those places where President Jacob Zuma does not feel the need to send peace­keepers; he refused an African Union request a few years ago. In any case, there are enough old South African army types working for private ­security firms up there to keep the South African flag flying.

Political pundit Greg Mills and two United States military advisors, Peter Pham and David Kilcullen, recently wrote a short e-book, Somalia: Fixing Africa’s Most Failed State. The title sounds like it should be some sort of recipe book for nation-building.

It isn’t. It reads like a long press release in favour of continued military intervention by outside forces in Somalia. The British-based PR firm charged with presenting the public face of Amisom, the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia, could hardly ask for better support.

As with other books by Mills, this one also pours heaps of praise on ­military operations that are, on paper anyway, aimed at restoring stability to troubled places. The praise tends to be laid on especially thick when the operation is backed by Britain or the US, whether the theatre of operations is in Europe (Kosovo), Asia (Afghanistan) or Africa (Somalia).

Sierra Leone became the fifth African country to contribute to the ranks of Amisom, joining Djibouti, Kenya, Burundi and Uganda. The arrival of the Sierra Leoneans is too recent to rate a mention in the book, but neither do the forces of the other contributors get much space – apart from the Ugandans. The Ugandan People’s Defence Force, the UPDF, is referred to as “one of the most capable military forces on the continent today”. There’s no mention of the numerous civilian casualties in Mogadishu, caused by terrified Ugandan soldiers who shot at anything that moved when they came under attack by al-Shabab, the Muslim extremist militia that controlled Mogadishu and southern Somalia for several years.

Original material
This is the same UPDF that has been unable to stop Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony; it is the same UPDF that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni didn’t seem able to control when it was pillaging the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. And, perhaps most importantly, there’s no mention of how many Somalis can’t stand the Ugandans, fearing what they believe is a crusade by Western infidels.

And then there are the Ethiopians. Though not part of Amisom, they have long been operating somewhere in Somalia with the financial and diplomatic support of the US. The last time there was a semblance of peace in the country, when the Islamic courts were in charge, Addis Ababa sent its boys in to get rid of them, creating a power vacuum for al-Shabab to fill. Yet Mills’s only mention of the Ethiopian occupation is a throwaway line: “The Ethiopians operate independently in Sector 3.”

One chapter opens with a promise to delve into the mysterious world of the Somali diaspora in South Africa. My hopes of finding original material on a rarely discussed topic was, however, short lived: the opening lines were just that, opening lines, as the authors chose to switch topics just after they had caught my interest. In fairness, the book is supposed to be about fixing Somalia, not fixing problems of xenophobia in South Africa.

The strongest element of one of the weakest books on Somalia I have read is the chapter on Somaliland. According to the authors, the reason Somaliland works (and I tend to agree with them on this) is that the people running the rogue republic have simply decided to get on with building a country, without much support – diplomatic, financial, military or otherwise – from the rest of the world. The lesson for the international community operating to the south in Mogadishu could be the ­following: leave!

Mills and his co-authors, while seemingly giving the Hargeysa administration in Somaliland the thumbs-up for its go-it-alone attitude, don’t believe the same medicine will work in the rest of Somalia. They call on Amisom to stay and on the international community to play a larger role in moving Somalia towards peace and stability. London and Washington continue to pump money into Amisom and the government in Mogadishu. It’s no secret that the AU would like to see the United Nations turn Amisom into a full-blown UN peacekeeping mission, for such transitions bring more money and material to the operation.

What many Somalis seem to want, however, is the chance to solve their problems by themselves. At virtually no point since the Siad Barre dictatorship ended in 1991 have they had a chance to do so.

David L Smith is the director of Okapi Consulting, which set up a peacekeeping radio service for Somalia in 2010

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