By Ralph Geeplay
The African Union’s recent military offensive in Somalia, if anything, which saw troops taking full control of the Somali port city of Kismayo must be applauded. By capturing an iron grip on the al-Shabaab Islamist group, and virtually beating them on the battlefield in Somalia put a feather in the cap.
It is a significant achievement for a continent that is always looking for international mediation and foreign boots to solve its problems. It is now known that the group is no longer formidable as they once were because of the extra ordinary military cooperation between the AU and Somali troops.
It is moments like these that should make all Africans proud. But thanks must also go to the United States for providing training and military support to the African-led effort.
Somalia in a sense is a difficult region to understand. Though not as large as the Congo, the battle there has been hot, if not the fiercest on the continent. After the US-led failed mission in the 1990s, the country suddenly became a no man’s land. It can be recalled that in 1992, US Marines landed in Mogadishu to bring order to the unruly place and safeguard relief supplies.
The United States was humiliated a year after it landed in Somalia, and US Army Rangers were killed when Somali militias shot down two US helicopters. The television images that were beamed back to the states were horrific and shocking to American audience and US policy makers. The US finally withdrew in 1994, and washed its hands out of African conflicts.
Though Mohamed Siad Barre was long rooted out of power in 1991, clan wars ensued with warlords Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed gunning for supremacy. Caught in the midst of the chaos were civilians, as armed gangs competed for power.
As Somalia descended into chaos with rival clans and tribes carving the country for supremacy in the absence of a central government to police the state and provide order, Somalia stop being just an internal or regional problem. Somalia also became an international snag with piracy and an Islamic faction terrorizing the people with their main objectives to make profits.
The failed US efforts in the 1990s to bring order to Somalia, analysts say, further hardened armed gangs, which led to this question, ‘If the great United States could not defeat the militias in Somalia, who would…’? And so the Somalia conflict dragged on for years with competing clans vying for control until al Shabaab came alone and international piracy threatened not only Somalia’s neighbors, but also the international community.
That is why the recent successful military offensive this month against the Islamic militant group especially in Kismayo must be applauded. A city of 180,000 people, African Union troops have done a great job by protecting civilian lives and driving away the al Qaeda linked al-Shabaab hardliners, whose motive to introduce Sharia Islamic law has all but suffered Africans in Somalia.
Kismayo was a profitable bastion for the group, as they exploited the seaside city and its port to solidify its financial base by taxing commerce. Al Shabaab’s five years campaign of war and terrorism saw it controlling a large swath of the country at one point, but its presence in Somalia was not enough, but was determined to export terrorism also.
For example in 2010, the militant group was credited for the bomb assaults on Kampala, Uganda, which killed 89 people, including an American, and also carried out kidnappings inside Kenya. The Associated Press reported that Kenyan security forces suspected the group carried out attacks on the Kenyan capital, with a blast targeting a school and killing one child and wounding three.
Africa becomes the latest hotspot for al-Qaeda, and its influence is expanding on the continent. Not only is Nigeria tormented by Boko Haram, an al Qaeda linked group, Mali has also seen the militant sect seizing half of the country in the north. Pundits say the recent AU effort if completed wholly in Somalia would be one less headache as conflict resolution becomes a main agenda of the union in a new era of African solidarity.
However, incoming African Union chair Dlamini Zuma is aware that ‘peace and security’ on the continent must be an African-led effort that must be pursued gravely. She must also be applauded for recognizing that the issue deserves urgency.
African governments, say observers, have too much say on how the AU is run, which often time affects progress. “In a sense the AU Commission has even got [far] less powers than the European Union Commission, the policies of the AU don’t derive from the AU Commission…you have to be able to intervene with the governments in a manner that encourages them,” says former South African president Tambo Mbeki.
Mbeki also warned that Zuma was set up for failure, given that that the AU was a complicated place from which to operate. It is this kind of inefficiency that has incapacitated the AU as it strives to make manifold policy changes and impacts on the continent in behalf of its peoples during these past years, many have said.
But as the Somalia effort shows, to solve African conflicts across the continent means it would require a unique African solution. Too often African governments would have to relied on western governments to solved their internal problems, which are often times ignored. It helps though, that regional groupings on the continent are also taking the lead to solving African conflicts.
The Liberian, Sierra Leonean and Ivorian crisis would not have been resolved had Ecowas, led by Nigeria not provided bold leadership to see that the suffering peoples of those West Africa states saw relief. Other African regions, say an analyst are learning from the West African experience.
Analysts also say the East African community, and especially the countries of Burundi, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya were determined that the Islamic group’s exportation of terrorism was eminent as it grew in strength and needed to be curbed. The camaraderie between the AU troops seen recently should herald a new paradigm on the continent to resolving African wars.
The African Union after a lackluster 10 years must show a determination especially with a new leadership in place with the former South African home affairs minister at the helm.
“I think as Africans we have to have solutions to our problems, they may not be easy solutions but we have to find those solutions,” Zuma remarked recently. She also said “The AU believes that the issue of development cannot be addressed when there is war.”
The AU must be encouraged to initiate a continent-wide tax policy in the coming years, if it is serious about carrying out the many projects it has earmarked, say experts.
Nonetheless, the many constraints faced by the AU and African govenemnts, and the recent Somalia peacekeeping efforts, which are currently being resolved by the union must be commended. It was an exceptional African effort that must not go unnoticed.