By Paul Ndiho
February 7, 2012
In January, the Africa Union expanded its peacekeeping force in Somalia and called on the U.N. Security Council to endorse a force of close to 18,000 troops to fight al Shabaab rebels. Analysts say that the AU should focus more on development and job creation for the country.
Since Dictator Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, Somalia has descended into chaos, civil war, famine, and piracy off its coast.
In this environment, a hardline Islamist group with links to al Qaida has risen from obscurity to international prominence in less than two years. Mwangi Kimenyi of the Brookings Institution suggests that the militants will continue to pose a threat in the region if the international community does not change its focus for Somalia.
“There needs to be a development program. We cannot just focus on military options. There has to be a strategy and this is where even African countries need to get together and say, you know, we are talking about terrorism but let’s think about economic programs, let’s think about opportunities for the young people. If these young people don’t get opportunities, Al Shabaab is very attractive option and they will continue joining.”
The African Union extended the mandate of Amisom, the U.N.-backed force supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia. Kenya and Ethiopia have joined Amisom forces in the fight against al Shabaab. Last month, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki thanked Uganda and Burundi for providing troops for the AU Mission in Somalia.
“The success of our community is directly related to peace and stability in our neighboring states, our engagement in bringing law and order in Somalia is driven by the desire to bring about peace and development in this region,”
The new mandate allows Burundi and Uganda to deploy additional troops; Djibouti will also send a contingent, while Kenyan soldiers are already battling al Shabaab in the south of Somalia. Mr. Kimenyi says that Amisom forces in Somalia should not be seen as invaders:
“I think Somalis hate, or they resent intervention from outside. You have seen what has happened even when the U.S. has been involved in Somalia. First of all, there is no aid strategy in Somalia. What we have seen donors doing is responding to the crisis. If there is a famine, you start getting a lot of people, you know, involved in food and dealing with the refugees and so on. That’s not a development strategy. It’s a crisis, dealing with a crisis. And we tend to waste a lot of time just dealing with the crisis.”
Mr. Kimenyi says that the international community should work for the empowerment of the Somali people.
“we need to go beyond just focusing on the crisis, and looking at what we can do that is longer term, so that it’s attractive for the youth to be in school, to be working, rather than going for the piracy, which is a very attractive undertaking, or joining Al Shabab, or any other war groups.”
Somali has not had an effective central government for two decades, and experts say that events in Somalia are difficult to predict. But they say one thing is sure: Al-Shabaab is losing momentum.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, the government continues to battle against violent attacks and killings by the radical Islamic group, Nigerians are expressing concern about the state of the nation’s security. Mwangi Kimenyi, a senior fellow and director, Africa Growth Initiative,at the Brookings Institution, says Boko Haram needs to be taken seriously because its influence is expanding.