By Ralph Geeplay
The African Union recent military offensive in Somalia, if anything, which saw troops taking full control of the Somali port city of Kismayo must be praised. By capturing the most important iron grip of the al-Shabaab Islamist group, and virtually beating them on the battlefield in Somalia, Africa has 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 on the back foot and 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 difficult to understand as most African conflicts are, though not as large as the Congo, the battle there has been hot, if not the fiercest on the continent. After the United States led fail mission during 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 safe guard relief supplies. The United States was humiliated. One year after it landed in Somalia, US Army Rangers are killed when Somali militias shot down two US helicopters, the television footage that is beamed back to the states are horrific and shocking to American audience and US policy makers. The Americans withdrew in 1994, and washed its hands out of African conflicts.
Though Mohamed Siad Barre was long rooted from power in 1991, clan wars ensued with warlords Mohamed Farah Aideed and Ali Mahdi Mohamed gunning for supremacy, caught between the chaos are civilians while armed gangs competed for power.
As Somalia descended into chaos with rival clans and tribes carving up the country in a power struggled 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, it also became an international snag with piracy and an Islamic faction gun running the country and terrorizing the people with their main objective to make profits.
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 it’s presence in Somalia was not enough, it was determined to export terrorism also.
Africa becomes the latest hot spot for al-Qaeda; 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 head ache as conflict resolution becomes a main agenda of the union in a new era of African solidarity.
Incoming African Union chair Dlamini Zuma is aware that ‘peace and security’ on the continent must be an African led effort that must be pursue gravely. She must also be applauded for recognizing that the issue deserves urgency, but African governments must make sure they cut the bottom necks and bureaucracy so often undeserving that has complicated the smooth running of the AU, if Madame Zuma’s mandate must be successful.
African governments say observers have too much say on how the AU is run, often time slowing progress. Former South African president Tambo Mbeki says “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.” He said this week. 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.
Reports say Zuma also discussed at length the Sudan issue, and especially Darfur.
Analyst say as the African union gets ready to solidify its leadership credentials on the continent, its operations will continued to be hampered unless it has the resources to support its own efforts instead of complaining and begging its international partners for support and help. Peace and security which remains perhaps the biggest challenge to fund the union’s mediation and peace keeping efforts require enormous amount of resources. The AU may be forced to initiate a continental wide tax in the coming years, if it is serious about carrying out the many projects it has ear marked, say experts.
Nonetheless the many constraints face by the AU and African govenemnts, the recent Somalia peace keeping efforts which are currently being resolved by the union must be commended; it was an exceptional African effort that must not go un-noticed and which must be replicated in other hot spots on the continent.