Piracy raises pressure for new international tack on Somalia
The world is not willing to allow this strategic nation to remain ungoverned. Can a coordinated effort create a stable government?
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Many experts now believe foreign intervention inside Somalia is counterproductive, against either piracy or Islamists. Jonathan Stevenson, a professor at the US Naval War College, says it was a mistake for Ethiopia to topple the Islamist government, and he criticizes the US military approach to Al Shabab – including US airstrikes that killed top Shabab leader Aden Hashi Ayro.
Singling out Al Shabab for US targeting, he wrote in the New Republic, "pushed it closer to Al Qaeda; spurred it to expand its target set to any Somalis associated with the West, including local aid workers and community leaders; attracted foreign jihadist recruits; and politically inhibited any US moves toward positive engagement."
"There is a strong assumption that southern Somalia will only be safe and peaceful if there are foreign troops on the ground," says Jhazbhay, but history shows that foreign interventions only add to the confusion and strengthen hard-line parties, such as Al Shabab.
"The African Union troops in Somalia at the moment can't move beyond their own compound," says Jhazbhay. Military operations against Al Shabab "has only had a reverse impact.... It's just made Al Shabab more popular."
What are the prospects for creating a stable government? How does unrest threaten the region?
Past attempts to create a unified government have failed largely because they left out powerful ethnic and regional interest groups. That is what makes the recent resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, president of the Transitional Federal Government, a golden opportunity. "There is a glimmer of hope, now that Yusuf has resigned, because he was seen as an obstacle to peace," says Paula Roque, a Somali expert at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane. "The question is, if he's out, then what's next?"
The best chance for peace is to continue talks in Djibouti, and to include representatives of major factions, says Ms. Roque. "[For] there to be an actual peace and a peace to keep, so the UN can send peacekeepers, the Islamists have to sit at the table," Roque says. Moderate factions of the former Islamic Courts Union, led by Sheikh Sharif, could add legitimacy to a new government in the eyes of Somalis, and help reduce the stature of more radical Islamist groups.
Including Islamists would present a major change of policy for the West. But missing this opportunity for peace would have massive humanitarian costs, Roque says. "Regionally, what we've seen over the past year, it couldn't get any worse," she says. "From an external insurgency, which some believe is attracting Al Qaeda, to a humanitarian crisis, to the splintering of warlord factions, to piracy on the high seas, Somalia has become completely ungovernable." To miss this opportunity, she says, "would only prolong the suffering."