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Uganda bombings bring Africa together. Except Eritrea.

African leaders called for tougher measures against Islamist extremists in Somalia in the wake of the July 11 Uganda bombings. Eritrea is pushing for talks instead.

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Calls for dialogue with some elements of Al Shabab are not so unreasonable, Mr. Hogendorn said, as “sharp ideological divisions” inside the movement mean that it is far less cohesive than many policymakers believe.

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One of the main problems is that Somalia's feeble UN-backed transitional government is too weak or unwilling to offer sufficient sacrifices or security assurances to opposition groups or possible Al Shabab defectors, Hogendoorn said.

'No calls' for talks

Beyond Eritrea, it seems that few in the international community are talking of dialogue with Al Shabab, however.

At the summit, US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson, said that no one at a high-level meeting of regional and international players on Somalia – a meeting that did not include Eritrea – had suggested talking to Al Shabab.

“I heard absolutely no calls for any kind of reaching out to Al Shabab,” Secretary Carson said. “In fact, quite the contrary, some statements were made very clearly warning of the danger that Al Shabab and the extremist leadership of Al Shabab pose not only to Somalia ... but to the entire region.”

The chairman of the African Union commission, Jean Ping, said that while Somalia’s weak Transitional Federal Government needs to broaden its support through targeted negotiations, there was no chance of talking to Al Shabab.

“There is the necessity to reinforce the basis of the transitional government by negotiating with all the Somalis who are able to negotiate,” Ping said. “The radicals do not want to negotiate, they just want to kill, so there is no question of negotiating with them.”

Talking at the end of the Kampala summit, Ping said, however, that improving relations between Eritrea and some of its neighbors – all of which it has fallen out with – could impact the crisis in Somalia.

“Eritrea is moving – they have solved their problem with Djibouti already, they have solved their problem with Sudan and we hope that this will have a positive implications not only for Somalia but also for their conflict with Ethiopia,” Ping said.

Eritrea warming to regional efforts?

Uganda’s state minister for regional cooperation, Isaac Musumba, said that Eritrean opposition to the regional stance on Somalia makes battling extremists in the country a tougher prospect. Uganda is the largest contributor of troops to the AMISOM peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

“If you have a country like Eritrea not agreeing to what all its neighbors are doing it is a dangerous opening,” Musumba said. “It can provide safe-haven and safe passage for the bad people.”

Although there was no sign of Eritrea softening its stance on Somalia, Musumba said its decision to send a high-ranking delegation to the AU summit and indications that it wanted to start participating again in the East African regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Agency for Development, after a self-imposed suspension, marked a small step forward.

“It is at least better to have someone that you don’t agree with but can now talk to rather than someone you don’t agree with and cannot talk to,” Musumba said.

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