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Issue 442 -- July 17-23, 2010
Why Somalia Would Make Afghanistan Seem Like Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood For US Troops
Sunday's Uganda bombings show that the threat of Somalia's Al Shabaab is very serious, so what should the US do about it? The status quo is not working, but if you think Afghanistan is a quagmire, you ain't seen nothing yet.
By Laura Seay, Guest blogger
In the light of Sunday's horrific bombings in Kampala, Uganda, it was only a matter of time before proposals for a US-backed invasion and/or bombing of Somalia started popping up, along with less specific calls to do "more." A few thoughts on this:
The Al Shabaab threat is real and it is very, very serious.
More than seventy people lost their lives on Sunday, and it's likely that more will lose their lives in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and/or Burundi before this is over.
Supporting the Somali government will not do much to mitigate the threat from Al Shabaab. Let's be clear: Somalia's current, internationally-recognized federal government is a joke. It does not control its own capital city. It operated out of a hotel in Nairobi for several years. It would not exist were it not for the presence of foreign troops and substantial US backing.
As G. Pascal Zachary notes, we are long past due for a reckoning on America's policy vis-a-vis Somalia. The insistence on the part of the Department of Defense, the State Department, and the White House that the best means for stabilizing the situation involves maintaining Somalia's fictional territorial integrity represents the same sort of thinking that got us into a mess there in 1993.
So what should happen with respect to US policy in Somalia? A lot will depend on the decisions taken by the African Union at its summit in Entebbe next week. Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda have gone along with US plans for the region in exchange for support, training, and materiel. Will they be willing to continue to do so in light of the fact that Al Shabaab now has the capacity to threaten civilian lives in their own countries?
Finally, there is the question of Somaliland, the autonomous entity in northern Somalia that has all the attributes of statehood save the most important one: international recognition. Somaliland just held successful elections that will apparently result in a turnover of power from one party to another.
It is a functioning state with a growing economy and a solid modicum of territorial control. It's long past time that the US stopped dithering around in Mogadishu and worked with those who are actually capable of governing in the Horn.
Zachary advocates for the recognition of three "autonomous provinces" in the region. Puntland is probably not strong enough to govern outside of a few strongholds, but Somaliland most certainly is. Recognition would allow the US to train Somaliland soldiers, and, more importantly, potentially provide a base for operations that is far more stable than the volatile border in Kenya.
Will doing so solve all the region's problems, particularly the threat from Al Shabaab? Of course not. But it's high time we stopped kidding ourselves that the current M.O. will ever work. It won't.
In the days to come, look for Ken Menkhaus' thoughts on the current situation. Menkhaus is the smartest American academic working on Somalia today; I'm sure he'll have much to say.
--- Laura Seay blogs at Texas in Africa.