The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The African front

I recently wrote about the ongoing debate in Uganda over the country's participation in AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. This article in the Guardian argues that Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda, has less than altruistic reasons for sending Ugandan troops to Somalia and that he is quite happy to be used as an American pawn in the war on terror.

The argument goes that, through Ugandan participation in AMISOM, Museveni's regime is seeking to portray itself as a responsible member of the international community in order to i/ divert attention from its military interventions in the Democratic Republic of Congo and its alleged human rights abuses against rebels in northern Uganda and ii/ maintain the flow of western aid into the country (amounting to one third of the government's annual budget), not to mention US military training and logistical support, despite the widespread corruption of the regime.

On top of this, since al-Shabaab bombed Kampala in July and killed over 70 people, the government has introduced extremely restrictive security measures. In the words of the Kampala police chief:
“We are sounding a warning. No gathering of more than five people, even if it is in your compound, should be held without clearance from the Inspector General of Police. People intending to hold wedding parties, music galas, football matches and road processions should notify the IGP first.”
From a wider perspective, the article takes a swipe at Washington, insinuating that the US is content to turn a blind eye to all this as Uganda is proving a useful proxy in the war on terror through its engagement in Somalia. Aside from a brief reference to DynCorp (which equips and trains the peacekeeping force in Somalia with State Department funding), there is little attempt to delve into the detail of what the US is doing in Somalia (or Africa generally) or to construct an argument as to why intervention in Somalia is such an inherently bad idea.

As a matter of fact, African leaders at last week's UN General Assembly argued for more western intervention in Somalia and Africa more generally. Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (which physically controls only a small corner of Mogadishu), said progress was being made in many areas but that ultimately the solution to both terrorism and piracy lies in greater international engagement on land, notably by training national security forces and providing support to AMISOM. In other words, don't just send ships to patrol the Gulf of Aden, help us build a proper State.

Mwai Kibaki, President of Kenya, went so far as to claim that the deteriorating security situation in Somalia poses a "threat to international peace and security greater than in any other conflict in the world" and that more opportunities should not be lost through benign neglect.

Specifically, Kibaki exhorted the United Nations and the international community to to support the appointment of an eminent high-level personality for Somalia, effectively deploy 2,000 troops and review the current mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to enhance its peace enforcement capacity. He also urged the world to fully support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan ahead of the secession referendum in January.

In other words, more engagement not less. Taking swipes at the US is not going to help anybody here. This is precisely the time when the international community should be seeking to engage constructively in Africa and with so much attention fixed on Afghanistan there is an opportunity for other actors, notably the European Union, to step up to the plate. The EU has already begun to set up its Somalia Training Mission - ironically based in Uganda - but, if Messrs Sharif and Kibaki are to be believed, much more needs to be done.

The best way to avoid Africa - and specifically Somalia - becoming a full-blown front in the 'war on terror' would be to engage properly now. In Afghanistan, the golden hours were wasted and the west has consequently found itself fighting a full-blown counter-insurgency campaign. We should hope that the wider international community will have the foresight to avoid repeating that mistake in Africa.


  1. nice post, motivated me to come up with a piece on Somalia myself:

  2. Thanks Dustin, your posts on Somalia are interesting, especially the CFR critique.