The call to save Somalia: Rawlings goes continental

Mon, 11 Oct 2010 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com

October 9, 2010

The appointment of our former President (J.J. Rawlings) by the African Union Chief (Jean Ping) as his Special Envoy to Somalia is breath-taking, not because of the enormity of the problem being thrust on him to help solve but because for far too long, the AU itself seems to have lost control of the situation. Needless to say, the AU has been paralyzed for far too long by its inaction on the matter and given the continent little hope that Africans are capable of solving their own problems.

In effect, the AU has failed to achieve one of the major goals that prompted its formation as the Organization of African Unity. Waking up now to the reality that its failure to resolve the Somali crisis is an indictment on its integrity, this initiative by the AU is heart-warming and must be resolutely enforced to redeem Somalia once and for all. Africa must not lose its horn.

The task is not too daunting to scare Rawlings. He has a rich stock of experiences to draw on. In announcing his appointment, the AU said Jean Ping had been asked by African leaders to appoint a “high-level personality” who could garner support and generate more attention to the conflict in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had an effective government since 1991. Rawlings, 63, will be tasked with “mobilising the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia,” according to the AU’s statement.

I trust that Rawlings will use his conflict management skills to push forward the peace-making agenda of the AU. After all, his contributions toward resolving the crises in Liberia and Sierra Leone, for example, recommend him for such a responsibility. The efforts of ECOMOG to which he contributed, yielded benefits and it is expected that he will go all out to bring together all the stakeholders and mobilize the necessary resources to resolve the Somali crisis.

No matter how skillful he may be, though, he can’t handle the problem alone. He needs the material support and goodwill of all to register a lasting positive impact on the Somali situation. It is imperative for the AU itself to muster enough political will to facilitate his efforts and not impede them through half-hearted attempts or mere promises. Whatever this assignment entails must be properly defined and supported at all levels. The AU already knows enough about the problem and must no more drag its feet.

The Somali crisis didn’t just erupt overnight; it had been simmering for decades before escalating into what has now become a major source of worry to the world. All that while, the AU looked on unconcerned. When the death of Somalia’s former dictator, Siad Barre, spontaneously triggered total anarchy and mayhem, the AU seemed not to have foreseen that disaster. It stood helpless before the problem until it escalated into what it is today—an almost intractable albatross with disastrous consequences for Africa and the international community. Now, the AU seems poised to attempt solving it by diplomatic means. Belated though this effort may seem to be, it is appropriate and must be hailed.

We all know of the earlier efforts by outside forces, especially the United States, to stem the tide only for them to be caught unawares as they got mired in Somalia’s complicated internal crisis and fled the shores of the country in disgrace. That was almost 16 years ago when, in spite of its superior arsenal and military strength, the US couldn’t use its forces to tackle the problem. The AU’s half-hearted attempt at solving the crisis through a military means hasn’t yielded anything reliable because its own military force in Somalia is incapable of containing the onslaught of the wayward Islamist elements. It lacks logistics and personnel for its arduous tasks. The unwillingness of African countries to contribute troops and resources to the AU’s Military Command for Somalia clearly suggests that a military solution is not the best option.

Somalia has since then remained a hotbed, where criminals buoyed up by misplaced religious sentiments tyrannize innocent civilians and wreak havoc on a daily basis. These extremists parading themselves as Islamists are tormenting the fragile government and making it difficult for the small military force put together by the AU to control the situation. Thus there is a state of anarchy in Somalia, where life for its citizens has become not only short, brutish, and nasty, but also not worth living.

Although one might uphold a military solution to the Somali crisis and call for an increase in the AU military strength in that country, it is better to look for other options. A negotiated settlement holds better prospects. An impregnable agenda to bring the warring factions to the conference table to “jaw-jaw” and smoke the peace pipe will provide a better matrix for solving the problem. That’s why Rawlings will need the backing of all member-states of the AU and the international community to begin prompt efforts toward appealing to the conscience of the major players in the Somali war game to assemble them at an international conference during which the realities of the situation would be exposed for exhaustive deliberation and amicable resolution. None of the warring factions should hope to reap any unilateral benefits from such an initiative. The only winner at such a conference should be a united Somalia.

Anything else will not suffice. The danger must be clear to all. Inability to resolve this crisis will leave the Horn of Africa in shambles as an incubator for criminals. As we can see from the burgeoning terrorist act of piracy in that part of the world, any failure to solve the Somali problem will further endanger commercial activities and promote anarchy. The Al-Qaeda terrorist group is already capitalizing on the situation and gaining grounds in the Horn of Africa as a recruitment avenue.

Any worsening of the situation in Somalia will continue to be an indictment on the integrity and capabilities of the AU. As it currently stands, the AU is nothing but a waste-pipe. It is a huge white elephant on which the continent wastes its resources. Its various structures are either weak or dormant and can’t perform the functions entrusted to them. At the political level, it appears that the various member countries are still suspicious of each other and can’t get together to achieve anything concrete for the continent to be proud of. Talk of economic integration has produced nothing but an annoying mirage.

Despite the claim of non-interference in the internal affairs of member-countries, evidence points to the contrary. The catastrophes that have hit countries like Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda have deep roots in cross-border insurgency that have the tacit support of the political powers-that-be. All this while, the AU has pretended to be unaware of the causes of such mayhem. The time has come for the AU to put to good use the material and human resources that are constantly being spent on it. The AU must act with a clean conscience and prove to those whose sweat, blood, and tears sustain it that it is capable of paying them back with concrete achievements and not the noisome hot-air that its leadership blow. Let the Gaddafys and other power-brokers in the AU look beyond using the ambit of the AU for personal aggrandizement.

As we turn attention to Somalia, we must not forget the crisis brewing in other countries whose leaders have refused to learn any lesson from others’ experiences. I have in mind the conditions being created in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Guinea, Niger, and others, which have the potential to engulf those countries in what is evident in Somalia. These leaders are sowing seeds of discord and should be brought back to the path of sanity so as not to plunge their countries into any mess after they’ve departed.

The crisis that hit Kenya about three years ago was damaging but through conscientious efforts by African personalities (Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, for instance), the situation was amicably resolved. Kenya has sustained this peace by holding a referendum to deepen its democracy. That’s a useful lesson for other African countries. The Somalia crisis can also be solved—and must be solved sooner than later!

As Rawlings steps into the footprints left behind by those who had previously attempted leading efforts to resolve the Somali crisis, he must be mindful of the intricacies of the situation. To him, I say “Ayekoo” on his appointment to fulfill this new role. I expect him to consider the implications of the deteriorating Somali situation to the continent so as to be guided in whatever efforts he makes. His success in this mission will redound to Ghana’s image as a country that has continued to make international peace-making (or peace-keeping) a cardinal objective in its foreign policy initiatives. On a larger scale, his successful handling of the situation will be a tall feather in Africa’s hat.

Jerry Rawlings, Somalia beckons. Go in peace and make your presence felt in many positive ways. Let the world know through your efforts that Africans are not only good at creating problems but that they are capable of solving them too. Go and make life worth living for the people of Somalia. Yes, you can!

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.