Somalia is sick and tired of Eritrean arms being funneled to al-Shabaab terrorists. Eritrea is sick and tired “tired and sick” of being accused of funneling arms to al-Shabaab terrorists in Somalia. Somalis are probably sick and tired of being caught between arms smuggling in a country already awash with guns.
Eritrea certainly had made a practice of arming Somali insurgent groups to fight the Ethiopian forces occupying Somalia. This was not out of sympathy with the Somalis who detested this occupation, but rather to tie up the hands of the Ethiopian military, with whom Eritrea remains on tense terms over a border dispute. The Ethiopians, of course, have since departed Somalia, but it might still be in Eritrea’s interests to keep things roiling there.
As for Eritrea’s claims, that “ulterior motives” are behind Somalia’s accusations of Eritrean arms trafficking and that “western powers” are the ones responsible for Somalia’s internal problems, they sound pretty similar to the counter-attacks one might expect of a government accused of illegal arms shipments. Yes, Western countries have also been guilty of “meddling” in Somalia, but that does not make Eritrea’s influence — which, as a regional actor, could be considered much greater — any less damaging, “ulterior motives” or not.
Bruce Jones and Michael O’Hanlon call attention to what they call the “world’s deadliest spot” — the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s not exactly news, but you know that if O’Hanlon — who found a niche, during the throes of the Iraq insurgency, in penning op-eds in major papers consistently asserting that the situation was improving — thinks things are going badly, then they really must be.
One major problem: the additional contingent of peacekeepers that the Security Council requested five months ago still have not been deployed. This, in turn, is because the UN still has not received enough offers for these troops. O’Hanlon and Jones:
The United Nations has called for precisely that [increased peacekeeping capability], requesting 3,000 more foreign troops on top of the 17,000 already in the country. But war-weary nations in the West are ignoring the request, leaving it to Egypt, Bangladesh and Jordan to volunteer troops.
None of these nations, alas, has the requisite airlift to deploy the troops, so the mission is still understaffed. And at just this moment, a dispute between President Joseph Kabila of Congo and India’s military command threatens to cause the departure of Indian troops from the U.N. mission, which would hobble the mission at a critical time. [emphasis mine]
The authors go on to advocate a more robust U.S. footprint in providing military assistance to MONUC and in lobbying Europe to offer troops. “Congo is not Darfur,” they argue, and the Congolese government has not objected fervently, as Sudan’s has, to the inclusion of European peacekeepers.
U.S. and European troops — and especially supplies and logistical assistance — would be welcome, of course, but we should not be picky in where MONUC peacekeepers come from. What we should be picky about is making sure that the force’s joint operations with the Congolese, Rwandan, and Ugandan governments follow established humanitarian principles. And just because it is facing a shortage of troops, that isn’t reason for MONUC to turn to an indicted war criminal; the involvement of Bosco “the Terminator” Ntaganda in these operations should be clarified and made public.
The UN and AU’s joint special representative to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, recently opined that Darfur is a “low-intensity conflict.” Lest this comment be construed to mean that the crisis in western Sudan is no longer much of a big deal — which I doubt it will, largely because of the domestic issue that Darfur has become, but also because the term “low-intensity conflict” has a very specific definitional meaning, and is not a value judgment on the severity of a conflict — but it’s worthwhile to point out the obvious: Darfur has been a “low-intensity conflict” for a long time now — four years, some might argue — but that does not diminish the importance of solving the crisis one iota. Rather, as the terrifying example of the Democratic Republic of Congo attests to, a “low-intensity conflict” is just the kind that can be the most consistently deadly, and the easiest for the international media to ignore.
That said, I don’t share Nick Kristof’s worries that the Obama Administration’s policy toward Darfur thus far amounts to “appeasement.” Without relegating Darfur to the backseat of international priorities — and he did appoint Scott Gration as his Special Envoy relatively quickly — it’s important to address the crisis based on an accurate reading of the current situation. This does not mean swallowing Khartoum’s propaganda, or being guilelessly led astray by its prevarications and obstructionism, too feckless to wield sticks. But it does mean that if some sanctions are not contributing to a political solution that will solve the region’s root problems, then, yes, they should be reassessed. And it certainly means that if bombing Sudan would prove counter-productive (and it would), then we should look to other means of ensuring that Sudan does not conduct further bombing raids on its own population.
The fact is, Darfur in 2009 is not the same as Darfur in 2004, and recognizing this is imperative to formulating a sensible policy toward it.
When U.S. Congresspeople’s planes are not around for Somali insurgent groups to fire mortars at, they apparently turn to their own parliament. The newly elected governing body’s offence was as egregious as…passing a national budget for the impoverished and war-torn country.
Equally tragically (and equally unsurprisingly), militants (unclear whether or not they were of the same group) attacked African Union peacekeeping bases in Mogadishu on Saturday. Kind of makes it clear why few African countries are willing to offer their troops for the mission, which a Somali opposition leader calls “foreign invaders.” Not hard to imagine what he’d have in mind for UN peacekeepers…
With the piracy epidemic off the coast receiving the bulk of attention, the EU has recently committed $200-plus million to support security in Somalia, and the money is supposed to go to land-based initiatives, like the AU mission, rather than catch-’em-at-sea measures. The recent violence, coupled with continually ill-timed consideration of a UN peacekeeping force in Somalia, underscores the need to act very carefully in not creating undue provocations. There’s no reason to submit to terrorist demands of withdrawing all peacekeepers before talks with the government can begin, but we should take into account the safety of these peacekeepers, and the best way to actually protect people. Declaring a “war against piracy” seems to ignore the country’s domestic political instability and risks needlessly inflaming much of the population whose cooperation will be key to quelling banditry at sea.
(image of Ugandan peacekeepers in Somalia, from flickr user ISN Security Watch under a Creative Commons license)
The deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation directly, at this stage, would be a high-risk option…Given the divergent views among the main Somali political players…such an operation could trigger opposition from substantial elements of Somali society opposed to international military intervention. It is highly likely that those opposed to the peace process would portray the mission as a new enemy, which would consequently add momentum to the insurgency and detract from the political process. This could result in attacks against peacekeepers, and in efforts to draw the United Nations force into the conflict. Equally important, the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping operation would undermine the efforts of the new Government to continue its national reconciliation efforts. [emphasis mine]
Ban hits on all the right points here. The extremist Somali groups bent on undermining the country’s fledgling government would benefit from nothing more than an infusion of “foreign troops.” These groups have no short record, let’s remember, of attacking UNcompounds and personnel, and the blue helmets would be a bright new target for them.
As dangerous as such a mission would be for the peacekeepers, it would ultimately prove even more deleterious for Somalis. Increased violence, particularly of the indiscriminate kind, will only cause more suffering and displacement for civilians. And the country’s Transitional Federal Government is not exactly in a position to weather significant setbacks. If it falls, then one of Somalia’s best (but still faint) hopes for peace will dwindle.
For now, the best option in terms of peacekeeping is to do what the EU just did, and significantly bolster international commitments to the under-staffed and under-supplied African Union force currently operating in Somalia. The AU has already suffered numerous incidents of violence, and would be deeply unfair for UN Member States to ask it to hold the place of a UN mission without equipping it to do the job. The hypocrisy would be particularly acute because no Member State has volunteered to provide troops to a hypothetical UN mission in Somalia; when the Department of Peacekeeping Operations sent requests to 60 countries, only ten responded — all with a curt “no, thanks.”
The UN’s role for now, at least until the political and security situation in Somalia stabilizes somewhat will need to have, in Ban’s words, a “light footprint,” focusing on political reconciliation, good governance, and institution-building efforts. UN humanitarian operations — helping some 3.2 million people in need of aid — will continue, of course, but these too require a level of security that the Somali government is simply unable to provide right now.
The UN Special Envoy to Niger, Canadian Robert Fowler, who had been abducted, along with his aide, Louis Guay, back in December, has been freed. The abductors were originally thought to have been Tuareg rebels in northern Niger, but Fowler and Guay, along with two other hostages, were released by the terrorist group known Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The circumstances surrounding the capture remain unclear — Niger’s president still thinks the Tuareg rebels were responsible — but it’s very good news that this veteran diplomat will be returning to his family in Ottawa.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.