Excuse me if I find some irony in Ethiopia declining the Somali government’s request to send troops, when all indicators point to the likelihood that Ethiopia already sent some of its troops “reconnaissance missions” over the border weeks ago. (Not to mention the irony of Somalia inviting back the very military presence that its citizens railed against for over two years.)
But really — it’s hard not to understand Ethiopia’s reluctance. Ditto that of every other neighboring country to which the Somali government’s request was made: Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen. There’s a reason that the only troops in the 4,300-strong African Union force in Somalia are from Uganda and Burundi, which share the important characteristic of not bordering Somalia. I don’t think others will be joining them too soon.
Somalia’s leaders are right in that their country is being attacked by “foreign terrorists” — though the latter part of that label, referring to domestic groups like al-Shaban, is much more true than the former, even as the risk of Somalia turning into a global terrorist haven grows. But what makes this an issue that no one wants to touch is that it is also a political one: combating the terrorists also amounts to protecting the government, and, as well-intentioned as the attempt to stabilize the country’s shaky state institutions may be, that amounts to taking a side in a messy internal political dynamic.
So the irony is painfully evident when Ethiopia cites as its reason not to (officially) involve itself militarily in Somalia the lack of an “international mandate.” The reason the UN would be so ill-advised to issue its stamp of approval on a renewed Ethiopian intervention, or on creating a new peacekeeping mission, is exactly the reason that its neighbors don’t want to risk getting involved: rather than halting the flood of violence, Ethiopian or blue helmet presence would only provide targets for extremists, as well as a lodestar for generating grassroots support. This explication, of course, will provide little consolation for Somalia’s beleaguered government, which simply needs somebody to do something, and quickly.