In a report on the emptying of half of Somalia’s capital — perhaps 500,000 of its million or so inhabitants have fled fighting between al-Shabab militants and Ethiopian forces — the BBC includes this poignant quote from the commander of the beleaguered African Union mission in the country:
“I need more troops, I need more equipment,” he said, repeating the common refrain of peacekeeping commanders.
But the diplomat-general was wise enough to add: “I also need more political support, I need more diplomatic support. You cannot impose a solution on Somalis, you can only encourage peace”.
This is “common refrain” for a reason, of course. No one can appreciate more than the commanders on the ground the desperate equipment shortages that peacekeepers face. Yet the fact that this “diplomat-general” recognizes that political and diplomatic investment is equally important attests to the fact that the conflict in Somalia, like any other, can only be solved with pen and paper in negotiations, not with guns and tanks on the streets of Mogadishu.