Why UPDF should hand power to Somalia’s pirates and crooks

Posted on 17/11/2010


I am in Bujumbura attending a conference on, of all places, Somalia. On reflection, however, that should not be a surprise seeing that Burundi and Uganda are the two countries that lived up to their commitment to contribute troops for the African Union peacekeeping force in troubled Somalia.

I didn’t realise how much a sacrifice Burundi had made in Somalia until I got here. Unlike Uganda, or for that matter President Museveni, which has geopolitical interests in the Horn of Africa conflict and whose regime will gain quite some political capital from it all, Burundi really doesn’t have obvious ones.

Also, this is a country that has barely started recovery from years of war (its streets are cleaner and roads less potholed than Kampala’s though), and has a much smaller population than Uganda. It was, therefore, touching to see Somali leaders getting tearful talking about Uganda and Burundi’s peacekeeping efforts.

That said, the more one listens to discussions about the Somalia conflict, the more one is convinced that we will just continue muddling along for years to come without resolving anything. I think that a political solution to the Somalia problem is possible, but because all the external actors, including the African Union, have taken a hardline position against the troublesome Al Shabaab as terrorists, that settlement will take a long time.

That leaves the military option. However, even those who believe in the military option are skirting about the drastic actions they would need to get victory.
When the US invaded Somalia in 1992, and Ethiopia in 2006, they both took a route that was doomed to failure. They viewed the Somali capital Mogadishu as the prize, and thought they could set political terms by symbolically holding the now wrecked city.

The AU peacekeeping force has done the same, and is holed up in Mogadishu, leaving militant groups that seek to take power from the divided and weak externally-propped Transitional Federal Government free to roam the rest of the country.
The military men want to have their cake and eat it. The militants in Somalia cannot be defeated without horrendous cost in soldiers, money, and time. The militants should not be allowed room to escape, resupply, recruit, and recuperate without maximum harassment and disruption.

To do this, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya would have to surround Somalia with tens of thousands of soldiers and them move in. They would have to push the militants from all corners of the country and countryside, push them into the centre, and corner them in a spot from where they can’t escape.

Then they would move in, hammer them and cut their heads off so mercilessly, it would take 50 years for their successors to stick their necks out again. That would be more than enough time to build a new Somali society.

That will take some doing. The UPDF alone would be looking at something in the region of 10,000 casualties. Can Uganda afford it? Well, theoretically, the army can take that level of casualties. However, by the time that happens, the UPDF would have turned on the government in Kampala, lined up the leaders – including President Museveni – along the Lake Victoria beach and shot them.

So it won’t happen because the Museveni government can’t pay the price.
Consider a few other things. Eritrea, which backs some of the radical groups in Somalia, would either have to abandon them (which it won’t for as long as Ethiopia is on the other side), or the other countries would have to invade it along with Somalia, which would be suicidal.

Secondly, I would like to see who would convince Kenya to join such a military campaign. Nairobi has done well in the region by keeping its nose clean over such military issues.

Finally, with a Khartoum government facing radical Islamist discontent over the peace accord with South Sudan (and given that South Sudan is very likely to vote next year to secede), it would be the height of insanity for any Sudan government to be seen to invade Somalia to prevent an alleged jihadist group from taking power. What all this means is that an old-fashioned military solution brought by outsiders is not possible in Somalia—in the short and medium term.

Both the diplomatic and military options, however, proceed from the idea that outsiders can contribute a solution to the Somalia crisis and need to do something. What if that position is wrong?

If that solution is wrong, then Somalis should be left to their devices. This is not the same thing as “doing nothing”. It is actually doing something.
For how long can Somalia fight? It has been at it for 20 years. Perhaps the fighting can go on for another 20 years, but by 2030 everyone will give up the war in exhaustion – or there will be no one left to fight or to kill.

That is too horrendous, of course. The reason I propose it is to make the point that there are worse alternatives to sharing power with radical Islamists, pirates, and whatever types of criminals crawl the surface of Somalia today.

By: Charles Onyango-Obbo  

17.11.2010 Daily Monitor


Posted in: African papers