The international community has neglected the people of Somalia for almost two decades. Throughout this period the country has been ruled by a bunch of thuggish clan-based warlords. Nobody really knows the exact death toll of the mess the country descended into after the ouster of strongman Siad Barre in the early 1990s. The only time the country came close to be governed by one central government was when Islamists under the Islamic Courts Union ruled large swathes of the country for most of 2006. However, the ICU’s links with Al Qaeda earned them the wrath of the US, which asked Ethiopia to invade and chase away the Islamists.
Now the country has an interim government that spends most of its time dodging militants and shifting from town to town. Somalia’s troubles are rapidly being transferred to the wider Eastern African region. Already the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya is stretched to three times its capacity, putting enormous strain on the Kenyan government and relief agencies. Piracy off the Somali coast is yet another direct result of the anarchy within Somalia. And perhaps most worrisome of all, the threat of terrorist attacks on capitals in the region – by al-Shabab – is causing many security agents in the region sleepless nights.
It is time the African Union took the Somali peace initiative more seriously. For starters it should urge Eritrea to stop funding the Islamists and then step up its own peacekeeping operations in the country (by sending in more troops). After security – or some semblance of security – has been restored then it should aggressively pursue a pragmatic solution to the country’s conflicts, even if it means splitting it into two like those in Somaliland will most likely want.