The East African (Nairobi)

26 July 2010

Somalia: AU Ministers Agree to 'Take On' Al Shabaab

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
African Union peacekeepers on patrol in Mogadishu.

The African Union has agreed to change the mandate of its peacekeeping mission, Amisom, in Somalia into a peace enforcement in an effort to engage the Al Shabaab militia.

The change in mandate was discussed and agreed on at a closed-door meeting attended by African Foreign Affairs Ministers on July 22 in Kampala ahead of the AU Summit.

Upon approval by the AU Summit the issue will be discussed jointly by the AU Security Council and the United Nations Security Council before an enforcement force can be put together.

In separate interviews, Foreign Affairs ministers from Kenya, South Africa, Uganda and Somalia acknowledged discussing the issue of the change of mandate and by the time of going to press, was to be conclusively upheld by the Summit, which more often than not approves recommendations made by the Foreign Affairs ministers.

"Peacekeeping is a misnomer, we need a change in mandate for enforcing peace. We are seeing Africans attacking Africans and boasting about it; that is unacceptable. As a regional body we must find a conclusive solution," said Moses Wetangula, Kenya's Foreign Affairs minister.

Earlier, the African Union Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra had drummed up support for the change in mandate during an AU peace and security council meeting. The meeting was attended by various experts.

"We would certainly give leeway to Amisom so that it can accomplish its mission in the most comfortable manner," said the AU official.

The change in mandate means extra costs for military hardware and troops. Uganda currently receives about $33 million annually for the 2,500 troops it contributes to Amisom but that figure is expected to rise sharply depending on what military hardware is required and the number of troops likely to be raised.

Although almost all countries agree with the option of militarily engaging Al Shabaab, the reorganisation of the operation or who should lead it is not clear.

A number of countries do not agree with the option of letting Uganda lead a unilateral mission.Infact, deliberations at the AU conference lacked a clear strategy, although all supported the proposal that there should be a regional military action against the militia.

Some countries are for a United Nations-led operation while others demanded a purely African mission with both manpower and logistics mobilised from the continent.

However, what remains clear is that Uganda's position to go it alone against Al Shabaab is still on the table.

"We know most countries just talk but do not commit. We are used to that. Once we get the right intelligence (on Al Shabaab), and the logistics and the mandate of the peacekeeping mission is reviewed, we shall go there alone. We are very ready," said Okello Oryem, Uganda's Minister for International Relations in an interview with The EastAfrican.

Since the Kampala bombing, President Yoweri Museveni's administration has made it clear his government will fight Al Shabaab single-handedly at the invitation of Somalia's governing Transitional Federal Government, should support from other African countries fail to materialise.

Kampala's position seems to have already got the support of world powers like the United States and the United Kingdom. Somalia's Defence Minister Abukar Abdi Osman hinted that the US was willing to help with the offensive although not directly. "They have promised logistics. We have been talking to them," he said.

Kenya, which is being accused of playing a "softer role" despite having consistently suffered incursions by Al Shabaab, is demanding that Africa should instead mobilise troops from the East African Standby Brigade, (EASBRIG) and supplement the current Amisom strength to raise the temporarily required 20,000 troops for the operation.

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