The Kampala Au Summit: Somalia And Security Concerns

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The 15th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union opened in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, on Sunday, July 25, 2010, amidst the pomp that usually accompanies such events in Africa. The opening ceremony was graced by several Heads of State and Government from Africa, Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean.  The theme of this year’s Summit is “Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa”.  But it was clear that the attack on the Ugandan capital by the Somali Islamist group, al-Shabab, on the eve of the Summit, was going to make security and terrorism the central issue of the Kampala gathering. At the opening ceremony, a two minute silence was held in honour of people who lost their lives in that attack; the AU Chairman, Malawian president, Bingu Wamutharika, condemned the terror activities of al-Shabab, including its alleged links with al-Qaeda.


In the days before the Summit, the Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni had given clear indications that he was going to ask the Summit to change the rules of operation of the African Union peace mission in Somalia, AMISOM. His vision was a tougher mandate to eliminate al-Shabab. His opening speech was very explicit. “Who are these people who dare to attack AU flag?” Museveni asked. “Whose interest are they serving? These terrorists can be and should be defeated”. Museveni added that “I am glad that the whole of Africa have condemned these cowards. Let us now act in concert and sweep them out of Africa”. Museveni upped the rhetorical ante: “Let them go back to Asia and the Middle East where I understand many of them come from”. And turning to the Somalis, he pointed out that some of them accepted “to be used in this shameful way” and finally, he “personally, reject[s] the new form of colonialism -through terrorism”.


Against the background of the attacks on Kampala and the determined emotional response of President Yoweri Museveni, the Summit approved a request to send 2,000 additional troops to bolster the AMISOM, in Somalia; similarly, rules of engagement will be changed to allow the African troops to open fire whenever they face imminent attack. These requests had originally been approved by the regional organization, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and their acceptance by the AU, was announced to AFP, by the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin. It was also clear that Uganda’s request for a robust mandate, under chapter seven of the UN charter was facing difficulties with the assembled countries at the Summit. The changes could only be effected in consultation with the UN Security Council. However, the Ugandan army spokesman, Felix Kulayigye, told the international media that with the new approval given to AMISOM, African troops could now launch pre-emptive strikes: “Now the forces are free to attack in a pre-emptive manner, if there is a realization that you are about to be attacked you are mandated to attack first”; he was quoted by AFP as saying.

But if security overshadowed other issues at the Summit, there was notable progress around the theme of the summit, when it was agreed to form a group to monitor and report on the progress of maternal, infant and child health- the key theme of this year’s summit. President Bingu Wa Mutharika, the AU Summit chairman, added that leaders agreed to prioritize the welfare of women and safe motherhood at the top of continental development agenda. “If we improve the welfare of women, access to food and health care, maternal mortality will significantly reduce”, he was quoted by THE GUARDIAN of London as saying. Similarly, the Kampala Summit launched a program for African infrastructural development; it also adopted the African charter on maritime transport; it elected human rights commissioners as well as set up a child health committee. Malaria had been a subject of a special session by the African leaders to examine progress in sustainable malarial control while exploring removal of tariffs and taxes on anti-malarial imports into the continent.

But if the response to al-Shabab has been very central to the Kampala gathering of African states this week, it is also useful to point out that many observers of the situation have expressed the need for caution about engaging with the situation in Somalia. Dr. Afyare Abdi Elmi, is a professor of International Affairs at Qatar University; he is also the author of “Understanding the Somalia Conflagration”. In a recent posting on the Aljazeera website, he warned that sending peace keeping troops from Muslim countries and African states, “excluding Somalia’s neighbours”, can only be “a temporary solution that cannot be sustained in the long-term”. The long term in his view is to create and train professional military forces for Somalia. He however pointed out that there was the need for a nuanced understanding of al-Shabab as an organization. “Contrary to popular perception” Dr Elmi said, “al-Shabab is not a monolithic movement. It is comprised of several wings that espouse different worldviews. Some-perhaps the majority-have a domestic agenda. But a small minority in the upper echelons of the group, and a significant number of foreign fighters, advocate global jihad as a guiding principle”. Adding that “This diversity makes for multiple objectives and motives within the movement and among its leaders”.

It follows from his analysis, that those with a national agenda are committed to ensuring the removal of the foreign peacekeeping forces to facilitate a takeover of government. But in his view, the global jihadist tendency seemed to have dominated the movement; adding that the attacks in Kampala which has “invoke[d] interventionist mood within the international community and among Somalia’s neighbours”, as we have seen from this week’s AU Summit, might have been “a calculated move” to trigger the responses issuing from around Africa, “in order to justify and legitimize their war on religious grounds”. If so, Dr. Elmi said, “they may be prepared for such an outcome”. It is for this reason that African states will still have to exercise utmost caution in dealing with Somalia. The “pre-emptive strikes” which the Ugandans have wringed out of the AU Summit might play into the hands of the Jihadist tendency within al-Shabab; and the simplest way to do so is the harvest of collateral civilian deaths in Mogadishu. That will ginger Somali nationalist revulsion for the AMISOM troops.

Somalia today tops the failed state index in the world. It is a “stateless” country and a haven for Jihadist fighters and a nation of piracy. In 2008 alone, Somali pirates attacked 111 ships and hijacked 42 of them. It is this reason that has drawn the warships of many countries into patrolling the waters off the coast of Somalia; 23 of such ships are said to be patrolling these waters now. But the one side of the Somali problem that is often ignored is how the “statelessness” has heightened the exploitation of the fisheries resources of Somalia, by ships from around the world. The FAO estimated that 700 vessels fished illegally in Somali waters in 2005. Pirates say they attack shipping because they have been denied the resources of their country by foreign vessels. There is the related problem of the dumping of toxic waste in Somalia. Unfortunately, these problems were not at the heart of the interventionist agenda in Kampala this week. The hope is that the chickens of intervention will not come home to roost in the weeks and months ahead in Africa.

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