The military and humanitarian situation in Somalia worsened over the weekend, primarily due to the actions of the Union of Islamic Courts. Reconciliation now seems even more unlikely. But is there hope?
The situation in Somalia turned even bleaker on Saturday as Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, one of the leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), declared the end of the tacit ceasefire between Ugandan peacekeepers and the Islamist insurgency. Since the deaths of 4 Ugandans last month, the insurgency had not targeted peacekeeping troops. Awey’s threat came just days after Burundi announced that its addition to the African Union (AU) peacekeeping force will arrive in July, bringing the total AU numbers to somewhere around 3000. The peacekeepers, supposed to number eight thousand, are intended to replace Ethiopia who, although reticent to reveal the extent of its presence in Somalia, probably has between eight and twenty thousand troops on the ground.
Even more importantly, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has imposed a nighttime curfew on the entire city of Mogadishu. It seems probable that this has led to a greater incidence of bombings during the night, as Islamist insurgents are then more likely to hit non-civilian targets. Sixteen nighttime bombings occurred in Mogadishu over the weekend, eleven coming the night after the curfew was imposed.
Worse, the humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. Somalia now has the highest piracy risk in the world, with 15 attempts off its coastline in just the last 6 months, forcing international agencies to find other means of delivery. The closed Kenyan border has derailed attempts to truck food aid into Somalia, and the Kenyan government refuses to let them through, stranding 140 trucks full of food. Also, the TFG has begun to enforce its ownership of public property, evicting those who set up homes there. Many of those displaced have nowhere to go.
Although the news seems to bring only despair, it is important not to write off Somalia. The cases of Somaliland and the short-lived rule of the UIC proved that peace can take root in Somalia. Complete abandonment of the country because of perceived lack of success in 1991 was a mistake. Few realize that the international missions there brought stability and helped avert a famine, saving tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives. A concerted dedication to reconciliation in Somalia can work, and the international community needs to step forward with assistance.