September 29, 2010

Quick Take: UN Representative Acknowledges Scale of Somalia's Crisis

Augustine Mahiga, the United Nations’ Special Representative to Somalia, likened Somalia to Iraq and Afghanistan in a statement made September 27 at the meeting of the International Contact Group for Somalia:

The TFG remains the main partner with which the international community can work with to advance national reconciliation, peace and stability in Somalia.  We have all seen how the international community has rallied behind the governments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Somalia is no exception; it requires similar massive interventions.  The TFG and the international community must work closely together if Somalia is to emerge from the present crisis.

He drew a parallel between the conflict in Somalia and those events that forced the international community to intervene in and support those two countries.  This is a paradigm shift in the UN’s treatment of the state of Somalia, which prior to now, focused only on supporting and stabilizing the TFG and not on addressing the threat posed by the al Qaeda-linked group al Shabaab to the government. 

The statement outlined the UN’s position on what actions the international community must undertake in order to support the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Specifically, Mahiga noted that security in Somalia is the key issue and that al Shabaab, “the foreign-backed insurgents,” is “determined to destabilize all efforts.”  Al Shabaab has been extremely effective at challenging the presence of the TFG and of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), especially over the course of the past month in Mogadishu.  Its Ramadan offensive, launched August 23 and punctuated by regular, large-scale attacks on major government infrastructure, has proven that the group has the capabilities to gain territory through direct combat and to breach the perimeters of what should be secured areas.  Al Shabaab’s execution of the July 11 bombings in Kampala first highlighted the group’s international reach and elicited a strong response from the African Union, but it is not until Mahiga’s statement that such a reaction to the threat posed by the group has come from the United Nations.

Mahiga called for the international community to step up its efforts to support the TFG and AMISOM by assisting with the training and equipment of forces, providing medical and structural support for the nascent Somali Security Forces, and by committing to the regular payment of TFG and AMISOM soldiers.  More importantly, Mahiga spoke in support of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development’s (IGAD) decision to authorize a level of 20,000 AMISOM troops to meet “the growing threat of the insurgents.” AMISOM’s current mandate is for 8,000 troops to secure and protect government infrastructure. The UN Security Council has yet to formally approve the change in troop level.  Mahiga also conveyed three points from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon that relayed Ban Ki-Moon’s support for the TFG and AMISOM; a call for humanitarian and recovery activities in order to establish a “light” UN presence; and the eventual goal of deploying a UN peacekeeping operation to Somalia.

The UN’s call for the intervention of the international community in Somalia to prevent the TFG’s complete collapse is a positive development that underscores the seriousness of the threat that the current situation in Somalia, especially the growing strength of al Shabaab, poses to global security.