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Last Updated: Feb 11, 2014 - 5:11:05 AM
The Somalia Quicksand

The much heralded arrival of Uganda soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia's disputed capital, as the lead contingent of African Union troops into that volatile country, started with bloodshed. A missile launched at armoured cars carrying Ugandan troops enroute to Global Hotel, presumably to protect government officials, missed its target and killed 10 people; while retaliatory fire by Ugandan troops apparently killed four persons. Twenty others were wounded.

The arrival of Ugandan troops was already jinxed by President Yoweri Museveni's image as a lackey of the United States. He has been perceived as the arrowhead of the Americans against President Omar al-Beshir in Sudan. Beshir was seen by the Americans both as a backer of Osama Bin Laden in a sensitive part of Africa, and somebody to be squeezed for access to rich oilfields in his country. Museveni was, with Paul Kagame of Rwanda, also viewed as tools for protecting Euro-American interests in the Democratic Republic of Congo against potential interest by Robert Mugabe and the Angolans. The decision to send Ugandan troops into Somalia after the routing out of the Union of Islamic Courts by American-backed Ethiopian invaders was, therefore, dressed in grave doubt.

The problem of conflict over control of power in Somalia, however, goes back further. Its roots lie in what seemed to have been advice to the State Department by American anthropologists to undermine existing democratic consensus post-colonial politics in Somalia based on equity, justice, and respect for all clans in the governance of Somalia. Once that formula, which the first generation of Somalia's post-colonial politicians held as a sacred norm, was violated by a military coup of 1969, conflict became and remained a generalised diet.

This focus on anthropological roots of conflict in Somalia is worth holding onto tenaciously by those who wish that country well. Anthropology may have had a bad name as a tool used by colonial administrators to build weakness and division within colonized countries. The strength in that tool should also recommend it to intellectuals, journalists, diplomats and policy makers in the Eastern African region who wish to bring peace and development to Somalia. They must all invest enormous intellectual, investigative, and analytical resources over Somali; all in search of that lost magic wand that lies buried and waiting in Somali clan-based governance.

Some level of cynicism can be detected in Nairobi over the number of Somali "war lords" who have inhabited hotels since Siad Barre fell and are carrying out rich networks of trade from these bases. That cynicism has, however, not been matched by deliberate investment in research about Somalia by journalists, civil society groups and academics in the region.

Uganda's leader seems to have been willing to get armoured cars and transport aircrafts for carrying troops to Mogadishu without demands for funds from his American godfathers for building a School of Somali-Ethiopian Studies in Uganda's universities to produce effective academic researchers whose analysis inform actions. Kenya does not boast of such a body of researchers either despite conflict with Somalia which goes back to the early 1960s.

A spokesman for the Ugandan troops is reported to have stated that they are in Somalia "to reach the different parties in the country". How would they know them without data gathered by academic experts and seasoned journalists who are familiar with the country? On their part the Somali "insurgents" (an abusive reference to Somali nationalists of a particular hue), are reported to have "vowed they will launch suicide bombings on the Uganda troops". While this should be expected, what it would achieve is get two blind groups to fight over an American problem.

What would make more sense is a vigorous convergence by intellectuals, journalists, diplomats and politicians, from the countries in the region, into Somalia for an informed dialogue within the framework of seeking an African solution to an African wound which runs the risk of becoming cancerous if approached with guns digging for blood.

Source: Daily Trust (Nigeria)

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