Augustine C. OhanweMonday, June 9, 2008
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he Somali conflict erupted in 1989 and the sole aim of the coalition of military factions was to oust Siad Barre from power. After Barre was forced to flee in 1991 the Somali conflict still raged on. Time is ripe for the African Union to shift to a higher gear in order to halt the senseless killing before Somalia becomes a humpty-dumpty case.

When the Somali conflict started the world was indifference for two years. The war between Iraq and Kuwait stole the show and took the center stage. Overwhelmed by blunt criticism and stung by charges of double standard plus the televised shocking images of the desperate Somalis shown around the world the international community was spurred to action.

On 24 April 1992, the UN adopted resolution 751 to establish the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM-1). UNOSOM had a massive infusion of food aid for basic ration and other relief material into Somalia but scored no credit in pacifying the conflict situation. The mission’s system culminated in having the hungry Somalis fed and later to be slaughtered by the roving bandits wielding AK-47.

The awful prevailing condition on the ground at that time compelled the UN to seek for a means to reverse the ugly scenario- On 3 December, the UN resolution 794 was adopted. The resolution created a United Nations International Task Force (UNITAF), codenamed, ”Operation Restore Hope,” and empowered it to use ”all necessary means to establish as soon as possible a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations in Somalia. Resolution 794 was based on Chapter VII of the UN Chatter which viewed the situation in Somalia as a threat to international peace and security and authorized UNITAF to have the right to use force to implement its mandate. The United States at that time offered 30,000 soldiers. On the ground, UNITAF ended up with 37,000 troops at full strenght. Though, a UN operation it was led by the US.

UNITAF success was minimal. It only executed ”selective” rather than mass-scale disarmament. It left hurriedly in April 1993 and handed the dangerous conflict terrain to its successor called UNOSOM-2. This change of baton was done after the then Secretary General, Boutrous-Ghali noted with regret that despite the Council’s resolution 794 (1992) the improvement of the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance and a secure environment had not been established in Somalia.

It was against this background that the unfinished mission was transferred from UNITAF to UNOSOM-2. The latter was endowed with enforcement power under Chapter VII of the UN Chater so as to enable it establish a secure environment throughout Somalia. Resolution 814 (1993) mandated UNBOSOM-2 to operate with 30,800 troops and civilian personnel under the UN command.

UNOSOM-2 was a disaster because it could not execute its mandates of disarmament and recreation of the political situation as stipulated by the UN resolution. Somalia was awash with dangerous weapon controlled by urban gangs and the main warring factions. The mission also devoted all of its military energy in hunting for the intransigent and elusive warlord, Farra Aideed. In so doing, almost all humanitarian operations and political reconstruction stood still.

UNOSOM-2 took exit from Somalia in March 1995 after Pakistani and US forces took much casualties. As the UN was pulling out several clashes between factions in Somalia were reminders that many years of UN operation resulted in no real progress towards disarmament and political solution.

Since the departure of the UN, Somalia has succeeded in establishing a weak interim government which depends on Ethiopia to contain the opposing Islamic Court faction. But the Islamic Court and many Somalis harbour lots of resentment towards Ethiopia for historical reasons. They accuse Ethiopia of annexing their land, Ogden. A land inside Ethiopia but inhabited by ethnic Somalis. In order to recover the land Ethiopia and Somalia pitched a devastating battle called the Ogden War, (1977-78). A war that was fought with the backing of their respective cold war super power godfathers.

While Ethiopia supports the present Somali Interim Government to flush out the Islamic Court, Eritrea, a country that broke away from Ethiopia after a bloody civil war identifies itself with the Islamic Court, offering the latter direct and indirect support.

For the African Union to score success in Somalia, it must not only grasp the centrifugal dynamics of the Somali conflict but also the centripetal forces that feeds the conflict as well as the arms suppliers and cooperate with them to sever links with the warring factions in Somalia so as to secure a conducive political space for diplomatic postures between the warring factions to take place..

Second, Ambassador Mohammed Sahnoun, an Algerian diplomat should be approached and be made to meet the warring factions. He had functioned in Somalia as the UN Special Envoy in 1992 up until 1993. Ambassador Shanoun has a firm grasp of Somali political terrain including its clans and inter-clan rivalries and affinities. Above all, he knows how to relate to the Somalis. In 1992 when the Somali elders and warlords lost hope in the UN mission, it was ambassador Sahnoun who met the Somali clan elders in the bush in order to influence them to overcome their distrust of the UN. As a good listener, he won the confidence and trust of both the warlords and Somali elders.

He was forced to resign before his initiatives could be translated into concrete reality. His resignation was due to the interview which was aired on the influential US television programme, ”Sixty Minutes” in which he was alleged to have said that ”earlia UN intervention in Somalia could have saved lives.” After being officially queried and rebuked by the then UN Secretary General, Boutrous-Ghali for his outspoken criticism, Sahnoun tendered his letter of resignation. African Union should consider recalling him for mediation and reconciliation of the warring Somali factions.