Advising President George Bush Snr to give Somalia a wide berth, US ambassador to Kenya Smith Hempstone described Somalia as a “tar baby.” He was spot on.
The Horn of Africa nation has not known peace for two decades. The overthrow of Siad Barre’s ruinous dictatorship in 1991 ushered in a war of all against all after warlords refused to recognise interim President Ali Mahdi Muhammad’s authority.
Even when there have been various transitional arrangements, a lethal mix of clanism, warlordship and religious fundamentalism has ensured that the country exists mainly by name.
With radical Islamists al Shabaab marching on Mogadishu and Ethiopians protecting the fragile and divided Transitional Federal Government set to pull out by the end of the year, Somalia’s future cannot be bleaker.
The UN is not making matters any better by giving bureaucratic explanations as to why it cannot send peacekeepers to the war-torn nation. Although its “Blue Helmets” are, to borrow Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s unflattering label, “expensive tourists” who rarely fire a shot, a show of force sometimes helps.
In D.R. Congo, 17,000 UN peacekeepers have not stopped rebel leader Laurent Nkunda from defying the Kinshasa regime and doing whatever he fancies.
This, however, doesn’t mean that it is beyond the threshold of logic to suggest that any UN force in Somalia should have a special mandate and, therefore, instructions not to take any prisoners or waste ammunition in warning shots.
But, with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) sticking to safe zones and the UN bizarrely insisting that the situation in Somalia is not conducive to peacekeeping, there is nothing to prevent the Al Shabaab from taking Mogadishu.
The bloodletting should not be allowed to go on until the last man standing denounces the folly of war.