Focus shifts to Somalia at AU Summit

Burundi soldiers training for a Somali mission.
Burundi soldiers training for a Somali mission.

At the African Union Summit which recently concluded in Kampala, leaders were meant to discuss the problems of maternal, infant and child health and development in Africa, but this theme was overshadowed by the recent 7/11 attacks in Kampala. As it progressed, it became clear that more emphasis and resources would be put to tackling the Somalia question and the Al-Shabaab terrorists who have made the Horn of Africa their base.

Much as the host and President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni outlined the causes and solutions to the maternal and child health in his opening speech, most of the deliberations in the summit were geared at strengthening the fight against terrorism in Africa generally and Somalia in particular.

“Who are these people who do not respect the AU flag and where do their loyalties lie? Whose interests are they serving? These terrorists can be and should be defeated. Let us now act in concert and sweep them out of Africa. Let them go back to Asia and Middle East where I understand many of them come from,” said President Museveni.

At the peak of the Summit, African leaders agreed to send more troops to Somalia. Speaking to journalists, the AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping said the Guineans are ready to send 850 troops to Somalia as soon as Guinea is reinstated as an AU member. This country had been suspended from the continental body due to the 2008 military coup. Ping further disclosed that an extra 2,000 troops from other African countries were being organised to bring the total number of AMISOM soldiers I Somalia to 9,000.

Currently, there are 6,000 AU soldiers serving in Mogadishu from Uganda and Burundi, the reason the Al-Shabaab gave for their attacks in Kampala. The terrorists want these forces out of Somalia, and have promised to plan more attacks in Uganda and Burundi as long as these two countries do not pull their forces out of Somalia.

On the sidelines of the AU summit in Kampala, the American Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson called a meeting attended by the Presidents of Somalia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti.

In this meeting which was also attended by the Ethiopian Prime Minister and other European Union senior officials, Carson said that the Kampala attacks had raised international consciousness about the need to strengthen the Somali government.

“Somalia is responsible for piracy, and is a source of terrorism which has been visited on countries like Tanzania, Kenya and most recently Uganda. It is a place where we see foreign fighters and where we see an increasing number of extremists operating, “Carson said.

It was not readily clear in what form the additional resources to the Somali government are going to come, but Carson added that “we came away even more united and committed to work together to strengthen the Somali government, to strengthen AMISOM and help strengthen all the forces of stability and beat Al-Shabaab.”

Some delegates at the summit accused Eritrea of trying to foil the efforts made by the AU to rid Somalia of Al Shabaab. They accused Eritrea of opposing the plans by regional powers Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to reinforce AMISOM and strengthen its rules of engagement to allow commanders more authority to respond to Al-Shabaab attacks in Somalia. An Eritrean delegate asked why Somalia’s elders do not negotiate with the Al-Shabaab like the Afghan elders do with the Taliban.

The biggest winner from this summit however seems to be the indicted Sudanese President Al Bashir who got unexpected support from African leaders who criticized the International Criminal Court (ICC) for issuing Bashir’s arrest warrant without reflecting on the repercussions that would have in that particular region. Bashir has been accused by the ICC of orchestrating the genocide in Darfur region of Sudan where he is said to have supported the Arabic Janjaweed militia to annihilate black Africans in Darfur.

In a twist of events, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, who is also AU Chairman, said that an African solution will be found for the Darfur problem and not the ICC. He promised to set up a commission to re-investigate the Darfur issue and report in 365 days.

Sudan was represented at the summit at ambassadorial level after Bashir failed to come to Uganda because he was not sure of whether Uganda would carry out his arrest as stipulated by the ICC. Uganda at one point threatened to arrest Bashir as soon as he set foot in this country, only to turn back and eat its words which culminated into sending the Minister of State for Foreign affairs Isaac Musumba to Sudan in order to apologise to Bashir and re-invite him to the summit.

After Musumba’s interlude with Bashir, the Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti told the Press that Uganda’s apologies had been accepted by Bashir and that Sudan would participate positively in the AU summit. However, a top Sudanese government official denied that it was not because of fear of arrest that Bashir did not make it to the Kampala Summit.

“If that was the case, we could have sent the Vice President or any other minister but we didn’t,” the official said without giving the exact reason why Bashir shied away from Kampala.

By Edward Ronald Sekyewa