Should South Africa mediate in the Somali conflict?
By Hassan Isilow – One of South Africa’s primary objectives for Africa is to see peace prevailing on the entire continent. For that reason, the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), recently hosted a workshop in Cape Town to discuss the war in Somalia. The two day workshop was in partnership with the Somali Council for Research and Development (SOMCORD), as well as the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD).
However the subject of South Africa contributing peace keeping troops to Somalia was not addressed at the workshop. Yet in my opinion, the best way that South Africa can help Somalia is by sending peace keeping troops to help bolster the African Union Peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which controls parts of the capital Mogadishu and the southern port city of Kismayo. This used to be a strong hold for the militant group Al-Shabbab.
Earlier this year the South African government made a commitment to assist the war-torn Somalia with capacity building of its civil servants. That was a good gesture, but I still believe contributing peacekeeping forces would be the best contribution that South Africa could make, because the current African Union troops in Somalia have failed to protect civilians from insurgents.
Now that the war is almost over, there is an urgent need for peacekeeping forces that will be required to maintain law and order until the situation normalises. I believe the well trained and disciplined South African National Defence Forces (SANDF) would be in the best position to spear head such a mission because South Africa has conducted several successful peace keeping missions in Africa.
In July 2010, while attending the African Union summit in Kampala, President Jacob Zuma hinted about the possibility that his country would provide troops to bolster the then weak African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) which has been in existence for number of years in the volatile country. But a few months later, the South African Government decided that it would not send troops to Somalia, because of fears that international terrorist cells would retaliate by bombing its citizens just like they did in Uganda on July 11 2010.
The hard-line Al-Shabbab detonated bombs at two entertainment sites in Kampala, killing over 80 soccer fans who were watching the FIFA 2010 world cup finals. They latter said they conducted the attacks in retaliation to Uganda’s involvement in the Somali peacekeeping mission. Owing to this background, it was to some extent right for the South Africa Government to consider the safety of its citizens as a first priority. However, I also believe that it was wrong for the South African Government to allow its foreign policy to be dictated upon by fear of terrorist threats.
As the African giant, South Africa should not allow to be browbeaten by terrorist threats especially in regard to a noble cause such as peacekeeping. Uganda which has the largest contingent of peacekeepers serving in the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has not withdrawn its troops despite the July 11 attacks on its citizens and continuous threats from terrorists.
I believe South Africa, would be the only African country that can stabilize the Somali crisis because of its unbiased position. SA also has the best trained army and military equipment on the continent. Besides, a peaceful Somalia would relieve South Africa from the influx of Somali refugees. Nevertheless, should South Africa refuse to intervene in the Somali conflict then its position as the African political and economic leader will be in question.
This article was first published on the VOC website. All rights resevered.