The BBC World Service asked me on Oct. 21 to comment on remarks made by the African Union (AU) Commissioner for Peace and Security Ramtane Lamamra to back a naval and air blockade of Somalia and to increase the number of troops in Somalia to 20,000 from the current number of less than 8,000.
I responded that I am sympathetic with the request by the AU to have this peacekeeping operation funded and even operated by the UN. Peacekeeping operations should be organized by the UN, not the AU. The UN has the funding; the AU does not.
On the other hand, the AU request for supporting an air and naval blockade of Somalia is not realistic. Somalia has the longest sea coast of any African country and its land borders, especially with Kenya, are extremely porous.
The international naval flotilla that has tried to end piracy off the coast of Somalia has been able to reduce the amount of successful seizures but has been unable to stop it even in the confined waters of the Gulf of Aden. It is too easy for small vessels transporting arms and illicit material to find a port of call along the Somali coast.
On the other hand, it might be possible to focus naval resources at the southern Somali port of Kismayu, which the al-Shabaab organization controls and uses to great advantage. If ships entering that port could be inspected before arrival, it would diminish al-Shabaab’s capacity.
A Kismayu beach. Flickr creative commons licensed content by user erikschmidt.
The BBC correspondent asked if the time has not come to talk with al-Shabaab. I responded that if Somalis want to talk with al-Shabaab that is their business. The international community, on the other hand, has nothing to talk about with al-Shabaab, which is dedicated to the creation of an Islamic caliphate, opposes the West, wants to overthrow the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, plans to reincorporate the Somali-inhabited areas of neighboring countries and will only be happy if it has total power in Somalia. What is there to talk about?