AUGUST 2, 2010: Keep peace! Don't enforce it, AU tells Amisom, Uganda

Keep peace! Don't enforce it, AU tells Amisom, Uganda

SOURCE: East Africa

By Michael Wakabi and Charles Kazooba

Ugandan officials were putting a brave face on a major setback to the government's plans for retaliatory action against Al Shabaab.

This was after the AU Summit that closed in Kampala last week failed to deliver the desired change to Amisom's mandate that would have given the peacekeepers the resources and the licence to attack the Somali militants.

While the denial of mandate was officially given the face of the United Nations, The EastAfrican has separately learned that in classic cloak-and-dagger fashion, the United States, while overtly promising more resources and support to Amisom, was behind the scenes prodding the UN to say no to Uganda's request.

Uganda and its East African neighbours had hoped to leverage the outrage that followed the July 11 twin bombings in Kampala that killed 85 people, to galvanise international opinion to support more robust action against the militants in Mogadishu.

In an unexpected development however, the summit, which was notable for having attracted no less than 35 heads of state — including key figures from North and Southern Africa — backed away from authorising offensive action.

Instead, they adopted the UN position that the current mandate was sufficient for the task at hand.

That position was communicated to the summit and Igad (Inter Governmental Authority on Development) members by UN Special Envoy to Somalia and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga.

The only concession, it would seem, was some slack in the leash that allows Amisom to take pre-emptive action against Al Shabaab should a threat to its safety be perceived.

"It was Mahiga's view that the existing mandate allows the forces on the ground to act in a more responsible but robust fashion," US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jonnie Carson told the Ugandan media.

The United States and the United Nations warned that Uganda's position would escalate the Somali crisis to uncontrollable levels, a position that forced the AU back to the drawing board, and the resolution that Amisom remain a peacekeeping mission for the moment.

"In diplomacy, you go in with a long wish list but you don't expect to get everything you asked for. In the circumstances, this summit ended really well for us because we achieved three major goals," Uganda's Junior Minister for Foreign Affairs Henry Okello Oryem told The EastAfrican.

Those three achievements apparently include increased political will and international focus on the Somalia problem, more countries committing troops to Amisom and increased backing from the US. These unnamed countries are expected to break cover in the next two weeks.

"The political will is now there, and three countries have shown serious commitment to contribute troops to the mission, although they have asked us not to name them until they have completed consultations back home.

Most importantly, we have the US fully behind us in terms of equipment, resources and intelligence. With such support on board, Amisom will not be as constrained as it has been," Mr Oryem added.

While that assertion was consistent with what US Assistant Secretary for Africa Jonnie Carson told the media on July 27 — that the US would continue to be a primary supporter of Amisom — separately, The EastAfrican has been told that the US was the real force behind the UN veto.

Sources say the US is worried that full-scale military action by Amisom will draw Eritrea, which together with Yemen is believed to be Al Shabaab's major backer, into a more overt involvement in Somalia, which would in turn force Ethiopia into the conflict.

"The possible scale of such a conflict, its fallout and implications for the US in terms of the resources it would be expected to deploy, are factors that don't allow Washington to play a speculative game," says one source.

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