Somalia chatter dies down


After a flurry of reports surrounding last month’s African Union (AU) Heads of State meeting in Kampala, quiet has again descended on the vexed question of South Africa sending soldiers or sailor to Somalia.

AU Commission chairman Jean Ping announced ahead of the summit that he had asked South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea to send troops to Somalia to boost the currently under-strength African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Ping also asked SA to send warships to interdict arms shipments meant for the al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups opposing the AU and United Nations Transitional Federal Government.

Interestingly, President Jacob Zuma’s office denied it had been asked, causing Uganda’s permanent secretary (director general) for foreign affairs James Mugume to confirm SA had been asked because it had the “greatest maritime capability in sub-Saharan Africa.” The US Voice of America (VoA) news service added in its report of the meeting when asked at the meeting whether he would respond positively, Zuma only laughed. But in a speech to the summit, he appeared to suggest he is considering the request. “As leaders we should rise to this challenge, which is yet another indicator of the road we still have to travel to build a prosperous secure and peaceful Africa in a just stable world,” VoA quoted him as saying.

As it was, VoA noted international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane’s participation in a meeting on Somalia was a “surprising development”. VoA writer Peter Heinlein did not state why this was so surprising, but it is known SA has previously studiously avoided commitment to the international anti-piracy patrol off that troubled country. It is known Germany, France and the European Union have urged SA to send warship for that purpose and have reportedly even to subsidise the costs.

As previously stated, not responding positively to the AU’s call could damage SA’s standing and its ambition to gain a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. But conversely, the mission would be unlike anything SA has ever attempted. al-Shabaab will likely oppose SA – it already considers the AU an apostate, infidel enemy and has started collecting jewellery and other valuables in its area of control to fund further weapons acquisitions – meaning the mission will be “non permissive” and amount to “peace enforcement” rather than “peacekeeping.” There is quite a distinction – a matter that will be discussed in greater detail at defenceWeb’s Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conference later

this month (August 26-27).

It is easy to forget that peace missions of all stripes are “foreign policy made flesh”. In SA, therefore, requests to send soldiers or sailors must be routed to the President – the only authority who may deploy the SA National Defence Force, albeit subject to Parliamentary approval – by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). What criteria should be used to decide? Seven are listed in the 1999 White Paper on South African Participation in International Peace Missions tabled

in Parliament in February of that year:

  • A clear international mandate;
  • Sufficient means;
  • A domestic mandate and budget;
  • Volunteerism;
  • Clear entry and exit criteria;
  • Regional co-operation; and
  • Foreign assistance.

The White Paper also notes “it is in the South African national interest to assist peoples who suffer from famine, political repression, natural disasters and the scourge of violent conflict.”

It is a pity the debate has again slipped behind the curtains. It would be quite an education to hear the arguments for and against deployment based on the above criteria. It will be well worth discussing at defenceWeb’s Peacekeeping Africa 2010 conference.

. Hope to see you there.