An Opportunity Waiting to be Missed in Somalia

The Shabaab stepped up its campaign in Somalia yesterday taking war to Puntland and Somaliland. At a meeting in Kismayo in July the Islamists decided to open new fronts in their battle to force out Ethiopia and bring down the unpopular Transitional Federal Government. Sheikh Aweys has unfinished business with Puntland and President Abdullahi, so to many analysts the attacks – coming at a time when the hardliners risked being sidelined by the Djibouti peace talks – came as no surprise.
It also came at a time when the international community is giving more thought to Somalia than at almost any time since the Black Hawk Down episode in 1993. With a huge arsenal of weaponry aboard the MV Faina captured by pirates, governments have begun sending warships to make the seas safe from plunder. But, as I wrote in The Irish Times…

The band of gunmen aboard the MV Faina has forced international powers to wake up to the problem of piracy. The danger is that it will go no further than another short-term battle in the war on terror, and we will all have forgotten the pirates by next year. Now the challenge is to use Somalia’s raised profile to develop a real political effort to tackle the corruption, violence and fragmentation of power on land that fuels the country’s never-ending cycle of misery and anarchy, which drives young men to the water.

Already Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state for Africa, has begun talking about al Qaeda being behind the bombings. As usual the links are far from proven but her words suggest the Americans are planning to go down the route of bomb and run once again. Pursuing a military strategy – just as we are with the pirates – will mark another opportunity missed. And Somalia will stay a mess.