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World

International community seeks to support Somalia

As the trial of 10 alleged Somali pirates gets underway in Hamburg, many western nations are doing their utmost to help the crisis-torn nation and support the interim Somali government in rebuilding state structures.

Al Shabab militia

The al Shabab militia control large parts of Somalia

Somalia has been in a civil war nearly non-stop since dictator Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. An international UN effort in the 1990s there failed. In 2007, neighboring Ethiopia invaded - with backing by the United States - but couldn't bring about the desired stability in Somalia, either.

Since 2009, a Western-backed interim government under moderate Islamic politician Sheikh Sharif Ahmed has been struggling to hold on to power in central Mogadishu. It can only do so with the help of 7,000 African Union (AU) soldiers. Large parts of the rest of the country are controlled by al Shabab militia.

The al Qaeda-linked Shabab militia allegedly has fighters from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya in their ranks. The estimated 7,000 militants are well-armed and supported primarily by neighboring Eritrea. But funding also comes from Arab circles who want to push back Western influence in the region.

This is also a reason why Western countries don't want to leave Somalia to its own devices, said Georges-Marc Andre, the European Commission's Special Envoy for Somalia. There's too much at stake on the Horn of Africa, he said. After all, Somalia controlled one of the most significant sea routes in international shipping through its position on the Gulf of Aden. But the stability of the entire region could also be threatened by Somali backed radical Islamists, he said.

"Clearly the war has been started by Somalis," Andre said. "But they are also victims of those who are looking to use Somalia as a platform to destabilize the region, whether you speak of the Middle East, the states in the Arabian Gulf or some African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya or Uganda."

A humanitarian catastrophe

Andre coordinates EU aid for the collapsed nation from Nairobi in neighboring Kenya. In 2010 alone, the EU has made 35 million euros ($48 million) available for humanitarian aid and state-building efforts in Somalia. When the security situation permits, he travels to Mogadishu to get a picture of the current situation in Somalia. But there is nothing for Andre to gloss over when it comes to the circumstances in the Horn of Africa.

"When you look at the terrorist attacks, when you look at all those civilians who are being killed - including kids and women - when you see the al Shabab actions being carried out by child soldiers, when you look at all of this, obviously the situation is awful," Andre said.

The civilian population has to bear the brunt of the chaos. There are 1.5 million internally displaced persons in Somalia. But it is virtually impossible to get humanitarian help to those in need, as the Shabab prevent Western aid organizations from accessing regions they control.

Siad Barre

Somalia has had no central government since Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991

"If you look at the needs in the al Shabab controlled areas, you will see a very patchy distribution with some dark places where nobody today is about to deliver healthcare, water or nutrition for the children," said Philippe Royan, head of the Somalia office of the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department.

In addition, humanitarian workers are "not welcome" to monitor and assess the population's needs, Royan said.

Crucial African Union support

According to experts, the interim government in Mogadishu supported by the West would collapse within a few days if it was not protected by the 7,000 AU soldiers. But their deployment since 2007 has only progressed sluggishly. The AU's contingent still hasn't reached its required strength, said Wafula Wamunyinyi, the deputy special representative from the AU Commission for Somalia.

He said the deployment in Somalia was supposed to take place in phases. The first phase was Mogadishu.

"Then after securing Mogadishu, where the government would then operate, the next phase was to extend to the countryside, of course with an increased number of troops, and other parts of the country," Wamunyinyi said. "We are quite on track. It's just that there has been some delay due to the slow pace at which countries have deployed their troops."

An investment in the future

EU countries finance the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) indirectly, for example by training 2,000 Somali soldiers in Uganda. For special envoy Andre, helping to rebuild Somalia is an investment in the future. After all, Western nations' security was also dependent on the African country's stability, he said.

A militia group walks the street in mogadishu

Child soldiers belonging to Islamist militias are patrolling Mogadishu

"If your neighbors like the Somalis are in trouble, you have to be worried about peace in Europe," he said. "What we have to invest now is nothing compared to what we would have to invest in the future if we don't do something to stabilize and bring back peace in Somalia."

According to Andre, the impact piracy has had on world trade was a prime example of where Somalia was heading. Somali pirates were responsible for 44 percent of the 289 piracy incidents on the world's seas in the first nine months of 2010, according to a report published by the International Maritime Bureau.

"That is the reason why we should invest now in Somalia, now that time is still there to do something positive with reasonable means," Andre said.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz (sac)

Editor: Michael Knigge

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