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BALCAD (TAY-TAYLEEY) Waa Magaalo Qadiim ah! M.M.AFRAH - JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR 2005 Editorial: Simple Solution: No to Ethiopians, Yes to AU troops

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By M. M. Afrah©

"What comes to mind for people when they think of good governance? The answer is nationwide disarmament, security, transparence and honesty,"
Senior citizen in Mogadishu during an interview with the Italian state television, RAI.

Before I wrote this I weighed the pros and cons of foreign troop deployment in Somalia, but the Webmaster decided to put it vote, so it is up to you, dear visitor, to cast your vote.

If you read my previous Talking Points, you know I am fanatical about countrywide disarmament-preferably voluntarily and in style. However, there is one fundamental condition before the people part with their stockpiles; there must be a government that guarantees the protection and safety of the people; otherwise, the whole exercise would be futile and unworkable. They would be sitting ducks, where marauding armed gangs will take advantage of the disarmament exercise. Evidently, this is one of the key reasons why the people are reluctant to give up their weapons and no one can blame them for defending themselves and their families from these bloodthirsty gangs.

I know at least half a dozen honest citizens who would refuse to surrender their weapons unless there is peace and stability in the country and a government that will guarantee their protection. "The only thing you have to be careful of is when you get a visit from armed gangs who discovered that you were unarmed and vulnerable," a neighbour in Mogadishu told me at the height of the civil unrest, after showing me his stash of AK-47 assault rifles and hand grenades. He said the Mooryaan have their own spy network and frequently get tips about all the soft targets in the neighbourhood.

The people most at risk are families who regularly receive remittance from abroad, expatriate NGOs, visiting journalists and ethnic minorities.

I am also constantly encouraging the masses to share with their leaders what it is they need, be education for their children, health care, basic necessities, like food and clean drinking water, a job or business resources, or independent media; and above all, open-ended questions to members of the cabinet and parliament without retribution


Few people, including President Abdullahi Yusuf and members of his inner circle, are holding out much hope that the deployment of mere 7,500 poorly armed and financially stretched African peacekeepers can do the job, where the United Nations and the United States (the richest and most powerful country in the world) had failed in 1993/94 with disastrous consequences.
"Those who believe that these under funded and poorly armed African soldiers can do the job must be kidding. They could not even handle Darfur and DR Congo," a Canadian colleague told me the other day. He was dead right.

Whenever I read the importance of deploying foreign peacekeeping forces in Somalia the image of the carnage dramatized in the Hollywood movie Black Hawk Down and the dead body of an American serviceman dragged in the smoking ruins of Mogadishu flashed through my mind.

Now, the question that begs an answer is: are these soldiers from the frontline capable of disarming the more than 60,000 heavily armed youngsters who roam the streets and restore peace and stability where Uncle Sam had failed? Only those who were physically present during Operation Restore Hope are in a position to answer this question with authority. It took me for a while to have a good night's sleep after what I had witnessed in Mogadishu between 1991 and 1995.

No wonder the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank warned that troops from Somalia's neighbors "should not be included in the peacekeeping forces, as this would aggravate an already volatile situation." In particular, the presence of Ethiopian soldiers on Somali soil would create unprecedented bloodshed. One of the Mogadishu warlords-cum-cabinet minister, said publicly that "WE WILL FIGHT FOREIGN TROOPS, BE THEY ETHIOPIANS OR SOMALIS."

He was referring to intelligence reports that American military officers based in Djibouti have been training ethnic Somalis in the Somali inhabited Ogaden region of Ethiopia for possible deployment in Somalia-Somalis killing Somalis once again!

All the advance delegates who visited the capital received a rousing welcome from the residents of the capital, a show of support for plans to relocate the government in Mogadishu, and that foreign troops are not necessary.

Now, I'm having great difficulty understanding exactly what is in the minds of the Ethiopians for being very impatient to send their soldiers in a country they are not wanted, given the historical hostility between the two countries since the halcyon days of emperor Menelik.

I guess the Ethiopian soldiers are apprehensive about what awaited them in Mogadishu-a city that had earned the nickname Wild West during Operation Restore Hope. Even the toughest US Marine was shocked at the shear volume of weapons of every caliber he was expected to face every day in the streets.

People at the grapevine are talking, rightly or wrongly, about Ethiopia's ancient design to occupy Somalia in order to gain a coastal outlet. They had lost the ports of Assab and Asmara to the Eritreans when the two countries foolishly went to war over a strip of land on their borders. A landlocked country, Ethiopia sees the peacekeeping mission in Somalia as a window of opportunity, they say.

Our man in Mogadishu says a political satirist wrote in one of the local newspapers that said: "They (the Ethiopian soldiers) may be strangers when they first come, but before long they will be part of the family. You will learn to like them and I wouldn't be surprised if they take over the house and evict you before you know it. Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf, please take note!"

Let's put the Ethiopian design and intention to rest. You may ask: what about Kenya and Djibouti, the other two stakeholders in the region? The same people I talked to say they are caring hosts and honest brokers "with no discernible hidden agendas." Well, up to a point. The jury is out. However, people who oppose the deployment of troops from IGAD countries must draw comfort from the fact that Kenya announced it would send an observer team only instead of peacekeepers.

One reason why I've been excited about voluntary disarmament in style, is because I believe if we're to solve the problem of the weapons in the hands of the inhabitants, it's going to be the people themselves who do it without outside help. Somali generals, such as Galaal, Bad-maceeye (the army) and Mohamed Abshir (the police) and others should be given the chance to try to resuscitate the disintegrated Somali National Army and Police Force, and take the responsibilities of disarming the militia with the help of the civic society who are very anxious to participate in this vital national event. Logistic support is all they require from well-meaning donor countries in order to recreate what was left of the army and police.

The President, the Prime Minister and members of parliament must read the mood of the people. This is a made in Somalia debate and nothing can distract them from it.

By M. M. Afrah©2005

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