April 12, 2007

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, questions “the belief that if only the international community would line up behind the requisite multilateral peacekeeping force, the vexing conflict du jour—whether ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, genocide in Sudan, or clan-based civil war in Somalia—would be magically resolved.”

According to Dr. Pham, the fact that “this wishful thinking withstands rigorous scrutiny no better than morning mists survive the light of day” has not prevented “members of the international community, including the U.S. government, from continuing to engage in what is essentially “faith-based” global politics, especially in the Horn of Africa.” Pointing to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi E. Frazer’s visit last Saturday to the self-proclaimed “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia at its refuge in Baidoa—which he characterized as “the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Somalia since the ill-fated American-led, United Nations-sanctioned, attempt to resuscitate that carcass of a state in the early 1990s”—Dr. Pham took issue with the official statement that the visit “highlighted the U.S. commitment at the highest levels to support the efforts of the Somali people to take advantage of their historic opportunity to achieve stability and security”: “The problem with this declaration is that one is rather at a loss to produce evidence of any such ‘efforts’ by any Somalis other than a brave handful of civil society leaders like Abdulkadir Yahya Ali and Abdi Isse Abdi—and both of those two have paid for their troubles with their lives.”

Dr. Pham went on to assert:

Thus the international community finds itself essentially trapped in a Kafkaesque drama: other countries pretend that Somalia is still a unitary state, the TFG pretends to be its government, AMISOM [the African Union Mission in Somalia] pretends to be a peacekeeping force supporting the regime’s authority, the international community pretends to be engaged in backing the peacekeepers’ “stabilization efforts,” and everyone pretends everything will turn out all right if everyone would just play along. The problem is that no one asked the peoples of Somalia and, as the events of the last month (chronicled in my March 29 and April 5 columns) showed, they have declined to play their scripted role in this dangerous farce.

Consequently, after pointing to the example set by the use of traditional institutions to create a legitimate national consensus in Somaliland, Dr. Pham concludes:

While in the aftermath of conflicts international peacekeepers can provide both the security and the temporal and spatial room necessary to build a more stable future—the 2003-2005 success of the United Nations Mission in Liberia, headed by veteran a U.S. diplomat (and retired Air Force major-general), Ambassador Jacques-Paul Klein, is a case in point—they can only do so in the presence of a political will for peace which provides them with the local legitimization of their undertaking. In Somalia, however, while replacing the hated Ethiopians with an AU force is a step in the right direction, it may be too little, too late: AMISOM is generally viewed as little better than another foreign attempt to impose on Somalis a regime with little local support and even less legitimacy. The diplomatic rhetoric and wishful thinking aside, in the absence of a truly legitimate and inclusive national accord among the peoples and clans of Somalia (aside from those in Somaliland who have decided on a separate destiny) it should be no wonder that the embattled peacekeepers in Mogadishu have no peace to keep.

To read Dr. Pham’s article, “Peacekeepers with No Peace to Keep,” click here.