Top US diplomat for Africa, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, at a press conference in Kampala on Tuesday, outlined Washington’s key involvement and strategies in Africa. Daily Monitor’s Senior Reporter Tabu Butagira attended the briefing, and below, brings an abridged version starting with what Ambassador Cason said African Heads of State agreed on Somalia during a closed-door session on Monday.
We did hold a very lengthy meeting to talk about Somalia; to express our growing concern about the situation in that country. Somalia is a problem on three dimensions and levels: A domestic problem of an imploded state with a very weak central government with lack of capacity to deliver services and a large number of internally displaced persons.
It’s also an enormous regional challenge because of the large number of its refugees in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Tanzania, causing enormous social burdens and the collapse of the Somali state has resulted in high levels of smuggling of major contrabands and movement of weapons across borders.
Somalia is also a problem due to the emergence of piracy that affects commerce over the Red Sea. We note with great concern that Somalia has become host to a number of violent extremists and we have seen that extremism play itself out in the July 11 bomb attacks in Kampala.
Our successful discussion gave an opportunity to define a strategy of how we could increase the number of troop contributions to Africa Union Peace-keeping Mission in Somalia or Amisom and supportive resources and materials. I think we now have way forward.
My colleague Scott Gration (US Special envoy to Sudan) was here and spoke with President Museveni and met southern Sudan leadership as well. We are committed to the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the January 9, 2011 secession referendum in south Sudan and are working to ensure those elections will be held; that they will be held fairly, transparently and in peaceful circumstances.
The US is a strong supporter of the AU, an increasingly more important, sophisticated and mature organisation.
Q: The international community has got to Somalia to resolve its crises a number of times without success. Mogadishu was most pacified under the Union of Islamic Courts. So why do you think it will be different this time?
A: The one thing that has characterised international policy towards Somalia more than anything else is lack of consistency, lack of resolve, lack of commitment and unwillingness to recognise that the restoration of political stability requires a long-term effort - one in which there cannot be constant shifts in commitment and policy.
The period under Islamic Union Courts (2006-2008) saw great draconian punishment in which you had Islamic extremists doing things which we would all regard as ruthless: restricting the rights and liberties of women, the media, access to music and instituting policies and procedures which not only produced calm but also clear violation of human rights.
Q: IGAD wants to move aggressively on Al Shabaab with 20,000 troops. Only Uganda and Burundi and maybe now Guinea are sending troops. Can participation of other Africa countries be secured?
A: The July 11 Kampala bombings were a wake-up call and I think there is more determination than ever before, not only in East Africa, but around the continent to respond to the Somalia crisis.
I heard during Monday’s closed-door meeting mention of at least four states – three in West Africa and one in southern Africa - prepared or seriously thinking of committing troops to Somali peace keeping exercise. These are beginnings of very serious offers.
In addition, Ugandans have indicated the willingness to muster another 2, 000 troops and Burundi is interested in putting in an additional 1,300 troops.
Q. South African Foreign Minister [Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane] was in your meeting and AU chairman Jean Ping sent a personal letter to President Jacob Zuma requesting him to send troops to Amisom. Can you talk about that?
A. Chairman Ping has indicated that he has requested that South Africans to be of assistance, and as I understand it, they are still considering this but that was not the country I was speaking of when I referred to a southern Africa country.
Q: The conflict in Somalia seems to have been perceived as a war being fought on behalf of America and against Islam. How are you engaging influential Muslim countries to resolve the conflict?
A: Somalia is a country that requires enormous development assistance and political aid to restore it to a place that is both manageable, peaceful and working normally.
We would like to see a more stable, prosperous and peaceful Somalia. The US [and other international actors] walked away from Somalia in 1993 after the famous Black Hawk downing incident.
All of us probably thought the situation there would stabilise and normalise, and we have [instead] seen Somalia’s problems bleed over into the region. This has had dramatically negative impact on the states of East Africa.
We don’t see this as a US conflict, whatsoever. This is a problem for the international community...This is not, and should not, be where the US is regarded as the villain.
Q: Does the new Somalia strategy include the US providing a bigger budget and military hardware to bolster fighting capability of Amisom troops?
A: The US will continue to be a primary supporter of Amisom as it has been in the past and we have indicated that we will support the augmentation of Amisom troops into Somalia and we hope that others will do the same.
At this juncture, we do have American naval vessels on the Indian Ocean as part of anti-piracy operation. But what is most important now is the augmentation in the number of Amisom troops on the ground and augmentation in the resources - both financial and material.
Q. President Museveni has said for Amisom to be effective in deterring the Al Shabaab, its mandate should change from peace-keeping to peace enforcement. What is the outcome of your discussions on this?
A: There was a healthy discussion of the mandate and the new [UN] secretary-general’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ambassador [Augustine] Mahiga’s view was that the mandate that currently exists is sufficiently broad to provide the Amisom forces with the capacity to do the job that is required. That the mandate is broad enough so that the Amisom troops can in fact act robustly in the defence of their troops; protection of the Transitional Federal Government or TFG; its leadership; its buildings; its key installations and the protection of humanitarian operations.
Q: As we speak, more than 30 people, one of them Arua Woman MP Christine Bako, who were staging peaceful demonstrations to demand for credible elections next year have been arrested by police who say they did not authorise the demonstrations. Is there a worry that terrorism could be used by government as a pretext to suffocate civil liberties?
Secondly, on May 1, 2005, you wrote in the Boston Globe that President Museveni has “thirst for power” for removing presidential term limits. Five years on, do you still consider him a dictator as then?
A. I do not believe that President Museveni is a dictator (laughter). I think that President Museveni is the duly elected leader of the country; that he’s been elected openly and transparently in free and fair elections and he’s the senior representative of the country.
We hope that the elections next year will go extremely well and that political space will be accorded to all including those within the ruling party running for elections as well as all those who are in the opposition who are seeking office as well.
With respect to the article, it was written five years ago. I believe that as I said then that the elimination of (presidential) term limits was not a good idea; I think that in general where they are in place, they provide a useful part of the democratic structure and I think are a healthy thing to have.
For the first question, we want here, as we want around Africa and in general, a continued strengthening of democratic institutions. That strengthening of democratic institutions is essential here as well as in places like the United States in order to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to be able to fulfill both their economic and political ambitions.
Q: The option being pursued in Somalia now is a military one. Why don’t you encourage Muslim religious leaders in the region to pursue another course of action?
Secondly, why don’t you just install a dictator to run Somalia and give him money he can use to buy off the Al Shabaab...?
Third is about Sudan. How prepared are you regarding the almost expected breakup of the country into two autonomous entities and won’t the expected secession repeat itself on the continent?
A. I think that we want to encourage the people of Sudan to fulfil the obligations that they have agreed to under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That agreement ended two and half decades of conflict between the North and South.
The south felt enormously aggrieved, neglected and disadvantaged by its relationship with the northern part of Sudan. But as a way of ending the conflict, those who were in combat and those who represented the political forces there agreed among themselves that one solution might in fact be the separation of North and South...the people there will have an opportunity to decide in the referendum whether they want to remain as a unitary state or become an independent state.
This is not a precedent for other places; it is unique to Sudan as a result of this long conflict. So it is the best way to possibly find a more enduring solution to what has been a very difficult political history for the country.
With respect to Somalia, I would characterise the efforts there in very different ways; it is not a military solution under way but Amisom’s efforts to stabilise the situation in favour of a political process that was agreed to in Djibouti, an agreement which is under assault by the al-Shabaab, the Hizbul Islam and other violent extremist groups.
Q. Has the urgency of the situation in Somalia overtaken your government’s earlier interest in ending the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion and secondly, do you foresee US re-entering Somalia?
A: First, we are committed to working with Ugandan government to do everything possible to eliminate the threat posed in the region by LRA and track down and capture its leaders Joseph Kony.
Q. Amisom has been plagued by a shortage of resources. To what extend is US willing to support an expanded mission in Somalia?
A. We support the views of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development that Amisom should be expanded from its current mandated level of 8, 000 to a much higher level of 20, 000 troops.
Q: (Fairly inaudible) but on where mission resource will come from?
A. This is an issue of international importance and the global community should work with IGAD States to find the resources both material and financial to assist Amisom on the ground. This is not an American project; this is a project for the international community.
Q: AU Peace Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said at your meeting yesterday that the US government has committed, along with Norway, a direct budget support to TFG. Could you comment on the figure? Secondly, there was report that an AU delegation was calling for dialogue with the Al Shabaab. How realistic is this an avenue for future peace in Somalia?
A: United States has provided assistance to the TFG but it has not been what I would call a budgetary support. It has been project-related assistance given for very specific purposes at very specific times.
The United States government has and will continue in the future to fund a number of programmes that help the TFG to deliver services to the people of southern Somalia. Most of these will go through intermediate organisations that can provide both technical oversight and financial support for whatever is done. I heard absolutely no call, no calls, for any kind of reaching out to al-Shabaab. To the contrary, there was very clear warning about its dangers.