A statement by the U.S. State Department this week lauded America’s work leading the international effort to address the spate of piracy off the shores of Somalia. The statement trumpets the United States’ “commitment to joining with our international partners to meet the shared security challenge posed by piracy’s negative impact on maritime safety, global commerce, humanitarian aid delivery to Eastern Africa, and regional trade and development.” This is of course an important initiative to deal with a significant threat. But as we pointed out in our latest report, Beyond Piracy, piracy is neither the greatest security threat facing the international community in Somalia nor the greatest threat to Somalis themselves. As the State Department issued its self-congratulatory statement, here’s what some of the reports from the ground were saying.
Islamist rebels and Somalia’s western-backed government and allies exchanged mortar and small arms fire on Thursday in the seventh day of clashes in the capital Mogadishu that have killed 139 civilians. (…)The militant al Shabaab and forces loyal to President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed continued to battle in Mogadishu. Pockmarked buildings near the presidential palace shook from the latest bout of clashes, which have plagued the country since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.
Also from Reuters:
Poor security has forced the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) to seek protection from the Shabaab, a militant group which the United States says has links to al Qaeda.
"We talk with them to negotiate basically, the access for our staff and ultimately for our food into this or through that area," said Peter Goossens, WFP Somalia Country Director.
"Let’s say on a six-month period, the possibility of 1.5 million or more will, in fact, perish is very, very real and therefore we really need to continue supporting this population."
"It is not only Somali jihadists that are fighting in Mogadishu against the government. There are also foreign Muslim jihadist brothers who are fighting side by side with us," said Sheikh Hassan Ya’qub, a spokesman for Alshabab.
So while international efforts to combat piracy at sea are surely welcome, the U.S. government has a much bigger problem on its hands on land. (A problem, it must be noted, that the previous administration’s policies only exacerbated.) With hundreds of thousands of lives in the balance and an escalating threat to international security, the Obama administration would be wise to start focusing on causes and not symptoms and develop a long-term strategy to help Somalis forge a state that, as we said in our report, "can fight piracy, promote peace and reconciliation, and combat the threat of terrorism within its borders."
Colin Thomas-Jensen contributed to this post.