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Museveni, Obama split on Al-Shabaab

An insider account of Monday’s closed meeting of the regional grouping; the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa, IGAD, reveals that though President Museveni and US President Barack Obama’s administration are hugely aware of the threat the al Qaeda-linked militant group Al-Shabaab poses to the Horn of Africa region, they are fiercely split on how to handle the terrorist group. The IGAD meeting attended exclusively by the presidents of Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, US Assistant Secretary for Africa Johnnie Carson, South African Foreign Affairs minister and a British Government official was held on the sidelines of the African Union Summit to discuss the volatile Somalia and the Al-Shabaab threat.
Uganda’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs James Mugume told The Observer yesterday that the IGAD meeting was meant to lobby the P3 countries; US, Britain, France to agree to finance the Somalia Mission and support a change of mandate from peace keeping to enforcement.
Angered by the bomb attacks in Kampala, President Yoweri Museveni wanted the green light for an all-out offensive.
Museveni at the opening of the AU summit on Sunday told delegates that “The AU needed to deal decisively with the terrorists who dare attack the AU flag.
However, the US representative reportedly refused to support the position of Museveni, which was however strongly supported by Djibouti president, Ismail Omar Guelleh.
The two African presidents were reportedly unhappy with the US’ support for the re-enforcement of the AMISOM mission in Somalia yet opposing the suggestion to broaden the mandate of the troops.
Our sources have told us that during the IGAD meeting, Museveni and Guelleh put Johnnie Carson to task to explain why the US position was unclear.
“These people have brought terrorism to our doors. We need to flush them out,” Museveni reportedly told Carson, who chaired the six-hour meeting.
Guelleh told Carson that the influx of Somali refugees into his country had put enormous economic strain on Djibouti.
“We need to deal with these people decisively,” Guelleh reportedly told the meeting. Djibouti is one of the countries that have pledged to send more troops to Somalia.
Museveni this week told the BBC that the rules of engagement in Somalia needed to be changed because Uganda and neighbouring countries faced imminent attacks from terrorist groups there. He said the AU peacekeepers were confused by the current mandate.
“They don’t understand what they are doing. So they need a robust answer, a robust incisive answer,” he said.
Under the current mandate, peace keepers can only go after insurgents if they are attacked first. Virtually all African leaders agreed with Museveni and Guelleh’s arguments, and clapped thunderously to show their support.
The AU heads of state however chose the somewhat safer middle ground, whereby the peacekeepers can carry out pre-emptive attacks, but there will be no change of mandate.
This decision is unlikely to make a significant difference on the ground but should help shore up the transitional government, especially if more equipment and troops arrive soon, the BBC says.
Carson, according to sources, said the Somalia situation needed to be handled cautiously lest it explodes.
He reportedly told them that a change in mandate might not instantly bring positive results, pointing out the situation in Afghanistan which still remains volatile despite the deployment of an additional 20,000 US troops early this year.
We have also been told that the US might not be in favour of a broader mandate because it calls for more financial and material support.
On Tuesday, Carson told journalists that the international community needs to help Somalia because restoring peace in the county “was not a US project.”
However, Carson re-affirmed that the US will continue to provide technical and financial assistance to AMISOM.
The summit, which opened Sunday and ended Tuesday, was originally meant to discuss health issues. However, security issues took centre stage, especially in the wake of the July 11 bomb attacks in Kampala that killed 76 people and injured more than 80.
The Al Shabaab militia, which is currently battling the weak Transitional Federal Government in Somalia, claimed responsibility for the bombings, saying they were in retaliation for Uganda’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia. About 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are stationed in the Horn of Africa country nation to mainly protect the transitional government.

Just like Carson, the AU is reluctant to change the AMISOM mandate from peacekeeping to peace enforcement. In his address to the media at the end of the 15th AU summit, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, the Malawian president who also doubles as chairman of the AU, said that although terrorism is a global threat, “let us find other ways other than going and bombing innocent people.”
He added that African forces are taking action to ensure that the Al Shabaab don’t reign in Somalia and that the UN security council will review the situation before deciding whether to change the mandate from defensive to offensive. He however agreed that there is need to change the existing framework.
“We need a new framework with the rest of the world. We need the UN and European countries to come together on the framework. I think the existing framework is not adequate,” he said.
Jean Ping, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, said that although the change of mandate is under consideration, it has a lot of implications.
“We need equipment, we need to increase the payment of the soldiers from the current $750 per month to $1,800 like the UN,” Ping said.
In the meantime however, the AU has made a commitment to increase its troops over and above the 8,000 ceiling with additional troops from Guinea and Djibouti.
“There are many other countries ready to send troops. There is a request to move the ceiling up,” Ping said.
So far IGAD members have made it clear that about 20,000 troops are needed to stabilise Somalia. We understand that the US has urged Nigeria and South Africa to join the mission, but the two African giants are yet to commit themselves.

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