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Somalia Faces  Problems More Critical than Piracy, says New Report

A new report makes recommendations on what the international community should do to help bring peace to Somalia. Beyond Piracy: Next Steps to Stabilize Somalia is published by the Enough Project, part of Center for American Progress in Washington.

The report finds piracy to be the "lowest order of threat" to Somalia, the region and the United States. Davidson College political science professor Ken Menkhaus is one of the authors.

"It's clearly a second order threat compared to the main security issue in Somalia, which is the state of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the status of the Shabaab insurgency and the growing al-Qaida presence in support of Shabaab. That's really of much greater long-term importance both to the Somalis, to the United States and to the region than piracy is," he says.

Menkhaus says the piracy problem should be addressed, but adds, "If it's privileged in US policy or global policy, it could come at a cost of a more coherent strategy toward that first order threat, which is the increased al-Qaida activities and Shabaab's continued strength in southern Somalia."

The ENOUGH Project report makes a number of recommendations to improve security, such as supporting local efforts.

"The Somalis can do that. They have done that… It's important not to address the security needs of the Transitional Federal Government as something that has to become a ward of the international community. The international community can provide support, but this has to be locally owned and it has to be primarily locally funded if it's going to work," he says.

With al-Qaida and al Shabaab are on the US terrorist list, how does the United States address that issue in Somalia? Menkhaus says, "I think the key here is how we define Shabaab. Shabaab is not an organization in which you are a hard and fast member. This is more of a Somali dynamic where there are concentric circles of affiliation. And I think some flexibility on the part of the United States and other external actors as to how a terrorist organization and how individuals are defined is very important."

Change in affiliation and loyalties can happen among the various groups in Somalia. Menkhaus says, "There are lots and lots of people who have re-hatted themselves in Somalia in various ways, including Shabaab (members), who in fact are not indoctrinated into hardcore jihadist ideologies. They can be brought into this broader Transitional Federal Government. They should be."

He agrees with the current approach of the TFG to reach out to the many different groups in Somalia. But he says there should be certain conditions if they join with the TFG.

"They obviously cannot be making the territorial claims on neighbors. They have to respect the security of neighboring states and not be interested in harboring foreign al-Qaida terrorists," he says.

The report also calls for an end to impunity by supporting Somali efforts to seek justice for war crimes.

"War crimes in Somalia have been a plague for 20 years. The past two years have been especially brutal. And of course there are many potentially culpable parties to that, including the old transitional federal government, including the insurgents, including the Ethiopian occupying forces…that all has to be looked at. Ultimately, the dispensation of war criminals is a matter for the Somali people to decide," he says.

The report recommends international support for Somali efforts at transition and good governance. Menkhaus says, "This is one of the things that the international community in general can do and has to do in a supporting role in Somalia. Transitions are very difficult things to achieve. We have a lot of experience internationally with transitional governments from Congo to a host of other places. And we can bring that expertise to the Somalis."

He says Somalis must remember the "principle task" of the TFG is to, among other things, write a new constitution to ensure Somalia has a legitimate government.