GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — A senior United Nations official says Somalia has the best chance in a generation to achieve peace and eventual prosperity, despite continued activity by al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the deadly attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The official warns failure to support Somalia’s government would have serious regional and international consequences.
The special representative of the U.N. secretary-general for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, said Somalia faces huge challenges. He said there are many grounds for optimism, though, that the internationally recognized government in Somalia will be able to unify and lead the country toward stability.
Still, Kay warns none of the progress being made will last if security is not achieved. He said controlling and defeating al-Shabab is key to this.
“The Westgate attacks show that the threat from al-Shabab is international. We have seen it before in Kampala and I fear we could see it again elsewhere, too. The ideology and the terrorist intent respect no borders,” he said.
Kay has been the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission to Somalia, also known as AMISOM, for three months. He noted that the African Union is very close to achieving the 17,731 troops mandated for the mission. He said, though, the military effort is still under-resourced.
More hardware needed
For example, he said, AMISOM does not have a single helicopter for a campaign in a country the size of Afghanistan. He said what also is needed are armored vehicles and possibly a surge in the number of troops.
Kay said that to secure Somalia's future, the international community must increase funding for both AMISOM and Somalia's national security forces. He said he will go to New York later this week to push for this.
“I do believe that the small, extra investment in Somalia has to be seen as being very small in terms of what the international community has spent elsewhere - Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali. The amount of money that we are talking about required for extra effort in Somalia is extremely small. The cost of that would be relatively cheap, however, the price of walking away or failure in Somalia would be very expensive,” he said.
The U.N. envoy said AMISOM currently receives about $520 million a year from the United Nations for logistical support and the European Union contributes a monthly stipend of 16 million euros.
Kay said he does not believe Kenya will withdraw its troops from AMISOM. If anything, he said al-Shabab’s attack against the Nairobi shopping mall probably will strengthen the resolve of Kenya and other participating countries to clear Somalia of the rebels.
He estimated that al-Shabab maintains about 5,000 fighters in Somalia. He said many of them are not committed ideologues. Rather, they are young people who have joined because they have few other options or may be harboring local grievances.
Kay said some of al-Shabab’s leadership is splintered and this provides an opening to woo the foot soldiers away from the militant group. He said Somalia's government hopes to re-integrate many of these people into their communities through a national disarmament and demobilization program.
If this works, the U.N. envoy said, it would deprive al-Shabab of some rank-and-file members.