The main international backers of Somalia's government have pledged additional resources for the drive to defeat al-Qaida-linked militants trying to establish a beachhead in the Horn of Africa. The issue was discussed at a high-level meeting chaired by the United States on the sidelines of the African Union summit in the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson gathered the presidents of Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Djibouti and Uganda, along with the prime minister of Ethiopia for a closed-door session.
Senior European Union officials were also there, along with U.N. Deputy Secretary General Asha Rose Migiro and top diplomats from Britain and France, which along with the United States comprise the so-called P3 on the U.N. Security Council.
The European Union, the United Nations and the United States are the main financial contributors to the African Union's AMISOM peacekeeping force in Somalia.
The meeting to plan additional support for Somalia's transitional government has taken on added significance following deadly suicide bomb attacks earlier this month in Kampala. The Somali insurgent group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the terrorist acts, but Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told the summit he believes Middle Eastern and South Asian forces were involved.
Carson says the bombings have raised international consciousness about the need to strengthen the government in Mogadishu.
"Somalia is responsible for piracy," Carson said. "It is also a source of terrorism, which has been visited on countries like Tanzania, Kenya and most recently Uganda. And it is a place where we see foreign fighters and where we also see an increasing number of extremists operating."
African diplomats say efforts to produce a forceful decision on Somalia at the Kampala summit are being stymied by the Eritrean delegation. Eritrea, the only Horn of Africa country not a member of the regional economic bloc IGAD, is said to be opposed to plans by regional powers Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to reinforce AMISOM and strengthen its rules of engagement to allow commanders more authority to respond to al-Shabab attacks.
An Eritrean delegate is said to have asked why, if Afghanistan's leaders can negotiate with the Taliban, why Somalia's leaders cannot talk to al-Shabab.
But Secretary Carson says the consensus at the sidelines meeting is to do whatever necessary to back the transitional government.
"We came away even more united and committed to work together strengthen the TFG, to help strengthen AMISOM, to help strengthen the forces for stability in Somalia and to help do as much as we can to help beat al-Shabab," he said. "Al-Shabab represents a foreign and a negative influence that cannot only be destructive inside Somalia, but across the entire region."
One surprising development Monday was the participation of South Africa's Foreign Minister, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, in the Somalia meeting. AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping told reporters Saturday he had sent a personal letter to President Jacob Zuma asking him to send South African troops to join AMISOM.
When asked whether he would respond positively, Mr. Zuma only laughed. But in a speech to the summit Monday, Mr. Zuma appeared to suggest he is considering the request.
"As leaders we should rise to this challenge, which is yet another indicator of the road we still have to travel to build a prosperous secure and peaceful Africa in a just stable world," he said.
The 6,000-member AMISOM force is made up exclusively of Ugandan and Burundian troops. But Chairman Ping says Guinea has a battalion of trained and equipped troops ready to join the force as soon as the country's suspension from the African Union is lifted. The West African country was suspended last year after a military coup, but the ban is likely to be lifted as soon as a second round of elections is held.