The international community is stepping in to fill the security vacuum in Somalia as Ethiopia wraps up its two-year military involvement in Somalia.
In a meeting with reporters Friday, African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping said Uganda and Burundi, the two troop contributors to the AU peacekeeping mission AMISOM, have each agreed to send another battalion to bolster the force. In addition, Nigeria has pledged to immediately send at least one, and possibly three battalions.
Those contributions could possibly double the size of the AMISOM force, which is currently around 3,500.
Ping said he also spoke to the presidents of Ghana and Burkina Faso, and received assurances from both that they would seriously consider making troop contributions.
Ping was speaking to reporters hours before he was to fly to Cairo for high-level talks on an Egyptian contribution to Somalia's stability. He said another African Arab state, Algeria, has offered a significant logistical support package.
Diplomats said these pledges represent a dramatic increase in interest since Ethiopia agreed to withdraw its troops from its Horn of Africa neighbor. Perhaps the biggest step forward has come from the United Nations. A month ago, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reacted coolly to a request to help Somalia. The U.N. Security Council failed to respond amid sharp disagreements among its five permanent veto-wielding members.
But AU Commission Chairman Ping said the mood is rapidly improving.
"The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called me three days ago to confirm that he is going to present a proposal in the Security Council for the United Nations, which has the primary responsibility for peacekeeping in the world. But the implementation of that might take some time, that's why we are prolonging the presence of AMISOM in the field. Strengthening it in terms of human, financial and logistical contributions," he said.
Ping said a Somalia pledging conference will bring together donors in the next few weeks to raise $68 million to finance the rapid upgrading of AMISOM over the next three months. He said major donors such as the United States and the European Union have signaled a willingness to make significant cash contributions.
AU Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra said a high-level team from U.N. headquarters in New York is due in Addis Ababa early next week. They will discuss with AU military planners the kinds of urgent logistical support needed to save Somalia from falling into the hands of Islamist extremists attempting to seize power as Ethiopia leaves.
Even before that, there will be talks on bringing the Somali government's 10,000 strong military force under AMISOM command.
"We'll be receiving here in Addis Ababa the ministers of defense of Uganda, Burundi and the TFG Somalia so we can discuss operational aspects of the strengthening of AMISOM, as well as the training and coordination between the Somali units, the 10,000 units which will be under the operational command of AMISOM so that we can live up to our responsibilities," he said.
An end-of-year message on the United Nations website quotes Secretary-General Ban warning that the danger of anarchy in Somalia is, in his words, "clear and present." The message said Mr. Ban is proposing measures that will set the stage for a possible U.N. peacekeeping mission, which is exactly what African Union officials are pushing for.
Mr. Ban is due in the Ethiopian capital at the end of this month to address the African Union summit, where Somalia is expected to join Zimbabwe and Darfur at the top of the agenda.