Doubts cloud UN rebuilding of Somalia


Mark Huband in Nairobi

The Guardian, 3 May 1993


CONTROL of the billion-pound military and relief operation in Somalia fell to the United Nations at the weekend. Humanitarian organisations prepared to leave the task of long-term reconstruction of the shattered country to UN agencies, amid doubts about their ability to carry out such a role.

When fully fielded the UN Somalia operation, called Unsom-2, will include 20,000 military personnel from 35 countries, 8,000 logistical support staff and about 2,800 civilians. This will cost an estimated £552.5 million for the first six months.

If the operation is extended, as appears almost certain, the cost for the first year could reach £1 billion, making it the UN’s most expensive field operation ever.

Several of the longest-established non-governmental relief agencies have been steadily reducing their operations in Somalia as the threat of famine has waned.

The UN’s assumption of control provides it with a chance to retrieve its credibility, which was shattered when it failed to act rapidly enough last year to avert the famine which swept through Somalia killing up to 500,000 people.

US military intervention, launched on December 9 to provide military escorts for relief convoys, provided the UN with a chance to reconsider its strategy. It has rejected its previous stance of encouraging Somalis to direct the country’s reconstruction by effectively taking on the task itself.

American pressure subsequently forced the UN Security Council to adopt a tough mandate governing the conduct of UN troops.

The UN mandate permits UN troops to shoot to kill. As some relief agencies pull out in the face of continuing threats, it is clear that the often superficial security that does exist has only been maintained by using the most aggressive military strategy the mandate allows.

But UN military personnel face serious doubts about their ability to assert their authority as aggressively as the American troops have done. The commander of 4,761 Pakistani troops, Brigadier Ikram Il-Hassan, whose forces assumed control of the capital Mogadishu from US troops last week, has twice in four days been forced to defend his soldiers in the face of Somali criticism.

“I want to assure all Somalis that I have a well-prepared and professional team that fully understands its mission, and fully intends to carry it out,” he said.

“Like the US Marines, we shall be on the ground day and night, and shall deal decisively with all situations we face, even if they be sniper fire. We are prepared for the worst.”

Meanwhile, medical staff from Médécins Sans Frontières-Holland are considering pulling out of the town of Baidoa following an attack by bandits.

Within the past two weeks, five Somalis working for aid agencies have been killed in Baidoa, as well as a nurse working for Care International.

Somalis, the most frequent victims of the gunmen, are frightened by any weakening in the .mandate of the foreign troops they have to rely on. Now the continuing violence has thrown into doubt appropriateness of a UN operation modelled on the emergency which led to the US intervention, when the nature of the emergency has altered.

UN troops will not only be overseeing food distribution but also the political rebuilding of the country. Continued clashes in the southern port of Kismayo and the growing popular resentment of the murderous warlords will make their role much more complicated than that of the US.

The UN recently paid over £550,000 to the newly-formed Somali Auxiliary Police Force, which it trained and will continue to fund. On May 15, the Transitional National Council, the first semblance of political authority in the country, will hold its first meeting.

But there are doubts about the UN’s ability to actually organise the agenda it has set itself. “The UN is encouraging Somali refugees in northern Kenya to return home, mostly to Kismayo,” said the spokesman for one non-governmental organisation. “But in terms of organising food for these people when they arrive there, the UN has done bugger all. They are now supposed to be doing what the other relief organisations have been doing. But judging by their  track record it’s going to be very worrying, because they have such bad organisation.”


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