Magazine article New African

Return to Somalia: A Decade after His Last Visit to Somalia, Theodore Liasi Shares His Expectations and Fears Ahead of a Return Trip to the Troubled Country

Magazine article New African

Return to Somalia: A Decade after His Last Visit to Somalia, Theodore Liasi Shares His Expectations and Fears Ahead of a Return Trip to the Troubled Country

Article excerpt

It has been 10 years since I last reported on Somalia, at a time when instability had plunged the country into total anarchy despite the best efforts of the US marines and subsequently the United Nations.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

I had been to the ravaged area in the Horn of Africa on a couple of occasions, but the last visit was, for the most part, full of dismay and pessimism. Whatever lingering hope prevailed evaporated in the hot sun just as soon as the peacekeeping force withdrew.

My last dispatch on Somalia for New African was entitled Last days of Saigon? as the ill-fated UNISOM mission crumbled and faded into the shadows. Much has changed during the intervening years.

But you have to question the reasoning behind the "exalted" UN Security Council passing preposterous resolutions that were not only ineffective but unenforceable. The most absurd of which included a call for the warlords to voluntarily disarm, something that was always doomed to fail. It was left to the hapless Indian peacekeepers--outmanned and always outgunned--to try and implement an ill-conceived mandate with scant resources, naturally without any success.

During my last visit, as I sat in the shade under a makeshift gazebo by the side of a checkpoint just outside Kismayo, discussing the finer points of cricket with one UN commander, it was clear even then that all was not as it should be. Asked how the voluntary disarmament programme was progressing, the commander quipped with a dry smile: "There is some voluntary disarmament here, but the Somalis usually give it to us, bullets first."

It was this failure to get to grips with the realities of what was happening on the ground that ultimately led to UNISOM finding themselves virtually prisoners in their own camps, isolated and detached from the very people they were supposed to be helping. Resentment was also created by the huge UN mission based in Mogadishu--a resplendent complex complete with cinema, basketball court and most of the creature comforts usually associated with military bases in Europe.

The mission also served more as a fertile money spinning operation than anything to do with peacekeeping. Pen pushers were earning a small fortune: a secretary could earn in the region of $4,000 a month without ever setting foot outside the base. …

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