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African Union Sessions to Focus on Crisis in Somalia

An Ethiopian army truck belonging to the first batch of troops leaving Mogadishu drives through the bullet-riddled "Arch of the People's Triumph."
Ali Musa Abdi
AFP/Getty Images
An Ethiopian army truck belonging to the first batch of troops leaving Mogadishu drives through the bullet-riddled "Arch of the People's Triumph."

When member nations of the African Union meet this weekend, representatives hope to find a way to stabilize Somalia, where a weak government has beaten back Islamist forces with the help of Ethiopian troops.

There is concern that the fighting will resume unless peacekeepers are introduced into the country.

While the A.U. is trying to assemble peacekeeping forces, it is looking to the United States and European Commission to pay for the mission. American and European representatives will be attending the sessions in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

A Somali poet once wrote: "My two hands, left and right, are twins. One twin gives food to strangers and to guests, it sustains the weak and guides them. But the other is a slashing, cutting knife — as sharp to the taste as myrrh, as bitter as the aloe."

He might have been talking about today's crisis in Somalia, and the international players meeting in Addis Ababa this weekend.

"The summit coming up in African Union is crucial for the African countries to contribute to peace," says Idd Beddel Mohammed, a counselor in Somalia's mission to the United Nations. "But the donor countries — the Europeans and the U.S. — have a much more serious role to play by re-engaging seriously in the situation in Somalia."

Mohammed plans to present a "pay now, or pay more later" view of Somalia at the meeting in Addis. Mohammed says that Uganda, Malawi and Nigeria are among the African states willing to send peacekeepers to help stabilize Somalia.

But, he says, African countries need the European Commission and the United States to pay for the mission — even if that meant the West sends more money than has already been promised.

If not, Mohammed warns that terrorism on the Horn of Africa and beyond will be everyone's fault.

But when it comes to Somalia, the Americans and the Europeans are not always on the same key or the same pitch. They do start off the same — U.S. officials and European diplomats say the first thing they want to see at the African Union meeting is for the full complement of members to commit to an A.U. peacekeeping force in Somalia.

The West wants everyone on stage and singing the same song. And that goes for Somalia's transitional government, too. They must demonstrate to the West that they are serious about reconciling with old enemies in the Islamic Court Union.

Ali Doy is an analyst for the United Nation's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia. He says these past weeks have been tough on people in southern Somalia who have borne catastrophic flooding and then fighting — and, in some areas, U.S. and Ethiopian air strikes.

Access is still severely restricted in areas where people need help the most.

That state of affairs brings to mind the words of yet another Somali poet: "...Tea and drink of thinned browned honey. Mutton spiced and finely sliced. On such things were my thoughts and my affections set. But this world provides no lasting satisfaction."

Read the cited poems in full:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gwen Thompkins
Gwen Thompkins hosts Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans.