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Losing focus in Somalia?

In recent weeks pirates operating off the coast of Somalia in the strategic Gulf of Aden and further south towards Kenya have caught the attention of the international community. But following the rescue of an American merchant captain that resulted in Navy Seals killing three pirates, the pirates have continued their attacks on ships sailing in the region, and many doubt the US navy can win the fight. The recent debate about how to address the growing problem of piracy has also led many back to the real issue at hand, what to do with the Somali state.

Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on African affairs, wrote a letter to President Obama calling for a comprehensive strategy to address the beleaguered transitional government led by Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Mr. Feingold said, “People are talking about this as a piracy issue…that is not the core issue here. It is a symptom of a disunified government.”

Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton presented a four-point plan in order to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The plan includes sending a US envoy to the Somalia peacekeeping and development meeting, the scheduling of immediate meetings with the International Contact Group on Piracy to plan a multinational response to the issue, and the creation of a task force team to speak with the Somali government and regional leaders about taking action against the pirates whose bases reside in their territory. The fourth step was to create a team that will work with shippers and the insurance industry to improve their own self-defense measures.

The fact that only one of the four points addresses the Somali government suggests that the US might be seeking to address the symptoms of problem, piracy, rather than the “core issue”, the Somali state. With ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems unlikely that the United States Government will take concrete action to address the ongoing crisis in Somalia. Yet if there ever was a time to seek international support on the issue of Somalia, it is now. It remains to be seen whether this new spotlight on Somalia will convince policy makers to address Somalia’s internal problems, and ensure that civilians do not continue to be caught up in a violent conflict while the world looks on.

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