UNITED NATIONS – UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Kenya's foreign minister said Saturday the millions being spent to fight pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia should be spent instead on helping the country become a functioning state.
Moses Wetangula said in an interview with The Associated Press that Uganda has offered troops to expand the African Union force in Somalia from 7,100 to 20,000 to support the restoration of law and order.
But he said that nobody is stepping up to help with much needed money and equipment.
"Piracy is not born at sea. It's born on land. And if you are able to patrol and protect your coastline, it's unlikely that pirates will find a way to the high seas to cause the menace," Wetangula said. "Instead, what are we seeing? 52 warships patroling ... the waters of the Indian Ocean, but piracy is still going on."
Wetangula said the flotilla should be disbanded and the money should be used instead to help Somalia "become a state."
He warned that neglecting Somalia amid increasing attacks from militants and Jihadists trying to overthrow the weak U.N.-backed transitional government "may end up being a tragedy that would vibrate far and wide."
Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the country into chaos. African Union peacekeepers have struggled to protect the small enclave in the capital, Mogadishu, where the Somali government operates.
Al-Shabab Islamic extremists, accused of links with al-Qaida, have launched a series of attacks over the last month after declaring a "new" war against the transitional government, established in 2004. They also claimed responsibility for the deadly bombings that killed scores of civilians watching the World Cup finals in Uganda in July.
Wetangula called the Jihadist threat "very strong" and "very worrying," saying Somali militants are being bolstered by mercenaries from abroad.
"If the government was given the capacity to strengthen its ability to fight back, I would have no doubt that al-Shabab can be defeated in a very short time," Wetangula said.
"Those with the money don't seem to open their envelopes to Somalia, or to the cause of Somalia," he said.
Wetangula pointed to a high-level meeting to promote peace in Sudan at the U.N. on Friday which President Barack Obama and numerous other world leaders and ministers attended, saying "I wish the same could be done for Somalia."
The Kenyan minister said he has met with U.S. officials on numerous occasions, including talks on Friday with Johnnie Carson, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa. Many other African leaders and ministers have also pressed for U.S. equipment and funds for an expanded force in Somalia.
"I think it's not the reaction that is lacking" because that's "always very positive," Wetangula said. "It's the action that is lacking."
Carson said Friday the Obama administration plans to strengthen ties with two breakaway republics in northern Somalia to blunt the threat from al-Shabab, and will provide more aid to the transitional government, but he didn't elaborate.
Wetangula noted that when Ethiopia, a key U.S. ally, sent thousands of troops into Somalia in early 2007 it took them two days to get to Mogadishu and they faced no resistance from militants who had been in power for six months. The unpopular Ethiopians withdrew two years later, with the militants in near-total control of a failed state with a worsening humanitarian crisis.
He said African leaders "will not allow" al-Shabab to take over Mogadishsu. If the capital is seriously threatened, he said, "I do not rule out anything," including the possible return of the Ethopian troops.
He said the African Union isn't asking for a lot to help the transitional government — a few tanks, "even second hand ones from Iraq can do," a few military helicopters so they can "roar around and show who's boss," and weapons that are superior to the Kalashnikov rifles used by most of the militants, as well as patrol boats.
Wetangula also criticized humanitarian organizations based in Nairobi that say they're dealing with issues like maternal health care and malaria in Somalia.
"It doesn't add up," he said, "and all these things can be done by Somalis themselves if they have a viable government."