Tanzania is facing a tough choice, as Somalia seeks substantial support to build military capability of defending the country.
Recently, Somalia lodged a formal request to Tanzania, asking the government to help forming the army so as to stabilise the government.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the president of the transitional government of Somalia, flew to Arusha where he held nearly four hours of closed door talks with President Jakaya Kikwete at the Ngurudoto Mountain Lodge.
“We want to borrow a leaf from Tanzania’s long standing peace and stability,” President Sharif Ahmed hinted to the media through an interpreter shortly after the talks.
He said that his country was in the process of structuring national armed forces and therefore needs Tanzania to help in this endeavour as well as to set up state organs and a viable public sector.
However, President Kikwete was non-committal before the media whether he will support Somalia or not. High profile sources privy to the issue say that, President Kikwete was undecided about the possibility of committing troops on the ground, whether for training or helping to maintain peace.
“This issue is very tricky, that’s why the head of the state seemed to seek more time to make consultation probably with the breadth of government, where unanimity about the matter is least expected,” the sources noted..
It is understood that Tanzania and Rwanda are two EAC partner states which have so far kept safe distance from the AU Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
Kenyan troops have technically been integrated into AMISOM, where up to 5,000 Kenyan troops have been deployed, boosting the force grouping 11,000 Burundians and Ugandans.
Dr Gasper Mpehongwa, a lecturer at Tumaini University in Moshi says Tanzania has a moral duty to extend a helping hand to Somalia.
Recalling an incident in 1970s when Tanzania-Uganda relations went sour, Dr Mpehongwa said it was Somalia’s former President, Major General Mohammed Siad Barre who struggled to reconcile the two nations.
“Now, Somalis have been in war for the last twenty years. I think we have a moral duty to help them,” he explains.
Citing the continued lack of security in Somalia as a threat to the East African Community’s peace and security, the don said: “Lack of engagement in the Somali crisis could lead to instability in the whole of EA region”.
The transitional government of Somalia has the task of ensuring that a proper government is set up by August 20 this year, hopefully marking the beginning of a new era for one of Africa’s most troubled nations.
President Sharif Ahmed said that while things seem to be improving o the ground, bringing about meaningful peace in Somalia was not a completed task as yet. Experts say nearly 400,000 people have lost their lives from war and famine in the troubled country since 1991.
With the war-torn country’s transitional body preparing to hand over power in August, UN Secretary General Ban Ki- moon recently urged Somali’s near and distant friends to make a contribution in building a steady government there.
Twenty years ago, when the government of Somalia collapsed, few imagined that the country’s state of lawlessness would last for twenty years without respite, or spawn piracy on a vast scale, placing shipping security in the western Indian Ocean region on an emergency footing.
At first, many assumed that pirate attacks on passing ships could be quickly stifled. But the problem has grown into a global malady that so far has produced seven United Nations resolutions, one of which warranted “all necessary means to repress piracy and armed robbery at sea.”
Economic losses are also enormous. One Earth Future Foundation, a US environmental think tank, said in a recent study on naval piracy that Somali pirates extorted some $177 million in ransom in 2009 and $238 million the following year.
Including the costs of higher insurance premiums, re-routing ships, anti-piracy security and the impact on regional economies, the total annual costs may range between $7 billion and $12 billion, the study finds.
According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the problem is a global one, with 276 acts of piracy or armed robbery against ships reported worldwide in 2010.
With failed attempts added, the total climbed to 489, a 20 per cent increase from 2009. The South China Sea area suffered more attacks, with piracy off East Africa by scattered and well armed Somali groups in high seas, came second.
Looking only at attacks in international waters, East Africa was well in the lead in 2010, reports the IMO.
The only lives lost that year were from East African attacks, while the number of crew members taken hostage for ransom reached 629, far higher than anywhere else.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, a piracy-reporting centre based in Malaysia, 54 crew and passengers have been killed worldwide since 2006.