There’s a new war raging in the Horn of Africa, does the EU know about this?

Catherine Ashton addresses the media after an EU foreign ministers meeting yesterday (Yves Logghe / AP)

We, Europeans, often feel frustrated at the way the EU – the most important and cohesive regional body in the world – is unable to punch its weight on international affairs. And all the more so at present, given our internal economic and political woes. However, when reading things like Catherine Ashton’s remarks following yesterday’s Foreign Affairs Council, the surprising thing is that the EU is able to do anything at all. The Foreign Affairs Council discussed: Syria, Libya, Tunisia, the Common Security and Defense Policy, and the Horn of Africa. Here’s the extract on what Baroness Ashton had to say on the topic of the Horn:

We had a long discussion on the Horn of Africa strategy. This is a strategy to bring together the different ways in which Europe operates in that region to give greater effect to our desire to achieve a number of things. – First of all to support the people of Somalia and the region and to recognize that many people are suffering from this terrible famine. – That also means we have to support the World Food Programme and to continue our mission called Atalanta, which enables escorts of ships to provide an insurance that the food will actually arrive, by dealing with piracy in the region. – It’s also important in the general way in which we can help to support trade and shipping in that region. – But building the peace on land and helping to develop the economy will provide the best way of dealing with issues of piracy, and working collaboratively with different countries from the region. – I met recently when I was in Australia with over 20 Ministers from countries directly concerned with piracy, from India through to Kenya, Tanzania, Mauritius, Seychelles and so on. The Foreign Minister of Australia and I jointly chaired this. So it’s an opportunity today to try and put that strategy firmly in place and for Foreign Ministers to endorse the approaches that we’re taking.

As well as highlighting a sentence which seems the ultimate example of how to say something without saying anyything (in bold), what I found remarkable is that there is no single mention of the Kenyan invasion of Somalia, just under a month ago. This despite the support from US drones that this is enjoying, or the growing regional dynamics at play – the Somali Transitional Federal Government’s (TFG) has an unclear stance, Burundi and Uganda support Kenya, Eritrea is being acussed of supporting Al Shabaab, and Ethiopia is remaining largely silent on the matter.
Even when looking into the detailed Council conclusions on Somalia and the Horn of Africa, the only vague reference is to be found is on this paragraph:

The EU condemns the continued attacks on Somali civilians by Al Shabaab, including the bomb attacks of 4 and 18 October in Mogadishu. It is particularly concerned about the extension of such attacks to neighbouring countries, including Kenya, and the kidnap of European citizens and calls for their immediate release. Such attacks threaten not just neighbouring countries but the international community as a whole. The EU supports efforts to counter the threat of such attacks, consistent with international law; in this respect the EU reminds all parties of their obligations to protect civilians and safeguard humanitarian access in full accordance with international humanitarian principles. Recalling that military action alone will not create lasting security in Somalia, the EU underlines the need for coordination of all military and security actions in Somalia with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the Inter-Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) to ensure that military action against Al Shabaab is consolidated in the context of a sound civil and political strategy able to ensure a sustainable peace. (Emphasis mine)

The growing regionalization of the Somalia situation will have important consequences – either by intensifying the conflict and throwing the Horn into increased turmoil, or by contrast, by providing a common regional position that will provide indeed “African solutions for African problems” (less likely perhaps). In any case, the Horn situation is arguably, and together with Libya, the most important scenario of the changing African political and security dynamics at present and in the near future. Even South Africa’s intention to file an opposition candidate to Jean Ping’s renewal of its chairmanship of the African Union Comision responds partly to a perception that the continental body has not given Somalia a sufficiently important profile.

Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011 - Kenyan military board a truck headed to Somalia, near Liboi at the border with Somalia. (AP Photo)

Given all of this, how should we understand the EU’s silence? Does it constitute an implicit support for Kenyan actions? After all, France is also logistically supporting Kenya’s military incursion… Is this a conscious decision to have a lower profile in favour of regional African actors? Is the EU working to facilitate this outside from public attention?
Lots of questions around this crucial topic, but so far, the only answer coming from Brussels is a deafening silence.

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