Peter Heinlein | Addis Ababa
African Union special envoy to Somalia, Jerry Rawlings, says popular uprisings in North Africa are helping to weaken Somali radical groups by cutting off a major source of weapons and funding. The former Ghanaian president was at AU headquarters for a meeting of elder statesmen on Africa’s peace and security challenges.
Rawlings avoided naming any country in particular, but his implication was clear. Speaking to journalists Thursday, he said events in what he called “certain parts” of North Africa present a unique opportunity for taming radical groups operating in Somalia.
"It would be most unfortunate if we don’t take advantage of the current political atmosphere in terms of developments that have taken place in certain parts of say, North Africa and other places we know that have contributed to destabilizing the situation, in the sense that whatever resources, arms and what not that have been coming from certain places would be receding," said Rawlings.
The former Ghanaian leader brushed aside a reporter’s question about intelligence reports suggesting Libya has funded radical Islamic groups in the Horn of Africa.
"I cannot comment on that yet, but all I do know is that arms coming from certain areas in other parts of North Africa are beginning to fizzle out, some of the resources as well. OK. So let’s hope this in a way will contribute to a weakness we can take advantage of," said Rawlings.
Rawlings, appointed last year as AU special envoy to Somalia, said youth currently employed by the al-Qaida linked group al-Shabab might be willing to lay down their arms and switch sides now that the rebels’ funding is drying up.
"Some of them need jobs to do. And most of them are probably youth, youth just looking for adventure and food to eat, and I’m not sure what percentage can actually be graded as al-Qaida or al-Shabab. Al-Shabab stands for the youth, right. It’s unfortunate that the word youth is being perverted in such a manner. But quite frankly, I think the opportunity to bring them on board does exist, and we must take advantage of that," said Rawlings.
Rawlings was in Addis Ababa for talks on Somalia with the Panel of the Wise, a group of eminent African personalities assessing the continent’s security challenges.
The 63-year-old former Ghanaian leader is not a member of the panel, which was presided over by 87-year-old former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda.
Kaunda, serving as acting chairman in place of the 92-year-old former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella, called on Africa’s current leaders to respect the will of their peoples as expressed in elections, to avoid embarrassments such as the recent electoral dispute in Ivory Coast.
"The Panel of the Wise can play an important role in counseling and advising the parties concerned to adhere strictly, strictly to the electoral code of conduct, and to commit themselves to accepting the results of elections that have been duly declared to be free and fair," said Kaunda. "As an old freedom fighter, I can tell you stories of the situations I have over the years witnessed that unfortunately worked to portray a negative image of our continent."
The Panel of the Wise will report its findings Friday to the AU Peace and Security Council. The group’s next project is billed as a response to the recent spate of revolutionary revolts in Northern Africa. It will be titled, “Political Reforms, Popular Uprisings, and Unconstitutional Changes of Government.”