15 JUNE 2008

Our fearless Security Council team that went to Africa stated its determination to get to the bottom of the civil war in Somalia. They will meet all leaders from all factions, not in the capital, Mogadishu, but in the safety of the Kempinski Hotel of neighbouring Djibouti. Now, if you have any clue about Africa, and we assume our distinguished brother Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa does very well, you will realize how interlinked is the neighbourhood. Djibouti is a domain of France (with some "rental" to the U.S.), like Chad (which is also involved in Darfur; remember Darfur?!). While Ethiopian troops are clearly involved on the side of the fragile Somali government, Eritreans have granted easy access to other armed groups, including the former Islamic Courts leaders. Eritrea also has a sensitive relation with its Djibouti neighbour so close to the port of Assab where Afars, rather than Tigrinya, tribesmen are predominant. Thus, choosing Djibouti to explore the situation is one-good-thing. Choosing Djibouti to mediate the Somali conflict was very short-sighted. Whoever suggested it is either misguided or misguiding.

Whatever. Our fearless leaders -- all 15 of them -- settled comfortably in the relaxing Kempinski Hotel -- a world famous German chain -- with open door swimming pool, restaurants, bars, jacuzzi -- the works. An oasis in an oasis. They would say its safety first. In the eyes of the locals, it looked like comfort first. Their main task was to get the fighting parties together, at least for a commemorative photo. No takers. Although members of all factions were hanging around the hotel lobby, bars, restaurants, etc., when "photo-op" time came, they swiftly disappeared. They can't sell out for a mere photo. As Colonel Ghaddafi once recognized, they need more tangible offers. What irked certain Security Council members, was the reluctance of Islamic Courts representatives to be photographed with them despite the fact that they found no problem in chatting and dining with them at the hotel. Eventually, when the price was right, they assembled for a group photo -- to the delight of Council members, and followed it by attending a "workshop" by a generous World Bank fellow on the very theoretical issue of the Reconstruction of Somalia!

While the flying firemen seemed to mix apples and oranges in the same political basket, little did they know that by the time of their arrival, the President of Re-Liberation of Somalia, Sheikh Sherif Sheikh Ahmed, had already been overruled by a more militant faction, threatening to split that so-called alliance in two. Unfazed, the Sheikh found time to locate a wife from Djibouti, his third. While our distinguished diplomats were patiently exploring "peace feelers," Sheikh Sharif was feeling his way being a new groom again, celebrating the night at the Imperial, and showing off by placing 10 guards outside the tightly closed door. Similarly, on the other side, the governmental grouping was in an even more fragmented shape. Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein was openly bad mouthing President Abdullah Yousef, who had barely survived one more assassination attempt. In a signal of changing political winds, the Speaker of the "Parliament" -- whatever that could be -- moved from the Kempinski Hotel to the opposition hangout -- the Imperial. He vehemently denied making any political contact with its other residents; he merely happened to enjoy a few friendly meals. Adding to the confusion was an invitation extended to a representative of the Ethiopian government to help in the reconciliation; it backfired.

Through it all, our distinguished Security Council diplomats demonstrated an unfazed sense of "joie de vivre" as the French would say. Our most admired senior brother Kumalo even promised to offer some carrots. Only, as he cheerfully left with his other colleagues no one was sure where he had placed them!