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Can African peacekeepers tame Somalia?

The UN Security Council on Wednesday backed the speedy deployment of an African force.

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Pushing Somalia's Islamists out of power in Mogadishu took less than two weeks for Somali government and Ethiopian forces. Keeping them out, and keeping the peace in the midst of what some say is becoming an Iraq-style insurgency, could be a much more difficult job.

Western money will help to foot the bill, but it will be African peacekeepers, from countries like Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa, who risk their lives in Somali towns that haven't known peace for more than 15 years. The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday backed the speedy deployment of an African peacekeeping force.

Sending African troops may please Western powers, but it doesn't go down well at home, where poor African countries like Uganda and Nigeria have myriad problems of their own, from unemployment and illiteracy to ongoing domestic conflicts. And, while many see the moment as an opportunity to provide African solutions to African problems, the failure of the African Union peacekeeping force to provide security in Darfur, Sudan, is not an promising sign.

"What we've learned over the years is that if you want peacekeeping, you have to have peace, and you don't have it in Somalia," says Alex de Waal, an Africa expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York. "That's the reason the African Union mission has failed in Darfur, and it's the main reason the proposed UN mission for Chad is also problematic."

"The African Union has a lot of ongoing peacekeeping missions that are extremely risky," says Mr. De Waal. "The powers that be are beating their heads against the wall trying to get the AU to move, but everything we know about peacekeeping says that this is not how we do it. What we would see in the future is a very difficult set of problems arising, trying to fight an urban confrontation like the one in 1993, when the US took on General Aideed and you had 'Black Hawk Down'."

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