Uganda: fund African Union army to beat piracy

Naval operations have proven unsuccessful, but putting more boots on the ground would help to block the ports, the foreign ministry secretary said.

KAMPALA, UGANDA // The world is wasting its money on ineffective naval operations to tackle Somali piracy when it should be spending it on the African Union's force in Mogadishu, Uganda said Friday.

"The international reaction has been: 'Let's deal with piracy. Let's have our commanders there.' It is a good reaction, but it has not been successful," James Mugume, permanent secretary at Uganda's foreign ministry, told reporters.

Reflecting on Uganda's tenure at the UN Security Council which expires next month, Mugume urged the panel to vastly strengthen the AU force, arguing it will be more effective against piracy than international naval patrols.

"The concept of operation we presented to the Security Council is: let's take over the territory of Somalia. Let's block the ports ... and the issue of piracy will automatically be reduced."

Ugandan troops make up the bulk of the AU's 7,500-strong force in Mogadishu, which has chiefly been protecting the fragile Western-backed government since 2007 but has failed to break an Islamist insurgency led by the Al Qaeda-linked Shebab group.

Following the July 11 suicide bombings in Kampala that killed at least 76 and were claimed by Somalia's Shebab, Uganda asked the UN to give the AU force a more robust mandate and support its expansion to 20,000 men.

Neither request has been met but, according to Mugume, "the security council did not say no."

He argued that Uganda's plan to curtail piracy is "cheaper," than the current measures in place."It's more sustainable and it brings regional peace and stability," Mugume said.

European, American and other navies have deployed dozens of warships to take part in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean at an annual cost believed to be in the billions of dollars.

Somalia's pirates, whose ransoms in 2009 totalled less than US$100 million, have never been more active and currently hold some 30 vessels and more than 500 crew hostage.