In a February article published on International Policy Digest, Somalia’s Special Envoy to United States, Abukar Arman, wrote, “Since the collapse of the military government 21 years ago, Somalia went through various levels of problems perpetuated by clan militias, warlords, economic-lords, religious-lords, regional-lords, and a group that I would refer to as the Ghost-lords.” In Arman’s analysis, the Ghost-lords are meant to denote “a loose association of paradoxical powers of the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the International Community.”
Arman contends that the Ghost-lords are “the most elusive and perhaps the biggest obstacle to the reconstitution of the Somali state.” In other words, Arman suggested that such behavior and meddling by the international community in Somalia is a cancer. While not the primary cause of Somalia’s internal tumults, it is, at least, a significant cause of what ails Somalia.
European ships are hovering over Somalia’s seas rampantly dumping chemical waste and plundering the waters of Somalia’s coast and robbing her resources. The United States is bombing the country left and right based on the pretext of chasing terrorist fugitives hiding within Somalia. Arabs are exporting their draconian interpretation of Islam with impunity and proselytizing to Somalia’s youth. As for Somalia’s neighbors, Ethiopia and Kenya are violating Somalian sovereignty with impunity.
An appraisal of Somalia’s state of affairs suggests a number of qualifications that seem to validate Arman’s observation and justify my assessment of what ails Somalia. Since the military government of Siyad Barre collapsed in 1991, and even before that, at least for a decade or so, Somalia has been in a virtual state of limbo. Atrocities ranging from killings by Somalia’s military intended to oppress local uprisings, uninhibited bloodshed amongst warring militias, to the exodus of civilians fleeing from the country, have been the norms.
Until very recently, Somalia’s issues apart from piracy in the Gulf of Aden have lacked the necessary focus by the international community. When external actors chose to deal with Somalia it was mostly done through regional contact groups (e.g., Djibouti, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Kenya, Uganda). Countries that are struggling to satisfy the hopes and the expectations of their own constituents. Before what is commonly referred to as “the rise of radical Islam,” and “modern maritime piracy,” Somalia was almost absent in international discussions.
Due, in part, to the rise of terrorism and piracy; Somalia has come back from oblivion in international circles. During his second term, a few days after the Islamic Courts Union made substantial progress in reining in Mogadishu, the Bush administration announced that it was convening an international gathering to discuss the internal violence in Somalia. Since then, Somalia’s politics and internal dynamics have been left to dubious international community representatives who have micromanaged every dimension of the country’s internal dynamics, regardless of the interests of Somali people.
It goes without saying that the international community’s renewed interest in Somalia is prompted by one facet from Somalia’s multifaceted troubles, namely security. The conviction is that terrorism, piracy, and instability have the tendency to become a global problem. In line with this concept, the London Conference on Somalia (Feb 23, 2012) was convened to discuss these very same issues. The latest International Crisis Group’s report on Somalia, suggests, the “UK’s decision to convene a special international conference on Somalia in London, on 23 February 2012, reflects growing Western concern over the protracted crisis and anxieties about its local, regional and wider international implications.”
All in all, “for the West, Somalia is first and foremost a security problem,” and the recommendations to come out of the London conference were, more “Western ships, [more] U.S drones, [more] African troops, and [more] international money for the Transitional Government in Mogadishu.” These recommendations are not only futile but they have the potential of reverting Somalia back to tribalism and radicalism, as Alex De Waal nimbly observers in “Getting Somalia Right This Time.”
Any person familiar with Somalian dynamics considers the recommendations to come out of the London Conference on Somalia as simplistic quick fixes and they do little to address Somalia’s long-term problems. The prevailing perspective in international circles relating to the causes of Somalia’s problems is: the vacuum created by Somalia’s collapse in 1991 triggered civil war, lawlessness, famine, terrorism, and lastly, piracy. Although this diagnosis retains some truth it is only fixated on the tip of the iceberg.
Samuel Huntington hypothesized rightly that modernism in the absence of effective political institutions is the elephant in the room. Writing in 1968, Huntington observed that the reason many contemporary developing countries have fallen is present political systems could not compete with modernism. Societies lacking capable institutions that could satisfy the expectations of men and women living in a modern era are simply doomed from the start. “Conflict between oligarchy and masses erupts into civil strife.” Ironically, Huntington’s insight lies outside the international community’s conceptual framework toward resolving Somalia’s mayhem.
At this juncture, the imperative of understating the genesis of Somalia’s turmoil, if Somalia wanted to be a modern nation, should not be overlooked. Somalia’s quandaries demand a new paradigm. As we have noted earlier, Somalia’s fault lines emanate from modernism and the lack of political institutions. The international communities fairytale is to build a Somalia molded after the image of a modern nation-state in the midst of nonexistent building blocks for such a state, i.e., socio-economic development, an education system, a vibrant middle class, and political systems that are capable of sustaining an aspiring society.
Western states, especially the U.S. and the U.K. intentions towards Somalia, are to a certain degree, benign. Moreover, U.S. and the U.K. intentions are to assist Somalis in establishing independence and sorting out their internal problems. Nonetheless, as the cliché goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions; therefore, good intentions are not sufficient. However, instead of wasting finite resources to empower self appointed and distrusted local leaders and giving a leeway to neighboring powers that may have expansionist agendas, and greedy companies driven by short term interests, the U.S and the U.K., need to empower the Somali people directly by spurring rapid economic growth and expanding educational access. In short, Somalia’s woes can be fixed, but only if a coherent and a holistic plan of action based on morality and humanism is enacted.
By implementing this aforementioned approach, thousands of Somalis, most of them women, children and elders, would be delivered from the worst misery and human suffering in 21st century. Salvaging Somalia from avoidable carnage is a moral imperative. It follows from this, U.S and U.K, ought to help Somali people to patch their festering wounds, and it is morally wrong not to do so.