By Kisiangani Emmanuel
Somalia has, over the past two decades, deteriorated into one of the world’s worst security and humanitarian challenges. Characterised by insidious conflict, political fragmentation, and an informal economy, Somalia represents the archetypal failed state.
Unfortunately, the international community, Kenya included, have in their policy strategies focused on Somalia mainly in terms of threats to their own security instead of acting decisively and in a non-partisan manner to help establish a government that is acceptable to most Somalis.
The upshot is that more often than not, viable “Somali solutions” to the Somali problem have been ignored or overlooked. It is no wonder that the international community’s primary preoccupation with ideology and symptoms, including the war against terror and the piracy scourge, which though critical to international security, has removed the needs and aspirations of Somalis from the agenda.
Consider the piracy problem, for instance. It has its roots in state failure, encroachment on Somali waters, and poor living conditions of the Somalis. They are aware that foreign countries are profiting from their country’s “misery” and this has served to increase the popularity of pirates as ransom payments are viewed by Somalis ashore as legitimate taxation.
Yet, what does the international community do? It invests resources in deterrence at sea. In all likelihood, the international community would achieve better results if it were to devote the time and resources it is using on its naval forces and protecting its commercial interests to reconstructing Somalia.
Indeed, the actions of the international community since the ouster of Siad Barre in 1991 have failed to rein in warlords and insurgent groups. It is time to change tack and accept to work with the government that emerges in Somalia, regardless of its ideological affiliation.
It is important to realise that Somalia is more complex than just a “failed state”. Since 1991, what was formerly the Somali Democratic Republic has disintegrated into numerous factions.
Somalia is, therefore, more of a “them” than an “it”. Somalia’s problems are a confluence of internal and external factors. Internally, clannism and clan cleavages have been exploited by different factions to gain political leverage and profiteer from the country’s informal economy. Externally, it is the international community’s current and previous policies on the war against terror and attempts to impose a government, that have served to reinforce the historic mistrust of the West and to buttress Somalia’s political weakness, including strengthening of religious extremism.
While the problems in Somalia are too complex for a quick solution, without a government acceptable to the majority of Somalis, achieving lasting peace remains unlikely. While there are war profiteers who are keen to maintain the status quo, the misery and despair of the majority of Somalis will continue to push, especially young people into criminal activities.
The only time in the past two decades when Somalia assumed a semblance of peace was in 2006 during the six months rule of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). During this period, crime levels, including, piracy, subsided. The ICU was able to keep at bay warlords and militia groups because they enjoyed popular support and were seen as a legitimate authority. But they were considered by sections of the international community as having links with al Qaeda.
The moderate Islamic Transitional Federal Government (TFG), that was seen as the best prospect for stability when it took over in early 2009, looks like a Western proxy imposed upon the people and has, thus, failed to assert its authority over Somalia’s territory.
The international community should not fear the possibility of an al Shabaab government. It should, instead, accept an Islamist authority and work with it while discouraging extremist tendencies.
Unless there is a decisive change in the international community’s involvement in Somalia, continued external meddling will only prolong and worsen the conflict and further radicalise the population.