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
Unfortunately, the international community, 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.
Deterrence at sea
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
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
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 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 now 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.