A Failed State?

A semi-arid country with hardly any arable land faces the challenge of feeding its population of 9.1 million, a third of which depends on food aid. With a birth rate of 43.7 births/1000 population and a death rate of a staggering 15.5 deaths/1000, famine and diseases are the least of the problems of Somalia.

The country has lacked an effective central government since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. After the failure of the fourteenth transitional government, the state’s situation has deteriorated into the world’s worst humanitarian and security crisis. Insecurity, violence and desperate poverty have been the norm. Within the complex web of problems in Somalia is that of Piracy. Various international organizations such as the World Food Programme and International Maritime Organisation have shown concern over this issue. In 2009 US President Barack Obama said that Somali piracy has to be brought under control and has prompted Nato to take the lead in anti-piracy operations.

However, what is new is that this issue has once again gotten the world concerned over the goings on of this collapsed state. The Somalis have learnt to live under the circumstances where risk of death and bloodshed are unexceptional hazards. Losing faith in the government, the Somali diaspora have helped create informal sector businesses and a fairly well maintained private sector leading to a growing economy. The brave country has a GDP per capita of $333 which is greater than that of Ethopia and Tanzania. However, about 40% of the population thrives on less than US $1 a day.

Piracy, however is a symptom of a much bigger problem. The core of the crisis is the dire need of a political settlement. Somalia, is a clan based society. The warring clans fiefdoms have greatly divided the country. A strong administrative system is required for the reconciliation of these warring militias. The rising Islamists stood in the way of the establishment of a central government since 2006. The Islamist insurgents fought against the government winning control of most of Southern Somalia by late 2008.

The absence of a long-standing government led to the rise of piracy as the only means of survival for the population which has seen a civil war for the past 20 years, combats with grinding poverty and hunger, shifting alliances, and international intervention with a steady supply of unemployed young men and cheap weapons.

While the internationally recognized government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad struggles to gain control of is own capital city of Mogadishu, political stability remains a distant dream. In 2009, the Al-Shabab (maning ‘the youth’ in Arabic), drove Hizbul Islam out of the Southern port of the city and has declared its open alliance to Al-Qaeda emerging as the most powerful Islamic insurgent group in the region.

What Somalia needs is to end this internal warfare for which it requires international alliance which can be sought from nearby countries like Eritrea, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for training and equipping the country’s security forces.

An intriguing question is: Will Somalia see the return of UN peacekeeping forces in order to quell the chaos and lawlessness? This refreshes the memory of the 1993 peacekeeping mission when the bodies of the US soldiers were stripped naked and dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. What is expected of a peacekeeping mission is that the Al-Shabab will simply scatter and resurface once the peacekeepers run out of funds and leave forcing the region to become even more chaotic and dangerous.

This week Somalia’s 19th Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned as the government’s failure to put an end to Islamist insurgency and the death of thousands of civilians continues. The outside world has for too long seen Somalia as a threat to its own security as a major exporter of terror. The piracy issue appears to have a silver lining as it may lead to a greater, and more serious engagement of the world with Somalia’s political and developmental problems, perhaps encouraging involvement in ending its chronic instability.

Samana Ali


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