Somalia: victim of war, famine and a pestilence of policy

Carne Ross writes:

The news from Somalia is grim. Last week, the UN declared a famine in two southern areas, calling the food crisis Africa’s worst since 1991-92 (which was also in Somalia). The UN estimates that a staggering 3.2 million people need urgent assistance.

The immediate cause of the crisis was the recurrent failure of seasonal rains across the Horn of Africa. But it will be exacerbated by the continuing instability in Somalia, where the internationally recognised (and appointed) government controls but a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu. The rest of the country is under the sway of various other groups, including the al-Shabaab militia. For most Somalis, the famine represents a deeper trough of an already existing and perpetual misery of abject poverty and instability.

International policy to stabilise Somalia has been a total failure. Yet, the same policies persist. In 2000, the “international community” set up what it thought was a legitimate government in Somalia, in an attempt to create a political consensus where none existed. Today, the so-called Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is neither transitional nor federal, nor even really a government, in that it offers no prospect of a transition to a more durable alternative, does not represent the rest of Somalia in a meaningful way, and, as a government, provides no services to its people, who did not elect it, in any case. The TFG is, in the words of a recent International Crisis Group report, “incompetent, corrupt and hobbled by weak leadership” and should be given a deadline to shape up, or be removed. Very few observers expect it to shape up: the current system pays the cabal who control it far too well.

Given the total absence of effective central authority, it cannot be a surprise that Somalia is fracturing into different statelets, some of which have existed as separate – and peaceful – entities for some time. In the north, Somaliland (which, for full disclosure, Independent Diplomat advises) declared its independence at the end of the civil war in 1991. Since then, it has built its own democratic institutions, held respectable elections and is governed peacefully by a new government that is widely respected. To Somaliland’s east, Puntland appears to be establishing itself as a separate state. And in the more lawless south, smaller self-governing enclaves are springing up, in Galmudug, and in Jubaland, along the Kenyan border.

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