Somalia is a failed state but teaches African countries useful lessons


By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Friday, February 24, 2012

At long last, there is something on the horizon to assure us that the decades-long Somali crisis will be tackled to restore sanity to the Horn of Africa and relieve the world of a major headache. Somalia may be suffering the negative backlash of political instability but the world feels the pinch when the Somali pirates strike vessels plying the Indian Ocean. In a fell swoop, the international community wants to kill many birds with one stone—a resolute determination to eradicate en bloc al-Shabab, the terrorist group!

World leaders representing 55 countries and organizations gathered in London early this week for a conference on Somalia to boost support for measures to fight piracy, terrorism, and political instability in Somalia. They can’t do so without confronting al-Shabab with decisive measures.

The conference agreed on a seven-point plan promising more humanitarian aid, support for African Union peacekeepers, and better international co-ordination. Highlights of that agreement included measures to:

  • back the handover of power from the transitional government to an inclusive administration by August;
  • provide more support for African Union peacekeepers;
  • better co-ordinate humanitarian aid, shifting focus to long-term needs; and
  • crack down on piracy by expanding on agreements to bring suspects to trial in countries away from Somalia (BBC News, February 25, 2012)

All peace-lovers and Somali nationals, especially, must welcome this decisive move. The protracted Somali crisis has wrought too much suffering and must be tackled expeditiously.

Ever since the US forces pulled out of Somalia in 1994, the international community hasn’t been very much concerned or deeply involved in solving the Somali crisis until now. For nearly two decades, the situation in the Horn of Africa fell off the international radar screen while law and order broke down completely both on land and at sea. For many years, any discourse about Somalia is filled with nothing but ugly narratives of carnage.

The danger that Somali pirates pose to the maritime industry can’t be under-estimated. In a destabilized environment where there is no political authority to control human behaviour, anything goes. That’s the free-for-all situation in Somalia that has spawned al-Shabab and the pirates.

Probably, the anti-piracy measures taken over the years have somehow made the presence of the international community felt. But one might say that the fight against piracy has more to do with protecting their own interests than doing anything decisive to solve the country’s political and security problems.

Now that concrete measures are being taken to crush al-Shabab, we can only hope that such measures don’t end up in smoke as previous ones have.

Indeed, the harm being done by al-Shabab won’t destabilize only Somalia. It is widespread and has already cut across national borders to negatively affect neighbouring countries, especially Kenya, which has begun seeing terrorist activities carried out by al-Shabab on its soil. It is a matter of course, then, that Kenya and Ethiopia will be particularly vehement in taking the fight to al-Shabab and joining forces with the international community to wipe it out completely. Wiping out al-Shabab will serve the interests of that part of Africa, the maritime zone, and the world, generally.

Although the African Union’s own efforts to solve the problem have yielded some limited positive results, the situation hasn’t been handled expeditiously. We acknowledge the important role of the AU’s detachment of peacekeepers in Somalia and commend Uganda and other countries whose troops are in the forefront, confronting the al-Shabab menace head-on.

Other African countries that haven’t contributed troops to the peacekeeping force may have their own reasons but now that the international community has risen up to confront al-Shabab, it behooves them to complement such efforts through concrete contributions. No political rhetoric is needed at this stage. It is time for action and all must respond positively as such.

Somalia presents a particular conundrum that is suggestive of how a failed state can become a major problem not only unto itself but also to others. We recall the era of its former leader, Siad Barre, and regret that his rule failed to develop the country for it to stand on its own feet. Thus, when he fell, the cracks in the body politic quickly widened to force the country down unto its knees. The breakdown of law and order is responsible for the turmoil that the country has been in since 1991.

What seems to have worsened the situation and galvanized the international community into converging at the London conference is the unholy alliance between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda. Were al-Shabab to be operating on its own without any succour being provided by other terrorist organizations, one might easily perceive its operations as “localized” and, therefore, containable over time.

But the decision by its leadership to team up with the dreaded al-Qaeda is not only alarming but it is also indicative of the extent to which al-Shabab wants to drag the Somali conflict. Knowing very well the devastation that al-Qaeda can wreak on society, the international community couldn’t sit by idly for it to spread its tentacles to Africa or other areas to gain any foothold and turn Africa into part of the world’s major terrorist hub.

The measures outlined at the London conference should have every peace-lover’s backing and be enforced to the full. It is only then that the wings of these terrorist elements can be clipped tight. Otherwise, we allow them to fly at our peril.

Since terrorist organizations thrive on military hardware and other instruments of violence, it is important for the international community to intensify their intelligence-gathering and investigation mechanisms to trace and eliminate all sources of supply. It will be counter-productive for the international community (especially the United States) to spend so much money solving the Somali crisis only for arms-producing or smuggling syndicates in their own systems to continue supplying dangerous weapons to sustain the terrorist activities of these al-Shaba/al-Qaeda elements. It is important that all the screws be tightened to squeeze out these terrorist elements and deny them any access to such dangerous weapons.

More importantly, effective surveillance needs to be mounted to trace all the kingpins of these terrorist movements for liquidation. The monitoring of the Somali airspace and consequent strikes on al-Shabab targets by unmanned US drones is a good measure to be sustained. Even if the US doesn’t favour any direct military strikes or injection of its troops into the African forces operating in Mogadishu, it is important that the US should resource all the official units set up to confront al-Shabab.

I am confident that attacking al-Shabab from all fronts will narrow down its operational capabilities and eventually squeeze it out of contention. For far too long, it has had too much sway to make the situation too fluid. Now is the time to snuff out this terrorist organization to help the political establishment regain full control over the country and work hard to restore normalcy into national life.

Time is of the essence because of the August 2012 limit for the tenure of the transitional government to expire. If no concrete accomplishments are made to put the necessary political structures in place, Somalia will have no framework for governance, which will deepen its woes.

As the international community gingers up support for its measures, it is imperative for the AU to give its maximum support to their efforts. For the measures to succeed, the AU will have to make its own mechanisms compatible with what the international community is bringing in. It means that the AU must have a strong and united, collective voice to support the measures to be enforced. Anything short of that will demoralize the international community and water down the force of its measures.

From a wider perspective, the various African leaders must learn lessons from the Somali turbulence so as not to do what will plunge their countries into similar circumstances. We have situations in several countries to worry about. What happened to Gaddafi is still fresh in our minds; we know that his firm grips on power and his particular manner of handling national affairs weren’t the best for his country. After his death, we see the security problems facing Libya.

Other countries—including Zimbabwe— also have serious problems, waiting to explode if the “strongmen” ruling them leave the scene. The likelihood of such countries imploding as Somalia has done is high.

What is currently happening in Senegal is a good demonstration of how the greed for power and the penchant for prolonging one’s tenure easily become the incubators for national destabilization. The intransigence of Abdoulaye Wade and his manipulation of the constitution and the electoral process have already caused much headache and will definitely plunge Senegal into turmoil unless sanity prevails.

Abdoulaye Wade’s example is a sorry one. He is not favoured in as many ways to seek another term as he would deceive himself into believing. Old and senile as he is—although he claims he is still vibrant—at 85 years (that is, even if that is an accurate record), he has seen better days (even if he did so as an opposition leader for decades).

He may have good academic and professional credentials (as a lawyer and economist), but he can’t cheat Nature. What does he think he has to deliver, after already ruling the country for almost 15 years? Is it now that he has discovered the magic wand to solve his country’s problems? He is a spent force who must leave the scene to avoid turning an otherwise stable Senegal into turmoil. Probably, the Cassamance rebels may be gearing up to cash in on the situation.

By his morbid desire to have a third term in office, in the teeth of opposition, Abdoulaye Wade has sown dangerous seeds that will blossom into national disaster unless something drastic happens on Sunday to make him lose the general elections—and to know that he can’t undermine the will of the people. If he insists on having his way, Senegal will also go down in history as a sad case of negative politics in Africa. Why are African leaders more interested in perpetuating themselves in power than using that power to solve their countries’ problems and to leave the scene after the constitutionally mandated term of office?

Putting together everything, then, we can say that the problems facing Somalia (and all other African countries lined up to follow suit) are mostly self-created. They are the results of avid greed for power and the wicked intentions that inform such a penchant, which the leaders misuse to perpetuate their rule and create intractable problems. Long after they’ve left the scene, such problems continue to defy solution. The main question, then is: Why is it that it is only in Africa that we have such a predominance of this kind of negative politics?

Somalia may qualify as a failed state; but its experiences provide useful lessons for all other African countries to learn. If they do so, they will avoid falling into the same trap. Otherwise, they will continue to be pooh-poohed as the white man’s burden.



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