Somalia: Exploring A Way Out

Authors: Dr. Osman Farah Abdulkadir, Dr. Abdurahaman Abdullahi (Baadiyow), Dr. Yusuf Nur, Mr. Abdurahman Wandati and Mr. H. A. Dirie, Ibrahim Sh. Ahmed Mohamed, Ibrahim Abikar Noor and Abdirizak Mahboub.

Aug 7, 2012

1.1. Understanding the Problem

Somalia is for many students and researchers of state development, the best example of total state failure in contemporary society. This is not just a case of labeling and misapplication of development lingua. Indeed, there is not much of an academic debate going on the accuracy of this notion. For many, the violent conflicts, especially in central and Southern Somalia, the appalling humanitarian situation resulting from the breakdown of public service delivery, the illegal activities of alleged terrorist groups within Somalia as well as the involvement of neighbouring states in Somalia, are the prominent features of an underdeveloped state. The current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is facing serious challenges in administering the parts of the country under its control. Communities have not been reconciled with one another and bad blood fuels the conflicts. Economically, there is a high level of unemployment, extremely low levels of human development and an overdependence on remittances (Menkhaus, 2010). 

It is necessary at this stage, to recall the difference between a ‘nascent’ and a ‘failed’ state as advanced by Peter Halden (2008), in reference to the Somalia case. We do not want to detain ourselves here with a detailed consideration of what the actual differences may be, but suffice it to say that this is intellectually intriguing. The thrust of Halden’s argument is that Somalia may only be a young state, at early stages of state development, facing the hurdles along the way that have been faced by other states that are considered much more developed than Somalia. Even in analysis of political transitions in more established states, this point is often made. For some, it even provides a rationale for the political violence and other unacceptable acts of political actors in electoral contests, especially in less developed countries. It is all a matter of political (im)maturity, which comes with time. To the extent that there is no consensus on the ‘stages’ of democratization and their characteristics, this argument is difficult to accept, whether in the case of Somalia or indeed any other state.
Giving some credence to Halden’s arguments has the potential of rekindling the hope long lost by many on the future of Somalia. However, an extension of the debate into whether state failure is synonymous with a breakdown in public order – suggesting that a broken down public order does not necessarily amount to state failure – borders on intellectual mischief that might confuse our understanding of the actual problems at hand and introduce  a rather unhelpful debate. As demonstrated above, the effects of state failure in Somalia are not really contestable. Furthermore, an examination of the history of Somalia clearly shows that total state collapse in Somalia is the result of a degeneration of state systems in the country over the last twenty years. When then Zambia’s president Kenneth Kaunda visited Somalia in 1968, he sat between then President Sharmarke and former President Osman and remarked “Somalia is the only country in the world where a reigning president and his predecessor enjoy state parties together. Elsewhere in the continent, the former leaders are in jail, exile or worse” (Samarta, I, 2006). There can be no better illustration that Somalia was once a stable democracy. Something went wrong in the post-independence period and especially during the Siad Barre regime.

There are both internal and external factors that led to this  situation. Internally, the repressive regime of Siad Barre not only generated enormous discontent and rebellion at home but also contributed to the minimal involvement of the international community in resolving the crisis that was gathering storm in the country. In the early 1980s, Somalia had one of the highest per rates of foreign aid in the world (Menkhaus, 2008). External factors had to do with the end of the cold war, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991 and the declining importance of satellite support for the western and eastern blocs of the cold war era. Closer to Somalia, Ethiopia’s security interests are closely linked to the capability and character of the state in Somalia. Indeed, since the 1990s, Ethiopia has remained the single most important country pursuing an overt strategy to watch over political developments in Somalia and seek to influence them openly. Lately, Uganda and Burundi have also sent troops to help keep the fragile peace in the country.

What is at issue, in the views shared by most authors in this volume, is not really the determination of whether or not Somalia is a failed state.  Papers in this volume are rich in their coverage of the historical antecedents to the situation in present day Somalia. The authors bravely face the hard questions on state recovery in Somalia. They also exercise considerable modesty in the recommendations that they make, knowing fully well that there is no single ‘right answer’ to any of the dilemmas. A fundamental question may very well be: ‘what is the ideal we want to see in Somalia, in terms of state formation and state character?’ There are no normative concepts to follow even in our understanding of state development. What is important is to carry out an analysis of the objective conditions in Somalia and offer suggestions drawn from these realities. There are varied proposals and the papers in this volume add fresh ideas to the propositions already under debate. One of the most fascinating of these is the suggestion that Somalia requires something between anarchy and the former Barre regime. This may be far-fetched, but the crucial point is that no known ‘ideal’ systems can be replicated in Somalia; not even liberal democracy for all its much vaunted suitability in poor countries.

–Full Document Here