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Issue 526/ 25th Feb - 2nd Mar 2012
Solutions To Problems Lie In The Country
By Alex de Waal
Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has convened a big international meeting on Somalia.
The tasks: stopping piracy in the Indian Ocean, uprooting terrorism, relieving a famine and ending a civil war. The approach: Western ships, U.S. drones, African soldiers and international money for the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu.
This is all very laudable, except for one thing: It won't work.
The transitional government, established in 2004, has no credibility, in part because it could not exist without foreign backing. In fact, many Somalis don't want a central government.
The international community's insistence on establishing a government - almost any government - in Somalia is based on a faulty understanding of what has gone wrong there. Conventional wisdom has it that the collapse of the Somali state in 1991 led to civil war and anarchy, and then to a famine and a failed American intervention ("Black Hawk Down").
After that came piracy, infiltration by Al Qaeda and another famine, this one exacerbated by the hostility of the newly empowered Shabab fundamentalist militia toward Western aid agencies.
While broadly true, this account is incomplete. First forgotten fact: The most vicious and widespread wars in Somalia happened in 1988-90, before the government of President Mohammed Siad Barre collapsed. That regime was not only a vile dictatorship; it also reduced the army to a coalition of mercenary clan militias whose lawlessness and looting subsequently triggered repeated crises.
Second forgotten fact: For quite a lot of Somalia and for quite a lot of the last 20 years, quite a lot of things have worked. Above all the country has a booming private sector, self-regulating and helped by the country's simple monetary policy (no one can print banknotes).
The efficient, informal hawala system of money transfer allows the Somali diaspora to send money home. And Somalis enjoy one of the cheapest and most modern mobile phone networks in Africa, if not the world.
Somali society has functioned for centuries without a state, on the basis of kinship, customary law and Islam. These traditions survive.
The best results of such politics are most visible in the northern half of Somalia, far from the international community's gaze. There, Somali elders and businessmen have created a functioning democratic state (the Republic of Somaliland) and, next door to it, an effective self-governing region (Puntland). The international community can help Somalia function, but only if it takes it cues from Somalia's own successes.
Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.
Source: Business Daily