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Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland

It is of no surprise that the recently released ‘Index of African Governance’ compiled by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation registers Somalia at the bottom of the league table out of the 53 African states surveyed. Somalia is unquestionably a ‘failed state’.

In yesterday’s posting the Forum concluded that Kenya’s military action in Somalia was necessary (we didn’t ‘welcome’ it, who in their right mind ‘welcomes’ military conflict?) but we also believe that long-term the problems of Somalia will not be solved by force alone.

Somalia has not had a properly functioning government for 20 years, the last one being swept away in 1991. Since then the country has been ruled by competing militias in the south and by semi-autonomous governments in the northern regions of Somaliland and Puntland.

The south of Somalia has been blighted by the factional infighting which in turn has helped cause widespread lawlessness and poverty, and exacerbated a drought into a famine. These in turn have led to mass migration and the deaths of perhaps 80,000 Somalis since the more recent famine began.

The poor, the displaced and all those without hope are fertile ground for corruption, the influence of religious fanatics, and the lures of piracy. The latter brings wealth to some in Somalia (there is estimated to have been $400 million paid in ransoms) but at a cost of further dysfunction in the country’s society and at a monetary cost to the world of between $7bn and $12bn per year (source, The Economist, 15-21 October).

The recent killings and kidnappings on the Kenyan coast perpetrated by Somali ‘pirates’ (it is believed) brought the problems on Kenya’s border into sharper focus. Action had to be taken and it has been but this presents only a short-term solution. After all, military action in the region, which failed, was attempted in 1992 by the Americans and 2006 by Ethiopia.

The longer-term solution to Somalia’s problems rests not with Kenya, or ‘the West’, or anyone else (although we can all help). The solution to Somalia’s problems rests in Somalia, with the Somali people, and in particular in Mogadishu.

At present the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is not working. To Somalis it just seems to be another faction in power: ineffective, corrupt and backed by foreigners. Yes, the TFG, supported by African Union forces, has made headway in driving Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu but outside the capital (if Mogadishu can really be called a ‘capital’ city) the terrorists’ writ runs large.

Somalia may be divided by clans but its people are a remarkably homogenous lot, not divided by race or tribe, speaking the same language and pretty much living in the same culture. They could, eventually, come together as a nation.


For Somalia to progress the TGF, or a successor ‘government’, must forge a new administration of national unity, bringing together the factions, and yes, including Islamist groups, and they in turn must institute reforms that will result in the rule of law replacing lawlessness and sound governance replacing anarchy.

The pirates need to be caught and jailed. The people behind the pirates (believed to hail mainly from the Gulf region), should also be pursued.

Kenya can help, so can South Africa, Nigeria, ‘the West’ and others. Famine relief and support for the refugee camps is going to be needed for some time to come and naval patrols will help secure the coast.

Most importantly, however, southern Somalia needs to be developed economically so that it can become self-sustaining. More support for fishing and livestock exports would be a start. Infrastructure development – the building of roads and bridges for example, would help long term (although some level of peace will have to be attained before building could begin). This is not a dream, or just the product of wishful thinking. Somaliland and Puntland are relatively thriving while southern Somalia suffers from famine and death amid chaos.

Guns can quell and suppress. Political deals can maintain for a while. Long-term, however, an economically viable state in which people have the opportunity to earn a living by legitimate means, under the rule of at least some semblance of law, is the solution to eradicating the pirates and Al-Shabaab. It can be done but ultimately only the Somalis can make it happen.

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