Somali solution on land after all


It is often said the solution for Somalia – whether the problem be pirates, al-Shabaab or chronic undergovernment – lies on land.

It has become something of a mantra, something people say to look clever. Few continue with any useful suggestions what that solution might be. Be that as it may, it seems the claim may well be correct – though the land concerned is not Mogadishu but New York and Addis Ababa.

In an article entitled “Somalia: Where a State Isn’t a State”( Peter Pham infers the major obstacle to a resolution are the diplomats. “For years, the United Nations, the African Union, and neighbouring countries, as well as Western governments and donor groups have tried to pressure, cajole, and bribe Somalis into going along with the charade that Somalia was still a state. The reality is that it has long ceased to be a state; meanwhile, what are at least potentially viable successor states, if not already such in all but name, continue to be denied such recognition. The true cost of this inability to acknowledge reality, whether willful or unconscious, has after two decades been measured not only in billions of dollars in wasted aid and the costs exacted by war and piracy, but, tragically, in countless lost and shattered lives.”

In “Somalia: Insurgency and legitimacy in the context of state collapse” (in Victory among people: Lessons from countering insurgency and stabilising fragile states, David Richards and Greg Mills [editors], Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, London, 2011), Pham quotes an analyst as saying: “The UN, Western governments and donors have tried repeatedly to build a strong central government – the kind of entity they are most comfortable dealing with – in defiance of local sociopolitical dynamics and regional history.”

Pham quotes Australian counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen as follows: “Somalia is virtually a laboratory test case, with the south acting as a control group against the experiment in the north. We have the same ethnic groups, in some cases the same clans or even the same people, coming out of the same civil war and the same famine and humanitarian disaster, resulting from the collapse of the same state, yet you see completely different results arising from a bottom-up peace-building process based on local-level rule of law [in Somaliland and Puntland] versus a top-down approach based on putting in place a ‘grand bargain’ at the elite level [in Mogadishu]. (David Kilcullen, Counterinsurgency, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2010, p156.)
“The stubborn refusal to acknowledge this reality results in the repeated capture of otherwise well-intentioned efforts by the very spoiler elites – the type of individuals who are the habitués of ‘peace processes’ – whose lack of legitimacy provoked the crisis in the first place,” Pham concludes. No surprise then that the current transitional “government”, the 15th attempt at a grand settlement, is floundering. But then, the search for a solution has little to do with Somalia. Rather, it is the quest for personal aggrandisement, a deal that will coin the next “statesman” or land some official the me and fortune a book deal can bring.