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Somalia: failed state falls deeper
by Newropeans-Magazine
2009-07-28 08:51:29
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Since 2005 the American think-tank Fund for Peace and the magazine Foreign Policy have published an annual failed state’s index, listing the worlds most vulnerable states facing the risk of a major collapse. For two years in a row, Somalia has taken the unwanted first position.

Somalia has been in a state of chaos and anarchy since the fall of dictator Said Barre in 1991. During the last two decades characterized by humanitarian, political and economic disasters, the international community have made several attempts to stabilize the situation in Somalia. However, all the standard prescriptions for troubled countries have proven to be unsuccesfull in the Horn of Africa state.

The UN Mission in Somalia (1992-1995) showed how even a benign intervention, such as protection of food delivery, can become violent and turn the intervener into a party to the conflict. In addition to being risky, dangerous and possible ineffective, military interventions are also domestically highly unpopular. Therefore, both the EU and the US have rejected calls from the African Union and Somalia's neighbours to deploy peace-keeping forces in the country.

Also diplomacy, the most common tool of foreign policy, has proven to be difficult in Somalia. In order to be succesfull, diplomacy depends on the diplomatic channels and existence of an effective and recognised state. However, this is not the case in the context of a failed state like Somalia. It has been extremely hard to find political leaders who are in a position to, first of all, negotiate and cooperate with the international community and secondly, to have enough influence to truly change the situation.

Because of the inefficiency and high risks of involvement, the international community has mostly just watched the Horn of Africa state falling into chaos and statelessness. However, during the last few years, the global consequences of the Somalian chaos have forced the international community to pay more attention to Somalia again.

Most visible the global consequences of Somalian chaos have been in the context of piracy. According to International Maritime Bureau, Somali pirates have mounted more than one hundred attacks and captured around fifty ships in Gulf of Aden. The amount of money spent on ransoms costs up to 40 million dollars. Currently, there is increasing evidence that the Somalian style kidnappings for ransom is being copied in other areas. So far, piracy has been reported among others in Nigeria, Yemen and Ghana.

In addition to piracy, rise of radical Islamism is another Somalian development gaining more international influence. In the spotlight there is al-Shabab, the radical Islamist insurgent group, who has spent the last few years building its military and financial strength. The latest reports indicate that increasing number of foreign jihadists have joined al-Shabab, who already controls large areas in southern-Somalia. al-Shabab also actively recruits members from the neighbouring states. This internationalization al-Shabab has increased the claims of its role as al-Qaeda's proxy in the Horn of Africa. It is also possible to draw connections to the rise of Taliban in Afganisthan, where international jihadists played a crucial role.

As the examples of piracy and radical Islamism show, the international community can not close its eyes from Somalia – or any other failing state. What started out as a local conflict in Somalia twenty years ago has now become an economical, political and humanitarian crisis that threats the stablity of the whole world. It has become obvious that the situation in Somalia can only be improved if the international community develops a deeper engagement. It is, however, important that the international community does not focus only on the symptoms of Somalian crisis, such as piracy and radical Islamism, but it tackles the reasons behind these symptoms.

Eighteen years of armed conflicts have destroyed Somalia’s economy and almost half of the population is in need of food aid. This means that there is a steady supply of unemployed young men without any future prospects, to whom piracy or radical Islamism offer an attempting opportunity to make a living. If famine and poverty are not solved, there is no end insight for the fights in Somalia and at the Gulf of Aden. Therefore the international community has to focus on improving the basic wellbeing of the Somali population. This is crucially important not only in diminishing the temptation to join the fighting groups, but also in creating a stable society. 

 Marko Kananen*
Wien, Austria

*Marko Tapio Kananen is social scientist specialised in the European Union, and journalist at Ideal Communications in Vienna


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