Somalia’s Last Chance

While the current Somali transitional government is by no means perfect, there are at least a couple of things it has been doing right- putting in place various apparatuses to pave the way for good governance, and laying the foundation to reestablish law and order. Granted, these two developments are only moving at a snail’s-pace.

Furthermore, these kinds of developments are not as appealing as the reports of lawlessness, corruption, violence and piracy, thus they seldom get reported. When it comes to reporting news, especially as it pertains to other non ally countries, there seems to be a prevalent norm that predictably gravitates toward the negative. Positive is boring!

So, if one’s impression about Somalia is based on reports by that same media who, by and large, rely on scoops gathered by amateur local reporters that they then cosmetically polish in the comforts of their offices thousands of miles away from the scene , one is likely to hold a blurred picture about the reality on the ground. And, it is no surprise that some policy advocates are so credulously misinformed, they declare Somalia a hopeless case; and that the United States and the international community should totally disengage from that country and to leave to its own diabolical vices.

One of the main factors that caused the failure of the so-called global war on terrorism was that fact that it ignored how the feeling of hopelessness inspires desperate and destructive acts. As the individual grows more dangerous when consumed by a sense of hopelessness so do groups and nations. There is enough psychological research available to confirm that the feeling of desperation triggers survival instincts that know only one rule: by any means necessary.

This is not to downplay the enormity of the task required to help the transitional government restore law and order… but to point out that abandoning Somalia at this critical juncture could simply worsen the situation. While it is true that the U.S. foreign policy of the previous administration and the role of AMISOM have further radicalized more Somalis, the abovementioned alternative could be a recipe for disaster- not only for Somalia, but for the region and perhaps beyond. AMISOM earned a bad reputation during the two year Ethiopian occupation of Somalia. To improve its image and regain credibility, certain Muslim countries must be persuaded to send their troops.

Given the right political and economic support, the transitional government would step up to the challenge and assert its mandate to govern and set the stage for broad-based reconciliation that includes those al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam members who denounce violence, “Somaliland” and “Puntland”.

The current transitional government has the potential to surprise the cynics who are writing it off. Contrary to the common practice of the previous transitional governments, the current government is a coalition of Islamists and secularists. The inner circle of influence counseling President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke on various critical issues are diverse in terms of clan affiliation, educational background as well as age and experience. Not to mention that a good number of them come from the Somali Diaspora. So it is fair to say that for the first time something that resembles the genuine principle of inclusivity in political participation is shaping itself in Somalia.

Ironically though, the biggest hurdle hindering the sustainability of any immediate solution still remains to be the so-called’ 4.5 system’ in which the zero-sum clan-based competition for resources is institutionalized. Power, according to this system, is divided on an unbalanced scale that guarantees equal distribution to four major clans and a one half share for minority communities considered to be the riffraff of a clan-based society where might is rewarded.

However, the good news is: elements that could potentially dismantle this unjust system are on the move. Already, within the Somali Diaspora communities, various groups have started holding early political town hall meetings to develop their platform and form political parties that would run in the upcoming general elections a little over a year from now. And it is this latter development that is further boosting the hope of many active members of the Somali diaspora who have been yearning for stability and peace.

In its attempt to develop a comprehensive policy toward Somalia; were the United States to adopt the so-called “constructive disengagement” approach being pushed by the Council on Foreign Relations, it would only mean to completely abandon two elements critical to its national interest and security: repairing U.S.’ deeply damaged image in the Islamic world, and protecting America’s geopolitical interests. Prudently engaging Somalia provides an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.

Meanwhile, the alarm bells are ringing: pirates continue seizing commercial ships and vessels- over 200 attempts and 47 successes in 2009. Religious extremism, a phenomenon that Abukar Arman–”a Somali writer who was recently appointed Special Envoy to the US–”calls “radio-active ideology” masquerading as religion continues to spread. And, 3.5 million Somalis remain on the verge starvation.