“The World’s Most Failed State”


Seized by corruption; desperate for liberation. With the country drowning under the grasp of a vicious, totalitarian military dictatorship, a revolution erupted in the Horn of Africa: a rampant rhino, ebulliently stampeding for justice. Yet, as President Siad Barre’s central government collapsed in 1991, Somalia became arrested by a malignant parasite, a cancer which infested the entire country. In 2006, a robust Islamist insurgency emerged, dismantling the tribal hierarchy; usurping the warlords and assuming regional hegemony throughout Somalia, particularly in the South. A futile Ethiopian intervention merely galvanised radical Islamic sentiment. Enemy clans united against the foreign invader which was perceived as a belligerent Christian crusade. Somalia’s blight grew; Al-Shabaab, a vanguard for Somali Islamist militancy, consumed the dilapidating country. This year, the militant group officially attached itself to al-Qaeda, joining their global Jihad. Nihilistically, the callous guerrilla regime recruit young teenagers, kidnapping them from schools or forcibly removing them from their homes; propaganda is obsolete, torture is terribly persuasive. Tattered rags cling to their bodies; ammunition flung on as if it were a golden waistcoat – formal army uniform for children as young as eight years old. A merciless carnage has now polluted the country for over two decades. Amidst the turmoil, over one million Somalis have died. As well as this, approximately 2.5 million embattled civilians – a third of the population – have been displaced, seeking sanctuary from the mayhem.

“The gains made could be reversed if the conflict worsens”

Senait Gebregzibher
Head of Operations for Oxfam in Somalia

On the 20th July 2011, the UN officially declared that a cruel famine had struck Somalia, born from the worst drought in sixty years. As desolation began to contaminate the land, starving and despairing Somalis fled to Kenya and Ethiopia for help. Media reports spoke of famished mothers trudging through refugee camps in Kenya with dead children strapped to their backs. Ignorantly, al-Shabaab – not wanting to be humiliated – incarcerated starved Somalis in internment camps, summarily executing those who tried to escape. The vehemently anti-Western militia, who controlled the two southern provinces that were hit the hardest, expelled all Western aid agencies; only al-Qaeda emissaries were permitted access. However, when the scale of the catastrophe became acutely apparent, they tentatively relented, allowing aid groups to return. A total of $1.57 billion in aid was donated and last month the UN formally declared the famine over, thanks to agricultural and humanitarian aid as well as good rains which yielded a harvest that was double the average of the past seventeen years. However, the situation is still gravely precarious with the UN warning that a staggering 2.34 million people are at a high risk of becoming victims to the clasp of malnutrition and insecurity. Head of Operations for Oxfam in Somalia, Senait Gebregziabher, warned, “Insecurity is already disrupting the supply of aid to tens of thousands of people at a critical time in the crisis. The gains made could be reversed if the conflict worsens.” In spite of between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths – half of which were children under five – al-Shabaab still threaten to throw the country into further disorder. Last month, the rebels banned the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Somali pirates surrender in the face of an overwhelming navy presence

In recent years, Somalia has become notorious for harbouring pirates. Estimates suggest that at least sixty seafarers have died as a result of the ferocious pirate’s voyages, with dozens more people frequently being captured hostage, enduring brutal and sadistic torture. Leading seafarers’ organisations claim the treatment of prisoners has drastically deteriorated. Sailors have been suspended upside down for hours, severely beaten, dumped overboard or even keelhauled – a barbaric ordeal which involves being tied to a rope before one is dragged under the ship from one side to other; a punishment which often results in decapitation or drowning. Almost twenty-five warships from various nations now simultaneously patrol the Indian Ocean in an attempt to prohibit piracy. This tougher stance adopted by the international community saw a significant drop in successful pirate attacks with only twenty-five vessels being seized in 2011 compared to forty-seven the previous year, according to the European Union Naval Force of Somalia. However, the overall number of attempted attacks continues to increase with the cost to the global economy soaring to $7 billion in 2011. Whilst officials maintain that the coercion is effective, many worry that the greater employment of private mercenaries on ships and international navies may simply be fuelling a growing arms race, a conflict degenerating into unrestricted warfare and producing a rising fatalities as pirate raids become increasingly violent.

Following the October 1993 ‘Blackhawk Down’ debacle – a disastrous American mission in which a battle that ravaged Mogadishu led to the deaths of eighteen US servicemen and over a thousand Somalis – world powers have been hesitant to intervene thus failing to halt the plight of Somalia. However, this year the international community has finally ascertained the gravity of the desolate situation in Somalia and has started to invest time into drawing up a solution to curb the degeneration of the failing state. Last month, William Hague became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Somalia in twenty years. Hague remarked, “For the security of the UK, it matters a lot for Somalia to become a more stable place.” His arrival in Mogadishu served as an impetus for a profound diplomatic push to bring stability to the country he described as “The world’s most failed state.”

William Hague became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit war-torn Somalia in over twenty years

Following Hague’s visit, a major international conference was held in London. In a final communiqué, the fifty-five countries and organisations which had gathered in London agreed to: support the exchange of power from the transitional government to an inclusive administration; provide more support for African Union peacekeepers; increase and co-ordinate humanitarian aid – shifting focus to long-term needs – and resolutely cracking down further on piracy. During the conference, a new international “stability fund” was agreed upon, with the UK donating £20 million to the most deprived districts in Somalia. It is also expected that the UK will announce a package of healthcare, food and sanitation assistance for 150,000 Somali refugees currently in Kenya.

Attendees at the conference made it clear that it was paramount for the current transitional government to dissolve when its mandate expires in August. In its place, foreign officials hope a new government, more representative and accountable, will draw up a new constitution for Somalia. Sally Healy, an expert on the Horn of Africa, argued that the conference’s recommendations had been vague enough to allow for self-determination within Somalia, “I’m delighted that it doesn’t prescribe anything firm to follow the transitional government. It creates an opportunity for Somalis to occupy a political space and come up with their own political processes”, she said.

“It authorises AMISOM to use all necessary means to reduce the threat from al-Shabaab”

Mark Lyall Grant
British Ambassador to NATO

In addition to this, the UN Security Council voted to increase an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia to nearly 18,000 troops. There are currently around 12,000 troops in the country; the resolution will increase this by 5,000, bringing the total to 17,731. AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia), which has been in the country since 2007, has recently had a string of crucial victories, taking control of Mogadishu last August and beginning to drive al-Shabaab fighters out of the south of the country. The resolution also expanded AMISOM’s mandate. The British ambassador to NATO, Mark Lyall Grant, explained, “For the first time it authorises AMISOM to use all necessary means to reduce the threat from al-Shabaab, and therefore to conduct more robust and offensive operations.” As well as this, crucially, the resolution imposed a ban on the export of Somali charcoal, the primary source of funding for the rebels, often referred to as “black gold.”

At the concluding press conference in London, Somalia’s Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, told journalists he would welcome “targeted air strikes against al-Shabaab.” In response to questions about targeted air strikes in Somalia, a source from Whitehall remarked: “There was no political will on this to begin with, but that has been changing. We know where the camps are, where they set up and where they launch from.” The US is already beginning to embark on a greater militarised mission in Somalia, and has begun missile strikes from unmanned drones against members of al-Shabaab. However, CIA drone strikes, particularly those in Pakistan, have proved controversial. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism believes that between 2,383 and 3,109 people have been killed, of whom 463 to 815 were civilians. The head of the British military, General Sir David Richards, also alluded to undergo military action in Somalia. “Treating the causes of instability and terrorism at source is better and cheaper than dealing with the consequences, as Somalia’s piracy demonstrates”, he said.

“It encourages violent jihad not just in Somalia but also outside Somalia”

David Cameron
British Prime Minister

Representatives from several Somali factions attended the conference in London; however, al-Shabaab was not invited. The militant group retorted by denouncing the London conference as an exercise to colonise Somalia. “They want us under trusteeship and we will not allow that. God willing we will face the outcome with full force and stop it”, exclaimed al-Shabaab spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage. US secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, ruled out talks with al-Shabaab, explaining, “It is not on the side of peace, stability or the Somali people.”

One of the fundamental motives for the conference in London was to combat global terrorism.  In 2010, MI5 director-general Jonathan Evans warned that it was “only a matter of time” before militants trained in Somali camps inspired insurrection and acts of violence in UK. Up to 200 foreigners, including 40 Britons, have taken a pilgrimage to Somali training camps in the past six years, in a comparable manner much to that in which extremists travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1990s. David Cameron said, “al-Shabaab is an organisation that has now explicitly linked itself to al-Qaeda, and it encourages violent jihad not just in Somalia but also outside Somalia.”

Iran, Qatar and Turkey are also diplomatically active in Somalia, with Turkey planning to hold a conference in June focusing on humanitarian efforts in Somalia. Turkey has opened relief camps in Somalia as well as establishing a new embassy in Mogadishu – Britain’s ambassador is currently based in Nairobi, Kenya. Turkish firms have also begun major reconstruction projects in Somalia, including the building of a major airport.

However, under the veneer of altruism, Western motives for pursuing the pacification of Somalia appear to be tarnished by an exploitative greed. Britain is already involved in negotiations with the relevant Somali authorities, bureaucratically offering humanitarian aid and security assistance in exchange for monopolisation of Somalia’s future energy industry. Last month oil exploration began in Puntland by the Canadian company Africa oil – the first drilling in Somalia for over twenty-one years. Surveys indicate that the Puntland province alone may contain ten billion barrels worth of oil – an alluring, lucrative black liquid deposit valued at over $1 trillion.

Vast oil reserves have recently been discovered in Somalia

Yet, it is the extensive oil deposits beneath the Indian Ocean that is most exciting eager Somali officials and arousing interest from voracious Western nations. The oil reserves could yield more than one hundred billion barrels worth of oil, eclipsing Nigeria’s reserves – thirty-seven billion barrels – and making Somalia the seventh largest oil-rich nation.

However, many in Somalia are sceptical, believing that the UK’s interest in Somalia is shadowed by an imperialist agenda – viewing the UK as a foreign invader. Already a new militia, led by Sheik Atom, has formed around Puntland’s oilfields to prevent Western pillaging.

Somalia is a labyrinth of complexity and convolution. Earlier this year David Cameron confessed that a solution to Somalia’s problems was like a “jigsaw puzzle.” The initial restoration of a transitional government was established not to tackle the root cause of state collapse and conflict, but rather as a manifestation of counterterrorism strategy in the global War on Terror. Tragically, international aid has been manipulated as a means to achieve political goals for a corrupted government in Somalia. Humanitarian organisations have their independence and neutrality ignored by Western nations and their doctrines; the punishing of peoples struggling under the authoritarian rule of al-Shabaab jeopardises the relief movement by encouraging more Somali’s into the vengeful, merciless grasp of militant radicalism. In addition to this, disillusioned, idealist notions of a centralised state must be relinquished and local rule strengthened; Somali clan politics and their legitimacy is not built by elections, it is determined by their record for achieving progress.  Also, international efforts need to be grounded in philanthropy, not profiteering. Many military analysts believe the Kenyans and Ethiopians are simply establishing buffer zones in Somalia to protect their commercial interests. Meanwhile, EU mega-trawler fleets are constantly hovering up depleting fish stocks, depriving local fishermen of an honest living and driving them to seek an illicit, but sustainable, income from piracy.

Exhausted, the despairing screams echo; isolated by an anarchy which leaves a bloodied trail of destruction. Will the world answer?


Discussion3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Excellent article, thank you very much. Assuming that you know a lot more than me due to your research, I have a few questions.

    1) Do you know if the 2.5 million people who are displaced are displaced internally displaced or have gone to other countries (or both)

    2) To what extent are Al-Shabaab allowing external groups in now (And when did that start, because the last time I saw they said no to everyone)

    3) Do you know where is best to look for details about the London meeting

    4) How come there is an official govt, and how legitimate are they. I was under the impression that Al-Shabaab was ruling most of the country (albeit by martial law), so it would seem difficult to have elections of any sort.

    5) Is it at all clear how much genuine support Al-Shabaab or even general anti-foreign Islamist groups have?

    Sorry for throwing so many questions at you, I imagine you have spent a lot of time researching already, so if you don’t want to spend more time I fully understand!

    Thanks again for the article 🙂

    • avatar

      In response to your questions:

      1) Approximately 463,000 Somali refugees now live in Dadaab, a camp inside Kenya. The other displaced peoples are dispersed internally and externally, many of whom have been fleeing the anarchic chaos in the Southern provinces of Somalia.

      2) Al-Shabaab briefly allowed aid workers back in once the despairing scale of the famine became acutely apparent however they have now begun to prohibit external involvement. One can assume greater military intervention will lead to an increased isolationist sentiment amongst Al-Shabaab members.

      3) The Guardian and BBC News ran extensive coverage of the conference so that would be a good starting point in my opinion.

      4) To avoid direct Western intervention, the transitional government was established in a naïve and deluded hope that it would bring stability to the country. The government is highly corrupt (as discussed in the article) and possess limited authority thus consequently its dissolution has been demanded. Al-Shabaab’s grasp on the country is being lifted, albeit slowly, and recently AMISOM regained control of Mogadishu. Somali politics is inherently different from that of the West; elections do not legitimise governments but rather their track record. Accordingly, the Somali’s themselves should decide how to run their country; the West shouldn’t exert a cultural hegemony over Somalia nor dictate how she should be run.

      5) Some estimates claim that Al-Shabaab has 15,000 members however actual support is hard to determine; a peasant farmer may support Al-Shabaab’s ideology but will not bear arms in their name.

      Hope this helps.

Leave A Reply