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Ruled by an ever-shifting patchwork of militias, modern Somalia is gripped by conflict, piracy and poverty. Law and order is dictated by machine guns. Of the world’s many failed states, it is the most catastrophic.
With a population of just ten million, it is one of several unstable states that are proving hard to ignore. Terror groups in Afghanistan still threaten to export violence. The nuclear capacity of states like Iran and North Korea has Western governments feeling anxious. And Somalia, too, is now more than just a sideshow.
After a spate of cross-border kidnappings, neighbouring Kenya and an alliance of African Union forces invaded the troubled nation. Now, they are waging war against al-Shabaab, the militant Islamists who control much of the country.
The intervention is risky. In 2010, al-Shabaab responded to Ugandan action with a suicide bomb that killed 76. Similar reprisals have hit Kenya’s capital, Nairobi – and more could be on their way.
The crisis is the latest serving from a long simmering cauldron of violence. Since 1991, warring clans have kept Somalia in a chaotic state of war. US and international forces have attempted to intervene by arming warlords or sending in troops. But today, peace still seems far away.
The last time Somalia experienced any stability was in 2006. Then, Islamist groups united rival factions and imposed a Shariah form of law and order. But after six months, tensions flared, and hard-liners al-Shabaab grew in power. Appalled at the group’s harsh regime and alleged links to terrorism, the USA funded the Ethiopian army to topple them.
Today’s Somalia is, in part, the result of that conflict. Though a UN-backed transitional government was established in the country, its grip on power is scant. Al-Shabaab continues to wage a violent campaign for dominance. And now, the group has professed its allegiance to al-Qaeda. What was once a national insurgency is threatening, it seems, to become a breeding ground for international Jihad.
Fighting fire with fire
The crisis in Somalia, many say, cannot be allowed to escalate. The nation must be stabilised, even if that means military intervention. By allowing al-Shabaab to take control, the international community is creating a haven from which terrorists can launch attacks on targets far beyond the country’s borders.
The needs and interests of the Somali people must come first, others argue – and that requires peace. Military intervention has failed to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the West must abandon the belief that historic problems can be fixed overnight. Terrorism costs lives, but the death toll for war is far higher.
1. Is it sometimes necessary to interfere in another country’s affairs?
2. Does the international community have a responsibility to help failed states?
1. Create a poem or piece of art based on the idea of a ‘failed state’ and what it means for the people of that nation.
2. Research the history of US intervention in Somalia. Write a case study of a particular incident, and its impact on terrorist organisations in the country.
An ominous briefing on the future of the Kenyan intervention in Somalia.
A fantastic interview with Bronwyn Bruton, an expert on Somalia with extensive experience working in the country.
An excellent dispatch from Somalia – ‘the most dangerous place in the world.’
A report on the UK’s call to tackle the root problems of Somali violence.
Q: Aside from terrorism, why do failed states affect us?
A: US President Bush’s belief that ‘we are threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones’ led to a foreign policy of pre-emptive action against unstable nations. Lack of law enforcement and governance also makes failed or semi-failed states centres of illegal trade in drugs or weapons: Afghanistan, for example, provides much of the world’s opium.
Q: Do all failed states threaten global security?
A: Though states like Somalia might export terrorism, the biggest victims of failed states are their own people. Civil war, for example, has devastated the Democratic Republic of Congo, and killed five million people; apart from affecting the price of coltan, a material used in mobile phones, it has had scant international impact.
African Union – The AU consists of all Africa’s nations, excluding Morocco. Its aim is to bring peace and stability to Africa, further the continent’s economic interests and promote democracy and human rights. Troops from the AU have an ongoing mission in Somalia – AMISON – and have intervened in Sudan, the DRC, and the Ivory Coast.
Al-Shabaab – Literally translated as ‘the youth’, al-Shabaab is an Islamist organisation, now linked to al-Qaeda, that controls large swathes of Somalia. They brutally enforce a strict version of Shariah law; journalists have recorded their militia beating women for showing their ankles, for example.
Warlords – In Somalia, society has historically been run by clans, who hold large amounts of power, and command intense loyalty from their followers. In the past, the militiamen that ruled them were heavily armed, sometimes by foreign forces, who felt their interests were represented by these particular groups.
Jihad – In Islam, Jihad is literally translated as ‘struggle’; striving for God. It is a religious duty for Muslims, and forms an important cornerstone for the practise of their faith. In the West, however, Jihad has come to be interpreted in a military sense, meaning ‘holy war’, although this is largely perceived as being an unfair interpretation of its meaning.
‘Meddling only creates more problems.’
What do you think?
Geography, Government & Politics, History