Have Somalia’s lessons, hard-learned, have finally taken?

American boarders, suspected Somalian pirate ship, 2009
A boarding party from a guided-missile cruiser approaches a suspected pirate ship off Somalia, in 2009. U.S. Navy photo, public domain


The only war in which Jonathan Manthorpe felt compelled to hire bodyguards was in Somalia. Lessons were learned the hard way in Somalia’s last quarter century, but as a glimmer of light now illuminates the country, at last. An excerpt of his latest  International Affairs column,  After almost 25 years, a glimmer of light in the Somali tunnel:

The burned-out palace of ousted dictator Siad Barre was still smouldering when I got to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, almost exactly 24 years ago. On Jan. 27, 1991, Barre had emptied the contents of the national bank into a tank and sped off into the western dessert as a motley crew of fighters from a couple of dozen clan militias closed in on him. Thus ended Barre’s 22 years of always despotic, frequently murderous, and endemically corrupt rule.

Yet set against all that has happened in the 24 years since to the people of this benighted nation, Barre’s dictatorship can seem like a golden age. Since 1991, at least 350,000 people have been killed by famine. Tens of thousands more have died in meaningless clan civil wars. Hundreds of thousands more remain refugees in neighbouring countries. Half a dozen foreign invasions, most of them half-hearted but deadly nonetheless, have attempted to bring security.

Throughout the quarter century of chaos Somalia has been and remains a haven for terrorists, whose deadly activities have spilled over into neighbouring Kenya and Uganda. Lawlessness gave birth to ruthless pirate coastal enclaves, preying on vessels plying the Indian Ocean and spurring an international naval response. The only time there has been anything like stable rule, it has come from blood-thirsty religious fanatics allied with the trans-national Muslim terrorists, Al-Qaida. And things have been only marginally better in Somaliland, the old British protectorate in the north, and Puntland, on the very tip of the Horn of Africa in the northeast. Both these territories, which were joined with the old Italian Somali Protectorate in 1960 to form independent Somalia, broke away after Barre’s flight and have created reasonably functional administrations.

But now, finally, there are some signs that a home-grown administration is taking root in Mogadishu. It’s still a tender sapling. President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected in 2012 by the members of parliament. He has a rocky relationship with the prime minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, who took office at the end of 2013. Log in to continue reading.*

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