Report

Somalia

A Country in Peril, a Policy Nightmare

ENOUGH report outlines the current crisis in Somalia, failed policies, and what needs to be done to get the country back on track.

Somali's demonstrate against high food prices earlier this year in the capital Mogadishu. Troops opened fire and killed at least two people among tens of thousands of people rioting. (AP/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)
Somali's demonstrate against high food prices earlier this year in the capital Mogadishu. Troops opened fire and killed at least two people among tens of thousands of people rioting. (AP/Mohamed Sheikh Nor)

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The world has grown numb to Somalia’s seemingly endless crises—18 years of state collapse, failed peace talks, violent lawlessness and warlordism, internal displacement and refugee flows, chronic underdevelopment, intermittent famine, piracy, regional proxy wars, and Islamic extremism. It would be easy to conclude that today’s disaster is merely a continuation of a long pattern of intractable problems there, and move on to the next story in the newspaper. So Somalia’s in flames again—what’s new?

The answer is that much is new this time, and it would be a dangerous error of judgment to brush off Somalia’s current crisis as more of the same. It would be equally dangerous to call for the same tired formulas for U.N. peacekeeping, state-building, and counterterrorism operations that have achieved little since 1990. Seismic political, social, and security changes are occurring in the country, and none bode well for the people of Somalia or the international community.

Over the past 18 months, Somalia has descended into terrible levels of displacement and humanitarian need, armed conflict and assassinations, political meltdown, radicalization, and virulent anti-Americanism. Whereas in the past the country’s endemic political violence—whether Islamist, clan-based, factional, or criminal in nature—was local and regional in scope, it is now taking on global significance.

As Enough’s April 2008 report on Somalia (“15 Years After Black hawk down: Somalia’s Chance?”) argued, this is the exact opposite of what the United States and its allies sought to promote when they supported the December 2006 Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia to oust an increasingly bellicose Islamist movement in Mogadishu. Indeed, the situation in Somalia today exceeds the worst-case scenarios conjured up by regional analysts when they first contemplated the possible impact of an Ethiopian military occupation. How did it get to be this bad?

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