It is important to remember that “alleviating suffering” is not a short-term goal. While we are required to look into the short-term angle, it is nonetheless more important and strategically valuable to seek long-term answers to Somalia’s 20-year-old problem.
Even the pictures and video-clips look uncannily similar: images of starving or malnourished children, weeping mothers or elders whose rib bones appear to be parting the outer skin. It is these images from Somalia that moved the world in the early 1990s. The world’s response was swift and strong: tons of food and humanitarian aid arrived within weeks, protected by well-armed U.N. peacekeepers. Indeed, it was “Operation Restore Hope” that first galvanized the world’s attention to Somalia and fuelled efforts to assist that African country’s starving population.
Today, a similar historic event is unfolding in Somalia with the outpouring of support from around the world. The recent visits in sequence by Djibouti’s president, UK’s development minister and Turkey’s prime minister are all aimed at drawing much-needed attention to the suffering of Somalis; nearly 20 years after the world rushed to stop famine in Somalia, the scourge of hunger has returned.
Despite everything being to Somalia’s disadvantage and continued misery, the moment nonetheless provides an opportunity for renewed hope among the Somali people. The world’s willingness to help, as demonstrated by the hundreds of millions of dollars to support relief efforts, demonstrates a significant shift from the “wait-and-see” approach of yesterday to the pro-active, hands-on approach to assist the people of Somalia. The world’s support must be harnessed and utilized the positive extent possible, with the sole aim of alleviating the suffering of the Somali people.
It is important to remember that “alleviating suffering” is not a short-term goal. While we are required to look into the short-term angle, it is nonetheless more important and strategically valuable to seek long-term answers to Somalia’s 20-year-old problem. Dumping food aid to feed the country’s starving population for one year, only for the same problem to return a few years later, is the ultimate failed option as proven during the 1990s relief effort.
The success of African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM) in expelling Al Shabaab extremists from Mogadishu is a major development that paves the way for the arrival of U.N. peacekeepers. The Security Council had previously restricted the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Somalia dependent on improved political and security conditions. With famine ravaging the country’s population, and the extremist fighters fleeing like scattered animals, the opportunity is ripe for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in Somalia – this time with a clearer mandate and a healthier mindset.
We say healthier because arrogance is a mental disease. In the 1990s U.N. operation in Somalia, the mission’s ultimate end in failure was largely due to the failure of the U.N. to listen, assess, analyze and implement the Somali people’s wish for a strong government that protects citizens, upholds justice and provides economic opportunities. If U.N. peacekeepers return to Somalia, it is vitally important to learn from the past mistakes and chart a new path that forms genuine partnerships with the Somali people, but not treat the local communities with arrogance that can only advance the resurgence of extremist groups allied to Al Qaeda.
This time the situation in Somalia is very different. In the north, where the effects of famine have not been felt, there exists two stable and functional state governments – “Somaliland” unrecognized separatist republic, and “Puntland” federal state of Somalia. In the south-central Somalia, including Mogadishu, there is great fluidity in terms of political, security and economic cohesion. The U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia is extremely weak and entirely dependent on foreign soldiers and foreign funds to survive. The TFG faces tremendous opposition from Al Shabaab extremist group, as well as hidden opposition from war profiteers who oppose every interim government since 1991, and the Nairobi-based “war industry” that, like parasites, lives off the misery of the Somali people.
What the U.N. must do in Somalia today is focus on what’s working, and less focus on what has failed. In 2004, Somalia adopted a federal system of government to allow the formation of states that manage each region’s affairs, while all Somalis share and collectively manage the federal government. No other system in Somalia has worked except for the federal structure. It is vitally important that each region is instructed and ordered to manage its own affairs, as this is the only way of instilling responsibility in the minds of a people who have become dependent on foreign aid.
Federalism is not against Somali national unity. Federalism empowers the national government, whilst protecting the interests of states, particularly on power and resource-sharing matters. Secondly, the fight against terrorism and piracy in Somalia is precisely the fight against poverty. For example, there are upwards of 60,000 armed militiamen in Somalia, the vast majority of who function without ideology. Every group in Somalia – from ‘governments’, to terrorists, to pirates and other criminal gangs – have been able to utilize these militiamen for narrow interests. It is vitally important to provide economic opportunities, job-creation initiatives and educational centers for these young men if we are to rescue Somalia from itself.
Five years from now, it will not matter how much food aid was airlifted to Somalia as part of famine relief efforts, because five years from now, another famine might be unfolding in Somalia. But it will matter greatly that, as the world moves forward carefully to manage the Somali crises, the Somali people’s wish is listened to, the successful scenarios are observed and empowered, and opportunities for socio-economic development are pursued, as U.N. peacekeepers who’ve earned the Somali people’s trust move to secure and save Somalia.
Garowe Online Editorial: Somalia’s misery, the world’s opportunity