Embracing an illusion in Somalia
Illusions are fun for kids and at fundraisers. They are deadly for international policy makers. The United Nations and the trading powers of the world are heavily invested in an illusion in Somalia. The Western elite believes, or is acting as if they believe that the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia is an actual government with legitimacy, power and the ability to eventually assert a monopoly of force. This illusion plays out in two parts this week. The first is in Turkey at a UN sponsored anti-piracy conference:
>Following the closing of the Istanbul Conference on Somalia, the UN Special Representative, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, today said that the three-day meeting was “a major success” which resulted in “important concrete proposals”.
“This has been a major breakthrough for both the international community and for the people of Somalia, with over 50 member states, including 20 ministers, participating in this initiative to begin building viable economic structures in Somalia that will sustain peace and stability….”
The President of Somalia was in attendance. He had his picture taken and feted like he was a big wig with the ability to get things done in Somalia. No one mentioned that he commands almost no Somali forces and is only kept in power at the sufference of foreign soldiers in Mogadishu. That would be impolite.And then there is reality. The New York Times reports:
At least 14 people were killed and more than 25 were wounded on Sunday in heavy fighting between government troops and insurgents who attacked the presidential palace with mortars, witnesses and officials said.
At least six mortar shells landed near the palace, witnesses said, but the president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, was in Turkey at a United Nations conference called to help Somalia.
“Our army withdrew from the front lines, and we have lost neighborhoods,” said Sheik Yusuf Mohamed Siad “Indha Adde”, Somalia’s state minister for defense. “But the prime minister is responsible for the defeat,” he added.
A variety of Islamist militias are consolidating control over Somalia. Hizbul Islam, one of the major Islamist militia groups, is asserting its control over some of the northeastern Somali coast. One of the recently seized ports was a support bases for the northern Somali pirates but the pirates fled when Hizbul Islam seized control of the ports. An alliance of Islamist militias is pushing the Transitional Federal Government -back onto the grounds of the Presidential Palace. The African Union peace-keepers are either unable or unwilling to go to the mat for the TFG, nor does the TFG have sufficient primarily loyalty of native Somalis who want to fight and die for the TFG.
Sooner or later, the Islamists will be acting as the defacto state, or at least as the first among equals in Somalia. As long as the United Nations, the United States, the EU and other trading powers continue to believe in illusions, there is no chance of the piracy problem being resolved cheaply. Recognizing reality on the ground and cutting deals of mutual interest with potentially unsavory individuals and groups offers a much higher probability of actual policy success. But we want to hold onto our illusions for as long as we can.