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Failed state policy in Somalia

Here’s a short bit from Against All Flags a generally excellent Nervous Interview sort of article by Jesse Walker, on piracy, international government-to-government aid, imperial failed state policy, and anarchy in Somalia.

But when the troops pulled out, didn’t everything go to pot?

You’ve got it backwards. The U.S./U.N. intervention made things worse: It undercut local farmers by dumping free food into circulation, herded self-reliant nomads into disease-ridden refugee camps, and disarmed civilians while leaving the warlords’ stockpiles largely untouched. At every point during the country’s crisis in the early to mid 1990s, the most constructive responses came from the Somalis themselves. (The local Red Crescent Society was responsible for more successful relief than all the foreign efforts combined.) When the outsiders left, the peacemaking elements of Somali society were able to reassert themselves, with elders arbitrating truces between the clans and entrepreneurs establishing a growing economy.

. . .

Wait. Back up. America aided the warlords?

Yes. The Bush administration worried that jihadists were seeking shelter in Somalia, so it allied itself with secular Somalis, who styled themselves the “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.” They included some of the very same figures the U.S. had battled in the early ’90s.

How did that work out?

The warlords used the aid to pursue their own agendas, and the fighting ramped back up. The chaos pushed ordinary Somalis into the arms of the Islamic Courts Union, a confederation of sharia-based arbitrators that gradually took over roughly half the country, including the nominal capital, Mogadishu.

Displeased with this result, Washington backed an Ethiopean invasion and occupation of the country. This was supposed to establish a central government for once and for all. Instead it was a gory failure whose chief effect was to rip apart civil society and turn the country into a violent free-for-all. As Human Rights Watch reported in 2008, “the last two years are not just another typical chapter in Somalia??s troubled history. The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe facing Somalia today threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of Somalis on a scale not witnessed since the early 1990s.” [Ed.: That is, not witnessed since the last time people were pushing hard to get a government established in Somalia. –R.G.]

One effect was to push more people into desperate and risky ways of making a living. Such as piracy.

. . .

Let me get this straight. To combat communism in east Africa, the United States propped up a Marxist dictator. After sending troops to battle the warlords, it intervened again to assist the warlords. It did this about-face to stanch the growth of Islamism, but the effect was to put an Islamist group in charge of the country. And after Washington backed an invasion and occupation of the nation to end the Islamic Courts Union’s control, the result was a government run by a former commander of the Islamic Courts Union?

You can see why I’m skeptical about a war on the pirates. It’ll probably end with Obama dedicating a 60-foot statue of Blackbeard in the middle of Mogadishu.

— Jesse Walker, reason online (2009-04-17): Against All Flags: Questions and answers about pirates and Somalia

Read the whole thing.

See also:

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  1. anonymouse

    All I know is that Somalia had the cheapest and best internet access of pretty much anywhere in Africa, precisely because there was no central government, which means no state telecom monopoly to create artificial scarcity and drive up prices. I also kind of have to wonder: with no central government, who gives out passports to Somalis, and how do they travel in this modern era of “papers please” borders?

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