19 May 2007 04:21


  • Title: [SW Country](ReliefWeb) New Rescue Plan for " World's Worst Humanitarian Disaster"
  • Posted by/on:[AMJ][Sunday, December 17, 2000]

ReliefWeb Email this Document ReliefWeb
ReliefWeb Source: Humanitarian Affairs Review
Date: 13 Dec 2000

Somalia: New rescue plan for "world's worst humanitarian disaster"

Country File by Abdullah Mohammoud

A peace plan for Somalia is back on the international agenda. Can this one succeed where all others have failed? Abdullah Mohamoud reports on a land where intrigue gives peace little chance


Abdullah Mohamoud is a research fellow at the University of Amsterdam's Department of Political Science. He is an authority on the problem of state collapse in the Horn of Africa, particularly Somalia.

Commenting on conditions in Somalia in an article entitled "A Society Without State", The Economist once mockingly observed that "if there were a prize for the nation that had rolled back furthest the frontiers of the state, there could be only one winner: the Somalis". For most Somalis, however, the price has been living in a Hobbesian nightmare where there is neither rule of law nor institutions to regulate relations and protect the most vulnerable from the most vicious.

Somalia existed as a state from 1960 to 1991, when the last military regime was ousted and the country disintegrated into fiefdoms, controlled by rival factions led by predatory warlords. Since then Somalis have been without the type of system that in our day and age is the only internationally accepted mechanism for human organisation. At present, Somalia has no central government, no embassies abroad, no national army or police force, no working system of justice, no public services, no national health system or schools. Everything in Somalia is now localised and extremely privatised, providing an environment in which only the fittest and the richest few can survive.

There is no public welfare to cater for the needs of the poor majority, no national authority that takes collective responsibility if a natural calamity occurs. As one foreign aid worker put it, Somalia has become a "country run by militias, merchants and mullahs" who are all pursuing their private interests rather than the public good.

The disappearance of the state as a collective political organisation has had catastrophic consequences for the Somali people. In 1992, the Red Cross described the misery as the world's worst humanitarian disaster since 1945.

Unprecedented in Somali history, it eventually drew the attention of the international community, who, led by the United States, intervened in late 1992 to avert further tragedy, restore law and order and reconstitute political authority in the country. Initially, this saved the lives of many innocent civilians, brought temporary respite from the violence and registered some success. But after failing to end the political crisis, the United Nations` Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) was brought to an end on March 4, 1995. Regrettably, after spending more than $4bn, the UN left the country in a situation no better than that which had prompted its intervention.

African solutions

New diplomacy was called for, based on the philosophy that Africa's problems should be left for Africans to solve. African leaders had to be more active in managing conflicts and disasters on their own continent. The new urgency encouraged a strong regional involvement in Somalia's peace-building process. The Horn of Africa states weighed in, along with their sub-regional organisation, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Ethiopia, which had brokered successive peace dialogues since the 1991 collapse, was given a lead mandate.

Nation states, however, have national interests, as Egypt, a rival of Ethiopia, soon showed when it started parallel peace-building initiatives on behalf of the Arab League. The upshot was that when one camp organised a peace conference, the other quickly sought to do the likewise, even though that was liable to slow progress.

Such was the case in December 1997, after faction leaders had concluded reconciliation talks in Addis Ababa and agreed to host a follow-up in the north-eastern Somali town of Bossasso. The Egyptians immediately invited them all to Cairo for another conference, which nullified agreements signed in Addis.

A new dialogue began, new agreements were drafted and, rather than Bossasso, the south-western town of Baidoa was chosen for the next round. Ultimately this African solution to an African problem divided the factions between the rival regional camps and further polarised the politics. Since the Cairo conference, the leaders have not met again, neither in Somalia or abroad.

The Ethiopian-Eritrean war that began in May 1998 over disputed border territory has brought worse interference, and turned Somalia into a theatre of proxy conflict. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have been widening the country's hostilities to benefit from its fragmentation, and are providing rival factions with large amounts of arms, supplies and even fighting men.

The factions now serve on either side, embroiled in the tactics of someone else's war. To open up another front, Eritrea's arming the warlord Hussein Aideed, who allowed the dissident Oromo Liberation Front a base in Somalia from which to stage cross-border attacks into southern Ethiopia. To weaken Aideed, Ethiopia backs such groups as the Rahenweyne Resistance Army, an Aideed rival which last year captured considerable territory, including Baidoa, from his faction. Eritrea supports dissidents to distract attention from the border war, Ethiopia seeks to eliminate threats, and within this power play Somalia suffers further.

Libyan involvement is another disturbing development. After the failure of the Cairo conference, Libya started to play a very active political role in Somalia. Its leader Muammar Gaddafi has been arming some of the southern factions through Eritrea, and many faction leaders have now become regular visitors to Tripoli. Gaddafi's political agenda is unclear but his meddling in internal Somali affairs is aggravating the whole situation.

New peace plan

After three years of low profile activity, a new Djibouti peace plan is placing Somalia on the international agenda again. Launched by President Ismael Omar Guelleh at the United Nations General Assembly in September last year, it has already raised the political temperature.

Twelve national reconciliation conferences convened between 1991 and 1997 had already failed, but the environment has changed since then. Somalis have learned the hard way how to manage their domestic anarchy, although in many respects the peace process has been one step forward and two steps back.

The main problem lies in the lack of a well-defined agenda and a clearly articulated strategy. Policy has been ad hoc, ill-prepared, uncoordinated and unsustained, and international organisations have focused too much on imposed outcomes and too little on the process. In fact, it was disregard of process that has made the resolution of Somalia's conflict so problematic over the past 10 years. In a way, the current Djibouti initiative is a positive step forward because it attempts to get the peace dialogue moving. But still the plan risks imposing outcomes, and may end in failure like all the others, having achieved nothing but the raising of political tensions.

Alongside process and strategy, something else is missing; an approach that identifies how the internal power struggles and the enduring external meddling combine to make a political settlement impossible. The meddling provides a wider regional dimension, and leaves resolution difficult unless Somalia is considered within the context of the conflicts engulfing the entire Horn of Africa.

Highlighting the urgency of a tragedy that has now dragged on for almost a decade certainly demands an innovative approach and a high level of creativity. The need is for a thorough and up-to-date analysis of present dynamics on the ground since we still know very little about the complexity of Somali society. A permanent Somalia research unit would help. The production of targeted and action-oriented research that is more policy-relevant would assist local actors, and support local and regionally initiated conflict resolution.

The Djibouti government is now saying that the time of the warlords and the militia bosses is over. They want to encourage Somali `civil society' to take political power. This civil society, however, is fragmented, lacks a solid social base and has very limited political resources. In many instances, civil society in Somalia is a one-man or one-woman show. I believe it is here that international organisations must focus their attention and invest their political and financial resources. International organisations can help civil society nurture and enhance its capacity, grow in strength and challenge the dominance of destructive and power-hungry political leaders.

Somalia is "run by militias, merchants and mullahs," all pursuing their private interests rather than the public good.

We still know very little about the complexity of Somali society. A permanent Somalia research unit would help

Ethiopia and Eritrea have been widening the country's hostilities to benefit from its fragmentation, and are providing rival factions with large amounts of arms and fighting men.


Reproduction or redistribution of the above text, in whole, part or in any form, requires the prior written consent of the original source.

Related Documents:
Latest Emergency Updates: Somalia
Latest By Country: Somalia
Other documents by: Humanitarian Affairs Review

Home Page: www.reliefweb.int
Email: comments@reliefweb.int




Copyright 1999 by somaliawatch.org.  All Rights Reserved.  Revised:  19 May 2007 05:09 AM. Webmaster HomePage