On Point: Somalia: Planet's Foremost "Failed State"


by Austin Bay

It would be rhetorically elegant -- and a profoundly simplerdiplomatic issue -- if Somalia mimicked Julius Caesar's assessment of Gauland merely split into three parts.

It doesn't. Anarchic Somalia is arguably the planet's foremost"failed state," with Afghanistan and the Congo as basket-case competitors.Find a sub-clan with a savvy leader, or a gang on a street corner, and youhave what passes for governing structure in much of Mogadishu and itsenvirons.

As Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz noted, Somaliaattracts Al Qaeda "precisely because the government is weak or nonexistent."American counter-terror "options" there are limited, Wolfowitz added, since"by definition you don't have a government you can work with."

Thus, in the near term, the United States will work with Somaliopposition factions such as the Somali Reconciliation and RestorationCouncil (SRRC). The clan leaders and warlords in the SRRC are, for themoment, lining up against the self-proclaimed (and Al Qaeda-infected)"national government" in Mogadishu. U.S. intelligence and militarycoordination with such anti-Islamist groups offers a potentially effectivemeans for quickly destroying Al Qaeda cells and sympathizers in Somalia.

In the long term, however, America must do better than leaveSomalia's "failed state" to recurrent chaos. We've learned, too painfully,that these hard, wretched corners can't be neglected. If the locals in thesefailed states were truly left to their own devices, that becomes one kind ofproblem -- the kind more yielding to checkbooks and compassion. But OsamaBin Laden has demonstrated that terrorists with money and guns don't ignorethe hard corners. Bucks-up zealots spread their own brand of "imperialism,"imposing their hate-filled "values" upon vulnerable and frightened people.

Which brings us back to Caesar and Gaul. Check the maps. Thereare indeed three Somalias. No, don't refer to a current atlas neatlyportraying Somalia as a contiguous political entity enfolding the Horn ofAfrica, but examine those maps drawn by Somalis that reflect the fracturedpresent and indicate possible geo-political alternatives.

Somalilandnet.com (website of the Somaliland Republic) carves aseparate nation out of northwestern Somalia, with borders strikingly similarto those of what was once called British Somaliland. Somaliland held aplebiscite in May 2001 to "ratify" its independence.

The website of the Somali National Educational Trust(snet.click2site.com) depicts Puntland. Remember the Land of Punt? EgyptianQueen Hapshetsut sent an expedition to Punt in the 15th century B.C. This21st century A.D. "Puntland" is north of Mogadishu on the "elbow" of theHorn of Africa. Puntland claimed independence from "Mogadishu control" in1998.

Would that these two fractal-states were free from threat andstrife. They aren't. Trouble hit Puntland last August, and now two factionsstruggle for control. Though the Somaliland Republic depicts itself as aland of "democracy and the rule of law," that status is fragile. The twostatelets are, however, more stable than Mogadishu. They also reflect (tosome degree) the desire of their inhabitants to shake the anarchy that hasplagued Somalia for a decade.

So "three Somalias" isn't quite as phony a notion as one. Thesenascent states may offer long-term possibilities for fostering a more stableHorn of Africa. The concept is to reinforce the "more stable" and then usethem as a platform to spread stability.

Of course, reinforcing the more stable regions could lead topermanent separation and new borders.

But in Somalia's case, is that so bad? Every failed state hasunique problems, which means no single policy can resolve them. The issue ofbad borders, however -- either as relics of colonialism or of longstandingantagonisms -- crops up continually.

Drawing new boundaries in Africa has been anathema, where theproblem is particularly acute. As bad as the borders are, most Africanleaders concluded the process of drawing new ones might unleash even moreviolence. Sticking with the old borders boxed in deadlier possibilities.

But the Congo's collapse and Somalia's terrorist-breedinganarchy demonstrate that the deadlier "what-ifs" are already among us.

Rooting out Al Qaeda is Washington's immediate goal, but theproblem of bad borders or phony states can no longer be ignored.

Should Somalia divide into three parts? Yes, if it means betterborders. Perhaps there's a Nobel Prize for the secretary of state who seesin Somalia an opportunity to demonstrate it's possible to evolve moreresponsive and more stable political entities from the morass of achronically flawed post-colonial state, and in doing so eliminate fertileterritory for terrorists.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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