Somalia: Available Options and Interventions

The Failed States Index 2011 ranked Somalia as one of the top three failed states in Africa.[1] The index further indicates that for four years in a row, Somalia held the number one spot in this ranking. This ranking illustrates the magnitude of the complex humanitarian crisis in Somalia which is characterized by two decades of recurrent acute drought, lawlessness, terrorism, political instability and breakdown of the socio-economic structures. For many people whenever the word Somalia is mentioned, the million dollar questions that seem to linger include: Is Peace possible? Are there available options to restore the country into sustainable peace and to stabilize the dire humanitarian situation?

Over the years, the international community has attempted to carry out various interventions in an effort to address the conflict and humanitarian situation in Somalia. However majority of these interventions have not borne much fruit in terms of stabilizing and restoring peace in Somalia since most of them have majorly been humanitarian and militaristic.  Take for instance the 1992 UN intervention in Somalia where the UN Security Council Resolution 794 approved the formation of a United Task Force (UNITAF) whose mandate was to use “all necessary means” to guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid and to stabilize the situation in Somalia.   This intervention led to the break out of gun battles between the local militia and the peace keepers. The subsequent military operations which were led by the US resulted in heavy casualties which led to the withdrawal of the UN soldiers from Mogadishu.

The international community also attempted at stabilizing Somalia by backing the establishment of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). This came about after a series of international peace conferences and diplomatic negotiations between the different major factions in Somalia. The TFG comprises of an executive branch and a legislative branch and has since then become the internationally recognized government of Somalia.[2] However this intervention is perceived to have failed because the TFG has not received popular support from the Somalis as it is viewed as a western-backed government and its era has been marred by political bickering by the different factions within the members of Parliament. This political bickering has hampered its objective of creating political stability and charting the way forward for drafting of the country’s Constitution as envisioned in the Transitional Federal Charter. Kenya as a key player in the region also decided to intervene in Somalia under the Operation Linda Nchi in a bid to eliminate the threat of al-Shabaab following the multiple kidnappings and attacks they had carried out in Kenya. In the recently concluded London Conference on Somalia, the international community agreed to inject new momentum into the political process in Somalia, to strengthen AMISOM by calling on troop contributing countries to add more troops and to help Somalia develop its own security forces. A careful analysis of most of these interventions by the international community, reveal that they are short-term interventions which do not address the root cause of the problems in Somalia.

As the debate on Somalia rages on there is great need for the international community to realize that achieving sustainable peace in Somalia and durable solutions for the Somali refugees can only be achieved through a long-term multi-pronged approach that addresses the questions of: What is the role of the international community in developing sustainable interventions in the Somali conflict? How best can durable solutions be achieved through militaristic interventions? How viable is the idea of returning Somali refugees without first stabilizing the socio-political environment in Somalia? The ideal pragmatic approach of restoring peace to Somalia and fighting al-Shabaab should be one that adopts a combination of humanitarian, diplomatic, and militaristic approaches. The use of all these approaches should have the sole objective of addressing the root causes of the problems in Somalia that have resulted in the protracted conflict and displacement of scores of Somalis into neighboring countries.

After the Kampala bombing in 2010, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was on record calling on African leaders to team together and “kick al Shabaab out of Africa.” I reckon that it is such radical views and war mongering that has continued to radicalize al Shabaab. Such views only aim at treating the symptoms of the crisis in Somalia but they do not effectively tackle the real problems. Such a call only amounts to entrenching al-Shabaab’s terrorizing activities and offers them a good public relations platform for their actions and message. When leaders like President Museveni choose to breathe out the “crazy war vibe”, which is the model that Kenya has gladly adopted through issuing of threats by our Minister of Internal Security and Minister of Defense; al Shabaab gets free media platform to send out the message that “we are here and are stronger.”

To effectively tackle the threat of insecurity caused by al-Shabaab, there is need for a rethinking on how to address the problem of terrorism. This is because al-Shabaab is not only a threat to Somalia or Kenya alone, but to the whole of the Horn of Africa region. Therefore efforts to tackle the threat of al-Shabaab should not be entirely based on militarized solutions such as the Operation Linda Nchi or AMISOM, but should also incorporate non-militarized solutions that aim at rebuilding the socio-economic structures in Somalia. For a country whose economic infrastructure has been severely damaged by years of civil conflict, terrorist attacks and recurrent drought, the international community ought to be busy strategizing on how to capacitate the next Somali government on how to rebuild and restore the country’s socio-economic structure. The Turkish government has already engaged in this venture by being the first country in 20 years to open an embassy in Mogadishu and has commenced various development-oriented projects. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayip in his visit to Mogadishu last year announced Turkey’s commitment to invest and rebuild the infrastructure of Somalia.[3] Turkey has already started rebuilding the social fabric in Somalia by reconstructing roads, the international airport and hospitals for Somalis. It is such efforts and interventions that should be lauded by the international community and that should provide the impetus for galvanizing financial resources and support for Somalia.

The interventions by Turkey embody a durable solution that addresses the situation in Somalia as they seek to rebuild as well as restore livelihoods for the people of Somalia. The protracted situation of poverty, high rates of unemployment and lack of access to alternative education has contributed to a situation of vulnerability for many young people in Somalia who according to various reports are being recruited at an alarming rate by the al-Shabaab. Therefore, efforts to curb this should be directed at how to reach out to these young Somalis who have become hopeless in and outside of a failed state where getting recruited into al Shabaab has become the alternate lucrative option as opposed to enrolling in school or engaging in meaningful employment.

A practical way of targeting the youth in Somalia is to develop strategies on how to first disarm the majority of armed youths, through peace building and disarmament programmes. Secondly is to target emancipating the minds and hearts of the young people from the al-Shabaab indoctrination which is another leading factor of conscription into the group. These interventions should result in deconstructing the propaganda and brain-washing that al-Shabaab has been advancing to young Somalis. The challenge that the international community has is to develop strategies of how young people and Somalis in general can get access to alternative media sources and constructive information to emancipate their minds and hearts.

As the mandate of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) comes to an end this year, there is need for the international community to take stock of what has been achieved in the 7 years that the TFG has been in place. This exercise would be of great help to look at the lessons learnt and chart a way forward for a comprehensive political solution. One of the lessons that the international community should have learnt by now is that imposing a government upon a people does not solve the political crisis but only serves to further destabilize the political situation as has been the case for Somalia.

As a way forward, the international community should advocate and support the establishment of an inclusive and participatory process that charts the roadmap for a political solution that will guarantee sustainable peace in the country. The IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government has recently endorsed a Grand Stabilization Strategy for South and Central Somalia during their 20th Extra Ordinary Session. This strategy aims at an inclusive process to determine political and administrative arrangements in the liberated areas at district and regional levels, while building on existing structures.[4]  Therefore as Somalia goes through the next phase post-the TFG mandate which ends in August 2012, international actors ought to support this Grand Strategy and develop implementation mechanisms which will result in the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Somalia.

One way of implementing this strategy and making the process inclusive and participatory for all key actors, is to involve various Somali clan leaders in the negotiation process for a Somalia National Government. It is only by creating an inclusive and participatory process of negotiation and consensus building that a legitimate governing system will be established which is accepted by majority of the Somalis. Such a process will create the basis upon which a national governing body would be elected through a democratic process. Further, an arrangement such as this, will provide the people of Somalia with an alternative leadership option as opposed to being subjected to the illegitimate rule by al-Shabaab.

In conclusion, it should be appreciated that the protracted conflict situation in Somalia needs a multifaceted approach of incorporating militarized and non-militarized options as a strategy towards attaining sustainable peace for Somalia. The positive role that the international community can play is to facilitate the socio-economic progress and development of Somalia. Further the international community should realize that their strong point in achieving sustainable peace in Somalia lies in their unity and having a coordinated support for Somalia.


[4] IGAD News Issue 44 February – March 2012

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