August 26, 2008

HARRISONBURG—Today in his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, looks at the instability and violence in the territory of the former Somali Democratic Republic which, he argues, are likely to escalate notwithstanding a “peace accord” signed last week between the “Transitional Federal Government” (TFG) of Somalia and a rump faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS).

The article begins by surveying recent attacks by members of al-Shabaab (“the youth”), a formally designated “foreign terrorist organization,” and other Islamist militants, including the capture over the weekend of the critical southern port city of Kismayo, the third-largest Somali city. It then proceeds to examine other challenges, including the infighting within the TFG, the failure to deploy even half of the United Nations-authorized peacekeepers, and the spike in attacks on shipping in the Gulf of Aden, including the hijacking of now fewer than four vessels and an attack on a fifth just last week.

Dr. Pham then reiterates counsel which he has often offered in the past even as he admits that it may be some time before the recommendations are accepted:

The international community needs to formally acknowledge de jure what is already de facto: the desuetude of “ Somalia” as a sovereign subject of international law. Unitary Somalia is not only dead, but the carcass of that state has been putrefied; reanimation is no longer in the realm of possible. To apply Max Weber’s thesis, a government like the TFG that does not even enjoy the monopoly on the legitimate use of force in its own capital—much less elsewhere in the territory it claims as its own—is no government at all. Instead of constantly trying to put the best face on a bad situation,…the emphasis should be shifted to local Somali entities which have taken responsibility for governance in their respective regions. As I argued in the March/April issue of The National Interest, these latter—the Republic of Somaliland, the Puntland region, and others—should be progressively rewarded for achieving benchmarks of progress…

 Unfortunately, many American policymakers are either caught up in the election campaign or, in the case of exiting incumbents, either packing their golden parachutes or looking for a soft landing. Those not otherwise distracted (as well as their counterparts in rest of the world) are wont to be preoccupied with higher profile geopolitical challenges like Russia’s menacing resurgence in Eurasia and Iran’s unrelenting pursuit of nuclear weapons. Consequently, expect the wait for an approach that actually engages the realities of power, social dynamics, and political legitimacy in the Horn of Africa—rather than repeating the failures of the past two decades while piously mouthing tired nostrums—to be that much longer. In the meantime, the former Somalia will remain, as the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2007, released April 30, noted, “a permissive operating environment and a potential safe haven for both Somali and foreign terrorists already in the region.”

To read the full text of the article, “ Somalia’s Downward Spiral Continues,” click here.