The nation-state is one of the fundamental and important political entities for a coherent coexistence within a particular society (Rotberg, 1). The nation-state is a structured means through which important political/public good is delivered to the community. A nation-state is normally led by a government and should the legitimacy of such a government be put to question by the citizens, it is therefore shunned and efforts to keep the nation-state together eventually fail. In the past several nations have been considered failed states however most of these nations have been able to recover and develop a country. One of the nations that stand out as a failed state is Somalia. Over the past two decades, Somalia has not been able to operate with a legitimate central government neither has the country lived in relative peace. The desirable norms and concepts of stability and development have since become a long distant mirage for the people of Somalia. The international community has made concerted efforts to intervene in Somalia with the hope of restoring order. However, such efforts have either failed or made the situation worse. Therefore, questions abound to why Somalia continues to be a lawless state. Either, for how long can Somalia continue to exist in such a state devoid of peaceful coexistence and development? This research will assert that the lack of a legitimate government will make Somalia remain a failed state.
Before delving into assessing the state of government in Somalia and its role in making the nation a failed state, it is of paramount importance that the concept of ‘failed-state’ be demystified. Today, the world has approximately 195 independent nations and territories in the world (including South Ossetia, Abkhazia and South Sudan). Different regions experience disparate levels of freedom, security, important social amenities and national infrastructure. Some states may have totally dysfunctional structures of freedom while others lack security. Thus what defines a failed state?
Rotberg argues that the political entity referred to as the nation-states is a decentralized mode of providing important public good for a people living within borders (2). It is the function of the nation-state to seek furtherance of national interest and aspirations as guided by the citizenry. The nation-state provides a medium through which citizens can interact with the international community, reject undue influence and work with dynamisms that further economic development, political ambitions and social realities of the country. Thus a state is said to either succeed or fail vis-à-vis an evaluation along such lines.
The state, in providing fundamental political good, serves the very purpose of its existence (Rotberg, 3). The hierarchy of such political goods is such that security, law and order are the most important of them all. Public security is fundamental to any society. Other fundamental political goods that a state should provide are a predictable, systematic and recognizable ways of resolving disputes and maintaining an expected level of norms. Either, a state should provide a means though which citizens can freely express their opinions and political views without prejudice. Further, the state is expected to provide an education system (school, learning institutions and systems), medical care, physical infrastructure (roads, ports, harbors, railway lines, communication infrastructure and other arteries of commerce) and functional banking system fueled with liquid currency and a central bank (Menkhaus,14). Therefore in a situation where the state cannot provide most of these amenities, such a state is considered a failed state. Somalia is one such state (Kreijen, 24).
Somalia, a failed state
In order to appreciate the intricate aspects of Somalia as a failed state, it is important to review the socioeconomic construct of the Somali community, a predominantly pastrolist. The country, located at the eastern most part of Africa, commonly referred to as the Horn of Africa, is composed in single ethnic group, the Somalis. The Somalis are organized in clans and the population of single clan could run into hundreds of thousands (Coyne, 346). This clan system is very central to the community and defines the nature of relation in the country. For instance, if a member of clan A kills or injures a member of clan B, then the entire clan A owes clan B compensation and there is a structured system that defines how such disputes are to be settled. In some instances, settlement could run into hundreds of thousands heads of cattle. Each clan has a structured form of governance. This organization or clan system existed way before the colonization and the eventual independence of the republic.
The Republic of Somalia was created in 1960 after the British and Italian governments agreed to grant Somalia independence. The new republic was drafted in a manner that very much aped western style democracies with an elite bureaucratic form of government. The country would be led by a President and the functions of government led by a Prime Minister and a National assembly would legislate (Coyne, 347).
However, the western model of government would face several hurdles as clan alliances would soon emerge and define the political landscape of the country. Two parliaments existed before independence and the majority rule of any parliament was defined by the majority clan. This forced the minority clans to team up into coalitions in order to tame the majority clans in parliament. Either, majority clans seemed to control most of central government and thus the government was perceived to be serving only a few clans.
Barely ten years after independence was the country thrown into political turmoil however this was no peculiar among African states. President Abdirashid Ali Shermarke , the first president of independent Somalia, was assassinated in October of 1969 (Coyne, 348). A dictator, Major General Muhammad Siad Barre, would seize power and rule the country with a strong authoritarian rule. His clan would be most trusted allies in government who made up the cabinet and the rest of the top military rank. Either, Barre would support one clan against the other, arming others while exposing others. Notwithstanding the high handed rule, Somalia would appear stable with a vibrant with a functional informal economy.
However, in the late 1980s the rest of the clans would form coalition rebel groups to fight the Barre government. These groups were composed of the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) in the northeast region, the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) in the south, Somali National Movement (SNM) in the northwest and the United Somali Congress (USC) in central Somalia (Coyne, 349). The main aim for these groups was to cause some civil unrest and control different factions of the country. The unrest would spread to the capital Mogadishu and the Barre regime eventually collapsed.
The power vacuum left by the Barre regime would result in a vicious power struggle. While the various clans had agreed to corporate in dissenting against the Barre regime, the groups could not agree on a unified form of leadership. The USC, which emanated from central Somalia, considered that they were the legitimate leadership and thus went ahead to form a government without consulting the others. In response, SPM and SSDF would form a coalition to challenge the USC government. This led to protracted conflicts in southern cities as well as most parts of Mogadishu. A temporary ceasefire was agreed between the USC and SPM/SSDF forces (Coyne, 349).
In the north, a similar illegitimate government would claim control. SNM would not recognize the USC government and declared the northern autonomous from central Somalia. The SNM was mainly made up of the Isaaq clan and soon the rest of the clans in the north resisted the SNM government.
Conflicts in Somalia and the long drought of 1992 caused the international community under the United Nation to intervene. A peace keeping force and UN negotiated cease fire would allow humanitarian aid to reach most of Somalia. However, the peace was short lived as other forces such as U.S.-led Unified Task Force (UNITAF) and UN Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM I and II) would not get the country out of turmoil (Coyne, 350).
International policies and interventions towards a unified government in Somalia have equally resulted in undesirable outcomes. Take for instance the negotiations sponsored by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and spearheaded by Kenya in the year 2002 (Menkhaus, 34). The talks that were headed by Kenyan and other African diplomats considered a political union between the major clans of Somalia viable. However, Rotberg argues that these negotiations led to increased violence in relatively peaceful regions of Somalia (16). Smaller tribes with less controlled in the national government affairs seemed to have been left out in the negotiations and this led to wide spread violence.
The rest of UN-backed governments have faced similar resistance. US-backed governments are negotiated in foreign countries and in most cases the indigenous people are left out (Menkhaus,76). The clan system is Somalia is very rigid in terms of political involvement. None of clans want to play second or subject to another. Moreover, international intervention seems to worsen the situation. Armed incursions into Somalia have in the past failed and a military may seemed inappropriate. Therefore, it can be argued that the lack of people-driven legitimate government is the cause of all turmoil in Somalia.
The best way to approach Somalia is negotiating a leadership that encompasses all clans. In doing so, Somalia’s private sector should play the leading role. Somalia’s private sector should first negotiate a cease fire among the clans to end the civil war. Somalia, though in the absence of the Central government, has had a vibrant private sector recording better indices as compared to their neighbors and most of West Africa. Somalia’s poverty, road per very 1,000 citizens, internet use and telephone communication indices are much better as compared to West Africa and some of their neighbors (Coyne, 351). A properly negotiated ceasefire and ending the protracted civil war is the first step that any failed state should address. Somalia may currently be experiencing relative peace after the elimination of the Al Shabaab and the pirates by AMISOM forces and therefore should advantage of the situation.
The next step for Somalia is to address the political issues the plague the country’s leadership. Since independence, the country has either had a dictator or lacked any form of government. This may be due to lack of a stable constitution that guides the political structures of the country. Thus the political leadership of the country should quickly embark on crafting a new constitution that will be put to a referendum. The constitution should be tailored at addressing the social structures of the people of Somalia. Either, the crafting process should be inclusive and should be done in good faith. Other failed states have managed to develop a new constitutional dispensation in order to address the political structures that a stable country requires as well as setting up a legitimate government.
During this period, the country should be led by a transitional government created by all the clans. A new constitutional dispensation that is acceptable to a majority of Somalis will guide the country out of turmoil. Additionally, the constitution will provide structures for socioeconomic development of the country.
While Somalia was a failed state, the international community was less concerned about the country until the emergence of piracy in the high seas and the Al Shabaab, the extremist group. The African Union formed a peace keeping mission African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) composed of several states such as Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Though the military intervention may have registered successful eviction of the terror group as well as stemmed piracy, much has to be done on the political front. In particular, care must be taken in forming a legitimate government. Somalis are tired of the humanitarian crises in their country and therefore the effort to form a legitimate government must be the effort of the people of Somalia. The international community should keep off such negotiations and let the Somalis decide their own destiny.
Coyne, Christopher J. "Reconstructing Weak and Failed States: Foreign Intervention and the Nirvana Fallacy." Foreign Policy Analysis, (2006 ): 343–360.
Kreijen, Gérard. State Failure, Sovereignty And Effectiveness: Legal Lessons from the Decolonization of Sub-Saharan Africa: Volume 50 of Developments in International Law. Brussels: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2004.
Menkhaus, Kenneth. "State Collapse in Somalia: Second Thoughts." Review of African Political Economy (30) (2003): 405-422.
Rotberg, Robert. State Failure and State Weakness in Time of Terror . Boston : Brookings Institution Press, 2003.