The text-book example of a failed state today is Somalia, where for two decades the country has functioned without a centralized government able to exercise sovereignty over its borders. Indeed the state, as we recognize a state, is dead. The struggling government of Somalia – the TFG – controls only the central area of the country while the South remains the jurisdiction of the violent extremist group Al-Shabaab. Huge swaths of land in Northern Somalia, namely Puntland and Somaliland, have either declared independence (Somaliland) or act in a semi-autonomous nature (Puntland).
Somalia has not existed as a unified nation since 1991 when clan based factions overthrew the president of Somalia, General Siad Barre. Due to the inability of the different clans to reach a consensus regarding next steps after the coup, the country’s economic and political structure fell apart. Two decades of sporadic fighting have followed with few options remaining on how to ‘fix’ Somalia.
How then can Somalia be brought back to life?
In the same way a state is an interdependent web of institutions and apparatuses, a nation can be repaired by building each system in conjunction with the other. Focusing on a single aspect of what makes a state, for example only the economy, will not work in the case of overall development. Policy makers working to rebuild Somalia, whether local or as members of the international community, must therefore develop a coherent strategy that fixes economic, security, social and political issues in a co-ordinated fashion. Working towards only one of the for-mentioned categories is doomed to fail, as factors present in other categories will negate any progress.
Economic development is often at the forefront of nation building. The economy is viewed as the foundation for any successful country, as poverty is often viewed as the key to many problems in underdeveloped nations. Of course Somalia is no exception. The country lays in economic ruin, with 70% unemployment and an average national income of less than $2 a day.
In order to fix the economy of Somalia, focus is often on the development of the private sector. Strategies such as micro-financing hope to build a functioning business class from the grassroots. The hope is micro-financing could decrease unemployment and increase overall welfare.
Economic development, however, is not enough. This is because headway made by stimulating a private sector could be negated by the prevalence of violence and lawlessness in the country. Terror groups like Al-Shabaab make it difficult for successful businesses to function in a region where insurgency and terror attacks pose an everyday threat. The absence of a functioning judicial system makes property enforcement the responsibility of the individual, which perpetuates violence through vigilante justice.
The negative cycle continues, however, as a lack of economic opportunity leads to piracy. Somalia earning the reputation as the haven for modern piracy leaves it unattractive to FDI, essentially isolating it from the world economy.
Along with clan tension also comes religious tension. Radical Isalmist ideology made its way into Somalia in the late 90’s adding yet another dimension to an already complex ethnic dilemma. Instead of simply fighting for ethnic purposes, groups like Al-Shabaab – as did their predecessor the UIC - fight for control over the majority Islamic population of Somalia conducting brutal atrocities in the process. The mix of both ethnic and religious warfare polarize Somali society, creating mistrust and entrenched hostility.
In a climate where feuds go back generations, or to one’s own religion, the possibility of forming an effective democratic government diminishes. Entrenched hostilities towards another ethnic group or religious faction make it unlikely cooperation can occur at a higher level between the leaders of these factions.
The lack of political order then cycles back into the other issues mentioned previously. A lack of centralized government means it is difficult to enforce or even draft property law. Police and other state security apparatuses either do not exist or are ineffective. In essence political order is both the cause and result of the other disfunctioning aspects of Somalia.
While Somalia as a whole is a failed-state, it has functioning appendages in the form of Somaliland and Puntland. These circumstances should be capitalized on by the international community, recognizing Puntland and Somaliland as independent states and attempting to replicate the formula throughout the rest of Somalia.
It should be mentioned that the solution of partition carries with it a battery of issues. First and foremost, the autonomous region of Puntland does not view itself as separate from Somalia but as the building block of a new unified Somali Federation. If partition is to work, Puntland’s government must shift its perspective from the entirety of Somalia to the stability of only Puntland.
There also remains hostility between Puntland and Somaliland over disputed borders. This is where the African Union and international community at large can play a role, acting as mediators in establishing the borders of the two infant nations.
Finally, creating new states to the south outside of the already established Puntland and Somaliland could prove difficult. Getting the TFG to cede their ambition to govern the entirety of Somalia may prove impossible. There is also the ever present threat of Al-Shabaab which must be eradicated if partition is to work in the Southern most region of Somalia.
However even in the South partition still appears to be the best option. Establishing temporary cooperation between the clans in the South in order to conduct border negotiations and population exchanges could be more feasible than establishing the long term cooperation required for a democratic state.