I predicted when the Ethiopians rode into Mogadishu in January, 2007, that the minute they fled with their tails between their legs, the Islamists would swarm back in to retake their place of power. I was right, but the time period was off — only because the occupiers, and the “Transitional National Government” they propped up, stayed far longer than anyone expected.
It’s been barely two years, but in that time span, Somalia’s economy and civil society has been gutted as if by fire — and in many cases, the literal sense applies. Of course, many things have changed since early 2007. Some of the more radical Islamists have gained strength after hardening as an armed insurgency. Half of Mogadishu’s population has been displaced by the fighting between the “transitional government” and the Islamist factions.
The tragedy is even more bitter because this is not par for the course in Somalia. Over the 15 years from 1991 after the end of the civil war, Somalia went from famine to having a functioning economy. Somalis enjoyed services such as schools, hospitals, multiple competing electricity, phone and internet companies and even a Coca-Cola bottling plant. It wasn’t Belgium by any stretch, but Somalis did for themselves what decades of foreign intervention never accomplished in any other country. All this despite the United States’ funding and arming of warlords — to “fight al-Qaeda,” of course — who continually threw off any peaceful equilibrium that might have been reached through economic stability. Those warlords now make up much of the foundering “government.”
The pirates that the world has been sweating lately do not exist in a vacuum — Somalia’s slide back down into the pit of poverty at the hands of its UN-installed “government” has forced the toughest among them to make a living where they can. Most of them would surely rather return to making money in another, less dangerous trade.
The Islamist groups have been fighting each other in recent weeks, but even this hasn’t kept one faction or another from snapping up bits of former “government” property and power. It seems the more moderate factions and tribal militias are fed up with the brutal tactics of the al-Shabaab group and are trying to finish them off before the “transitional” regime is officially routed.
I don’t know how this situation will end, except that it’s clear that forcing a state on authority-averse Somalis didn’t work the first 15 times, and likely won’t again in the future. The big question is, why wasn’t that obvious to “the international community”? Or — don your tin foil — maybe it was all along.