Global Policy Forum

UN and US Should Restore Somalia


By Afyare Abdi Elmi

January 27, 2009


The election and inauguration of Barack Obama as US president restores hope for millions of Muslims and Africans throughout the world.With this new leadership, many Africans expect the US to adopt policies that will help to resolve deadly conflicts and address the HIV/Aids epidemic. Many more, in the Third and Muslim World, hope the Obama administration will, at least, end the destructive foreign policies of past US administrations.

Somalis, like many around the globe, are hoping for a renewed spirit of internationalism in Obama's foreign policy.They believe an Obama administration will have the opportunity to help address the complex external and domestic issues in this strategic Horn of Africa nation.


According to human rights organisations, Washington's previous policies toward Somalia have contributed to the suffering of millions of civilians - thousands of people have been killed and more than one million people displaced.In order for the Obama administration to successfully address the insecurity and humanitarian challenges in Somalia, it would have to roll back statelessness in the country and support a viable, comprehensive central government.

The world community must understand that the root cause of maritime piracy, which has garnered much media attention in recent months, and other security problems is the lack of law and order exercised by a central authority in Mogadishu.Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been a persistent problem for the last five years but it had not garnered the media attention it recently received until a Saudi Arabian supertanker, the Sirius Star, was hijacked on November 18.Since then, Efthimios Mitropoulos, the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organisation, has appealed to the UN Security Council to help address the problem.

An international conference on this issue was recently convened in Nairobi, Kenya in which many governments and organisations vowed to act to end the maritime threat.


Despite their good intentions, however, many of those voices calling for action have misdiagnosed the problem.Their solutions have been more of the same old and failed policy prescriptions: send more ships to the Somali coast, ask the Indian government to protect ships and pass more UN resolutions.

When some form of functioning local authority emerged in southern Somalia in 2006, piracy was all but eradicated.In Somalia, there exists an inverse relationship between authority (or the lack thereof) within the country and an increase in piracy off its shores. Therefore, if the US and the international community was to help establish a legitimate and functioning state in Somalia this could, in fact, prove to be a cheaper and more effective solution to the piracy problem than some of the alternative suggestions.It would also greatly reduce the suffering of the Somali people.

End Ethiopian meddling

Ethiopia's occupation has also exacerbated the security situation in Somalia. Now that Ethiopian troops have withdrawn from most Somali territory it is time that the international community pressure Addis Ababa to end its meddling in its neighbour's internal affairs. The Ethiopian government should be pressured into stopping its attacks on Somalia and ending its support for notorious proxy warlords.

Interestingly, the Ethiopian government is playing its old games with the international community and over the lives of the millions of displaced Somalis.Despite its official rhetoric that it would withdraw its troops from the country, Ethiopian forces are occupying new regions and arming notorious warlords under false religious names - Gedo, Bakool, Galgaduud and Bay regions illustrate this point.

Since 2006, many Somalis, whether or not they subscribe to the ideologies of the Islamic Courts Union believe that Ethiopia is largely responsible for the perpetuation of the statelessness in the country.With the Ethiopian factor removed, most of the home-grown factions will be forced to pursue peaceful means to end their differences and hostilities.

Transitional authority and institutions

The UN has rightfully supported the creation of a transitional government and parliament; however, these processes must be administered very delicately.The UN-led process has to be as inclusive as possible - most, if not all, Somali actors have to identify and own the results.The current UN approach focuses on the two main actors (the transitional government and the Alliance of Re-liberation of Somalia), which threatens to alienate other players.

For example, business community leaders, religious scholars, members of the Somali diaspora, civil society, and women's groups must also be permitted to participate in the political rehabilitation process.While including more stakeholders is necessary, designing context-appropriate political institutions that can function is even more important.The often-prescribed semi-parliamentary system, the federal model and the proposed 550-member parliament have to be carefully considered.One approach may include a presidential system modeled after the mechanism used in Somaliland and Puntland.A decentralised unitary model of governance, and dividing the 550-member parliament into a bicameral system (senate and house of representatives) would be one way to rectify these problems.


Humanitarian agencies are reporting that millions of Somalis are on the verge of starvation because of the protracted conflict and soaring food prices across the world.While solving the political and security problems that led to the current situation is necessary, an immediate humanitarian rescue effort is needed. In particular, the international community must help the displaced return to their homes.

Somalia's strategic value to world security and the world economy cannot be overstated; the UN - supported by the Obama administration - must intervene quickly. Piracy in the high seas is just one symptom of a large and complex problem.A legitimate and functioning state that fulfils its international and national obligations is the answer to the insecurity problems.

With wise policy prescriptions, the use of home-grown values and forces, and the sustained support of the international community, legitimate authority can be restored.



FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.