I was all set to write a post summarizing the current state of affairs in southern Somalia, looking at the invasions by Kenya and Ethiopia as well as the current struggles going on within the Transitional Federal Government. But it turns out that the Christian Science Monitor and The Guardian have already turned out excellent summaries of the situation. I refer you to their pieces.
The two pieces raise similar concerns, though The Guardian is decidedly more pessimistic.
With more and more African Union countries sending peacekeeping troops to Somalia, and with the militant group Al Shabab clearly on the retreat, it might appear that Somalia’s future is finally starting to look bright.
Bright is too strong a word, of course. Much of Somalia remains in the grip of a famine. Its coastline is a haven for pirates, smugglers, and criminal gangs. Military incursions by Kenya and Ethiopia will almost inevitably take a heavy toll among civilians as they fight groups like Al Shabab. And the Somali government, responsible for creating a stable, workable society after the militant groups are defeated, seems barely able to carry on a conversation with itself without getting into a fistfight.
Yet after years of neglect, Somalia is finally getting international attention, and the flurry of diplomatic and military activities does provide some hope that Somalia may finally pull itself out of a 20-year period of civil war, anarchy, and dysfunction.
Even if al-Shabaab is defeated by the posse of armies hunting it, the TFG is in no position to unite a country shattered by war and famine. It is riven with clan rivalries. Far from supporting reconciliation, President Sharif and Sharif Hassan have undermined it. An estimated $2bn, one-third of the country’s GDP, comes in through hawala or small money transfers, and yet $100m in remittances from the US are imperilledbecause of government rules blocking the funding of terrorist groups. Around 250,000 Somalis are still affected by the famine, but the money cannot get through. This is the quintessential failed state, whose failure foreign armies, militant fighters and venal politicians appear hellbent on continuing.
Both pieces are well worth reading in full.
For a look at how the war in Somalia is affecting the region, I would recommend this piece by The East African, which reports that “the war in Somalia has led to closer intelligence collaboration between Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda that is thought to have thwarted plans by the Al Shabaab militia to launch terror attacks in the region over Christmas and New Year holidays.” Even if the military situation in southern Somalia settles back into stalemate, or the TFG proves incapable of governing, the current conflict could strengthen military and intelligence partnerships in East Africa as a whole. It will be interesting to see whether tighter linkages in this domain bring the countries of the region closer together in other areas as well.