Rebuilding Somalia & Global Resilience

Stephen DeAngelis

January 8, 2007

Somalia has once again found itself in the news because of strife and unrest. The current crisis was generated by the overthrow of Islamists who had controlled the capital, Mogadishu. They fled as Ethiopian military forces stormed the country in support of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government — a move supported in Washington. In fact, Washington ordered U.S. naval forces off the coast of Somalia to stop Islamists from fleeing via the sea. But Naval War College professor Jonathan Stevenson, in a New York Times op-ed piece, warns that “unless America plays a constructive role in Somalia’s next stage, the conflict could become a regional war and a new field of jihad.” [“A Fleeting Victory in Somalia,” 8 January 2007].

“The success of the Transitional Federal Government and its current prevalence were made possible entirely through the help of troops from neighboring Ethiopia, many of them trained and equipped by the United States. Nevertheless, Ethiopia cannot be expected to act as the government’s main force indefinitely. Nor, eventually, will Somalis, who are almost all Sunni Muslims, tolerate an open-ended occupation by Ethiopians, who are predominantly Christians. Enforcing peace in a politically atomized territory is remarkably difficult, as was painfully demonstrated by the American intervention in Somalia in the early 1990s. Turning a humanitarian mission into a coercive state-building effort angered local militia bosses, leading to the now-infamous ‘Black Hawk Down’ attack. The Ethiopians, being thoroughly familiar with the American experience and the Somalis’ historical tendency to resist external influence, are already talking about pulling out within a few months. What’s more, the American invasion of Iraq illuminates some drawbacks to any extended Ethiopian military presence in Somalia. Al Qaeda’s leadership would inevitably cast such a commitment as the non-Muslim occupation of a Muslim land. This would draw foreign jihadists into the conflict and lead to greater Islamic radicalization of Somalis themselves. Indeed, Ethiopia’s intervention and the United Nations Security Council’s authorization of a notional peacekeeping force have already prompted the Islamic Courts Council to declare jihad. Once bitten, twice shy, the United States should be loath to perpetuate this kind of blowback. Similar considerations also argue against a peacekeeping force led by a major power — even if one could be marshaled, which at present looks unlikely.”

The average Somali, quite frankly, is more interested in stability and personal security than who is in charge of the government. They fear that the latest conflict will foment even more unrest and may even encourage the warlords to once again start fighting — even if the Islamists are completely defeated. What, then, is to be done if an effective peacekeeping effort is unlikely to be mounted? Stevenson argues that diplomacy is the only way forward.

“The upshot is that there is no military solution to the quandary of Somalia. Robust diplomacy, with an eye toward creating some sort of power-sharing agreement between the transitional government and the Islamic Courts Council, appears to be the only hope. Given the recent struggles in Darfur, Congo and elsewhere, the idea of bringing Africans to the negotiating table might cause Westerners to roll their eyes. But there are a few hopeful signs that, in Somalia, diplomacy has a chance. For one thing, the European Union has shown an interest in becoming an honest broker among the main Somali factions. And Kenya, alarmed by the prospect of tens of thousands of Somali refugees pouring across its northern border, may feel compelled to resume its longstanding diplomatic role in Somali conflict resolution. Finally, neither the transitional government nor the Islamic courts are in a position to take over wholesale governance of the country: the various clan leaders, tribal elders and militia bosses around Somalia together control the pulse of power. In fact, it was the decision by dozens of local clan elders to withdraw their political and military backing that made it impossible for the Islamic Courts Council to defend Mogadishu and Kismayo.”

I certainly have nothing against diplomacy (and I hope it works), but diplomacy will have to be underwritten by tangible efforts that provide hope for a war weary populace. For me, that means that diplomacy must be accompanied by a Development-in-a-Box approach. Stevenson writes:

“The temptation in Washington will be to keep its distance and rely on Ethiopia, the European Union and Kenya for as long as possible. This attitude is myopic. Neither the American public nor the world believe that the Bush administration’s predominantly military approach to counterterrorism is working. Relying primarily on Ethiopian troops to tamp down Somali Islamism would represent a continuation of that flawed model, and of the corresponding risk of fueling the jihad. The United States’ full participation in a diplomatic process in the Horn of Africa, on the other hand, would constitute a relatively low-cost way of signaling a new American approach to Islam and a re-engagement in sub-Saharan Africa, which has largely been left out of Washington’s post-9/11 calculus. A result could be a small political victory in the Muslim world that would deprive Osama bin Laden and his followers of a new grievance rather than supplying them with one.”

Our Development-in-a-Box approach is but one manifestation of a larger framework I refer to as Global Resilience or Enterprise Resilience Management. I am convinced that this broader approach applies in situations beyond post-conflict and failed states — although that is an obvious application. Global Resilience is a holistic process that can be tailored to local circumstances. These are some of the issues I hope are dealt with by the Institute for Advanced Technologies in Global Resilience [IATGR}. Somalia presents a good opportunity to get the U.S., EU, UN, and NGOs involved in a cooperative, constructive way to improve the lives of people who deserve some peace and prosperity. The chances of success, of course, depend on being able to maintain enough security to give development a chance.