Connect to share and comment

Inside Somalia: When will it improve?

Opinion: No quick fix for Somalia. Slow peace building from the ground up is needed.

Editor's note: Somalia defines the term failed state. This GlobalPost series includes accounts of being under fire in Mogadishu and on guard duty with African Union peacekeepers, an investigation into the Al Shabaab rebels and a look at Somalia's revered poetry.

NAIROBI, Kenya — An entire generation of Somalis have grown up knowing nothing but war
and death, and still the cycle goes on.

The United Nations and Unites States led wrong-headed peacekeeping missions in the 1990s that left them with body bags and burnt fingers.

Today the U.S. restricts itself to arm’s length meddling — alternately backing clan warlords and then Ethiopia’s invading army, or launching cruise missiles and at least one special forces assassination squad, or sending shipments of weapons to a country already awash with guns.

For its part the U.N. watches, spends a little money on the current African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) but refuses to send in its own blue helmets until there is, as the secretary-general put it, a peace to keep.

That won’t be any time soon.

The current Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has U.N. support, meaning its president and emissaries are recognized by many states but it is not a government in any real sense of the word. Barricaded into a hilltop presidential villa it provides no services to its people, not even security, and certainly not healthcare or education.

Its president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, was voted in by fellow parliamentarians, not ordinary Somalis, so he has no popular mandate.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. special representative for Somalia, recently asserted that the country had now moved “from failed state to fragile state,” but there’s little evidence to support such progress.

On a recent visit to the capital, Ould-Abdallah and a couple of other dignitaries donned flak jackets before racing through the streets in armored vehicles to greet the president. They left hurriedly before the Al Shabaab insurgents could mortar the airport as they often do when bigwigs are in town.

Weary observers of the two-decade-old crisis point out that 13 peace conferences spawned failed governments before this one was installed.

The best way to get an invite to the internationally funded meetings in posh African hotels was to assemble a militia with a few "technicals" and kill your way to a seat at the table. Many of these expensive affairs looked more like a warlords’ shindig than a serious peace-making effort.