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.

Every previous government has collapsed and with the continued insistence on an externally brokered top-down peace process this government may also be doomed to failure.

Some advocate leaving Somalia to the Somalis to fix themselves. Certainly foreign influence and intervention has often done more harm than good.

Last year Hillary Clinton gave another example of the flip-flopping foreign policy postions that have proven more damaging than constructive for Somalia. In Nairobi last year she called Ahmed’s administration, “the best hope we’ve had for quite some time for a return to stability and the possibility of progress in Somalia.”

If only the U.S. had thought that three years earlier when it backed Ethiopia to drive Ahmed's Islamic Courts Union (ICU) out of Mogadishu. The grassroots movement, of which Ahmed was a key leader, and Al Shabaab, the armed wing, briefly pacified the country in 2006.

If they had been left alone the country might be at peace now. But back then, through the lens of George W. Bush’s "war on terror," the Shariah-based ICU had to be shut down.

Of course the killing must be stopped which means more peacekeepers must be deployed and the government’s own forces must be trained and given enough backbone to defeat Al Shabaab.

Since 2006 Al Shabaab has evolved into a particularly nasty group of extremists with a penchant for Koranic interpretations that lead them to chop off hands and feet of convicted thieves and to stone to death those found guilty of adultery, including rape victims.

Al Shabaab also periodically proves itself as ridiculous as it is brutal by banning musical ringtones, bras and PlayStations. At times it can be quite stunningly childish: Everyday the Ugandan spokesperson of the peacekeeping force receives text messages and crank calls from men and women shouting foul-mouthed threats in mangled English and Somali.

GlobalPost caught up with the president of Somalia, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, late last year in Chicago:

It would be laughable if so many people were not dying everyday as a result of the constant deadly battles between Al Shabaab on one side and the Transitional Federal Government and African Union peacekeepers of AMISOM on the other.

Defeating Al Shabaab is a necessity and inviting in or buying off its less extreme allies would weaken it. Once the government has a monopoly of force in the territory the real work can begin, of carefully building a consensus from the bottom up using existing traditional and clan structures.

There’s a small-scale model for how this can work in Somaliland, a breakaway northern region that declared independence in 1991 and went through torturous years that appear to have succeeded in building sustainable peace and stability.

Reconstituting Somali society would be a deathly slow process and it requires an acknowledgement that there is no quick fix. But the alternative is the current brutality and that cannot be allowed to continue.

Inside Somalia: The series

Life in hell: under fire in Mogadishu

Peacekeeping: on the ground with African Union forces

Al Shabaab: a glimpse into the Islamic extremist group

A nation of poets: poetry is a political tool as powerful as the gun