Saturday, 6 August 2011

Somalia: Basket case of Africa. The country without a government or law and order.

The AK-47 assault rifle. The weapon of choice of Somali clan bosses and widely used 
to intimidate civilians and create refugees.

The Somalia crisis. Chaos and drought plus feudal clan warfare equals disaster.

Somalia has a population of about 10 million people. 45 percent of that population is under 14 and those 15 to 64 account for 53 percent. Only two percent of Somalis manage to live past 65. 
This youthful population (average age 17.8 years) is now growing at 1.6 percent each year or about 160,000 new babies who if they are a female can expect a lifespan of 52 years and 48 years if they are male. The infant mortality rates is 106 for each 1000 births. A Somali woman can expect to give birth to 6.3 children. Birth control is a dream.
Literacy in Somalia is 37 percent for the entire population but when split by sex it is 49 percent for males and 26 percent for women. Literacy is very basic because most Somali men attend school for only three years and the women for two years.
The entire GNP for Somalia in 2009 was $5.9 billion US. If this GNP is distributed equally across the population everyone would have an annual income of $590 each year. Of course the reality is that this is not the case and many Somalis get by or survive on much much less than $590.
Somalia has no discernible government...
Somalia doesn't really have a government. It is supposed to be a republic, it has a crest and a flag but in reality no one is really in charge. The US has no embassy in the capital Mogadishu and does any business in Somalia from the embassy in neighbouring Nairobi, Kenya. 
Refugees account for over 10 percent of the population or about 1.1 million people. Many have flooded over the boarder to Kenya creating huge stress on that other East African country. 
Somalia is a Muslim country with most Somalis in the Sunni camp. Since its neighbours, Kenya and Ethiopia are not Muslim there is a natural tension as Muslim refugees try to escape the clan warfare violence, drought and abject poverty of Somalia by entering these countries looking for help.
The UN has a presence in Somalia but their work is largely to tamp down the chaos to a manageable level and by all reports the UN troops drawn mostly from Africa have been contributing to the problem by their own corruption and often poor behaviour towards the locals.
Layer clan warfare on this drought, corruption and UN passive approaches to their job and of course the situation gets worse and descends into a major crisis  where the first to suffer are the children.
What can be done?
What can be done? Frankly very little unless the feudal clan nature of this society can be altered into a nation state. Clan chiefs operate with private armies against each other continually vying for local authority and power using all the skills usually associated with Mafia bosses.
The current conditions are much like the tug and pull in the reign of Henry II in 12th Century England. The crown (nation state in waiting) was always trying to assert its authority against powerful local lords who wanted their independence from the responsibilities imposed by central governments and always tried to avoid any controls sought or expected by the king.
On the coasts desperate people are turned into pirates pulling in ships for ransom as they pass from the Suez Canal into the Red Sea and round the horn of Africa into the Indian Ocean. This situation is also hampered by rules of engagement given to Western navies patrolling these shipping lanes. As a result piracy continues in the Indian Ocean. There is a need for a much stronger response to this problem by the United Nations.
Stop the importation of arms.
The other aspect of this problem is the importation of cheap arms. Please note that the arms most used in Somalia are either AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, jeep mounted recoilless rifles and large calibre machine guns all of Russian or Chinese origin or made under license from their patents. 
Very few weapons in this region and in fact throughout  other African conflicts are from the West. There is even a AK-47 factory established in Ethiopia ostensively to make weapons for their own defense but likely also to export its wares to other African states.
Weapons controls are essential if the violence in Somalia is to have any hope of being controlled. Armed clan armies roam at will throughout the countryside selling protection to the population or living off the meagre resources of the people. This situation is intolerable when crops fail, livestock die of thirst and people feel the need to protect themselves by migrating to already overcrowded Kenyan refugee camps.
The refugee camps are also far from being safe havens. Very soon they establish their own internal hierarchies and even criminal organizations. They are not safe, in fact they do little to solve the problem. The temporary becomes permanent. A new normal is established that is not much less violent than what the Somalis escaped. 
The UN attempts to resettle refugees but very few make it out of these dreadful camps to establish new lives elsewhere. In addition, Somalis are viewed in East Africa with suspicion because they are Muslim and the criminal nature of their homeland is seen as a training ground for terror in Africa whether it is true or not.
These anxieties may be ill founded but in the popular mind they are very real. Just how the Somalia problem is solved is anyone's guess. Perhaps Somalia is simply an ungovernable basket case. The UN has failed in all its interventions. The Somalian people constantly hover on hope that never comes.  One thing is certain, however, clan bosses will always find resources to import arms and ammunition instead of food and medicines. It seems that they have a great deal of difficulty escaping their old ideas and replacing it with a state that serves the greater good of the Somalian people.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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