Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Starving Somalia

Jeffrey Gettleman has a probing 'news analysis' article in the NYTimes today about the slaughter in Somalia being perpetrated by the Shabab militia in the name of Islam. This isn't news, and echoes much of what we learned from Gettleman three months ago.

But the situation hasn't gotten better:
I heard many bad stories about the Shabab in these camps. Most people here fled Shabab zones, often starting out their journey with five or six children and arriving in Mogadishu with just one or two left. There is nothing else they can do. They either buried their children along the way or left them dying under a tree.

I heard many bad stories about the Shabab in these camps. Most people here fled Shabab zones, often starting out their journey with five or six children and arriving in Mogadishu with just one or two left. There is nothing else they can do. They either buried their children along the way or left them dying under a tree.
It is abundantly clear that this is only a "humanitarian" crisis in the sense that the deaths of Jews, Gypsies, Communists, and others in Nazi concentration camp were humanitarian crisis. Indeed, people are suffering. But the problem is political, not climatological. Save the Children reports a fraction of donations for better-publicized disasters. That makes sense: donors don't even know if their money can get to those suffering in Somalia!

Gettleman points out that while the Shabab are the problem, it's not clear that the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu is the solution:
[The T.F.G. is] a divided, unpopular collection of politicians and former warlords based in Mogadishu, Somalia’s bullet-riddled capital... Many analysts say the T.F.G. has performed dismally in responding to the famine (and to the Shabab), and in recent weeks, government militias have looted food and shot starving people.
'Government militias'. Got that?

The U.S. is making a mistake in propping up the notion of Somalia. This artificial country, cobbled together out of a British and an Italian colony, has a population that seems homogeneous only to outsiders. The clans - despite sharing a language - hate each others' guts. And at least two regions (Somaliland and Puntland) have successfully governed themselves independent of Mogadishu for twenty years. But rather than recognize functional self-government, the West showers money on the warlords who have been least able to make peace with each other!

A better response to the crisis would be for the U.S., E.U. and others to withdraw recognition from Somalia. No law says that every inch of the world has to belong to some country (Antarctica doesn't), and we should take a skeptical approach to a region that has nothing approximating a state. At the same time we should formally recognize Somaliland and Puntland and help them negotiate their border disputes, help them develop strong institutions and trade ties, and generally become productive members of the world community.

As for the lawless part of Somalia? Offer assistance to authorities (tribal, elected, whatever) that govern with the consent of their people, that allow economic freedom, freedom of speech, and provide security. In areas without such an authority, the international community can conquer specific refugee towns, and secure them itself. If threats to basic human need and security recede, the international presence can likewise recede.

Humanity existed before government, and just government proceeds from the consent of the governed. This can't be forced - it must be demanded by the people. Until the southern Somalians begin to build their own society, outsiders will be powerless to have any influence beyond the physical realm.