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Somalia - A Country in Peril


A new report warns Somalia has descended into terrible levels of armed conflict, humanitarian crisis, assassinations and political meltdown. The strategy paper is published by the ENOUGH Project and written by Davidson College professor and Horn of Africa expert Ken Menkhaus.

From Davidson, North Carolina, Menkhaus told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that it would be a dangerous error of judgment to brush off Somalia's problems as just more of the same.

"I say that because that's the tendency for most observers when they hear bad news out of Somalia. They presume that it's just part of a long pattern, 17 years, of warfare and state collapse, of failed peace processes and they move on to the next topic. When in fact, what we've seen in Somalia over the past two years is the rise of fundamentally new, seismic changes with much greater threats. The single most important of which is that this conflict, which used to be largely a local affair with some regional dimensions is now very much both a regional and even global conflict," he says.

Menkhaus says as a result there is much greater danger for Somalia, the region and even the United States. He says that the humanitarian crisis in the country results from a "lethal cocktail of factors."

"We've got the perfect storm right now in terms of the humanitarian crisis in Somalia. We've got massive displacement… Much of Mogadishu is a ghost town. We have upwards of 700,000 Somalis displaced into the countryside. They can't be reached easily because humanitarian space is largely closed due to a combination of policies on the part of both the government and the insurgents and criminal elements. There's a lack of control that's made it extremely dangerous for aid agencies. Then there's a drought and there's spiked food prices and fuel prices worldwide. And there's also widespread counterfeiting of the Somali Shilling creating hyperinflation," he says.

He says that even Somali families that do have some money are having trouble finding enough food for one meal a day.

Assassination has become a frequently used weapon on all sdes of the conflict, disrupting the very score of Somali society.

"This is one of the most troubling long term aspects…is the extent to which assassination has become a tool of choice among all of the armed groups… And the group that is getting caught in the middle are civil society leaders, aid workers and professional Somalis and business people. And that group is the most important constituency for peace in the country. They are fleeing the country or they are essentially going underground in the capital. They are shocked. They are in a state of despair… And the worst part for them is they don't even know what direction the shooting is going to come from when they're targeted." He says.

As a result, the loss of this segment of Somali society, he says, undermines the recently signed Djibouti Agreement, which was worked out by moderates on both sides. Menkhaus says, "It can't succeed unless there is a constituency inside the country that's going to back it. And that constituency is there, but they've been silenced," he says.

The strategy paper also says there is a lack of unity in the TFG, Transitional Federal Government. In fact, it says it was near collapse recently.

The Somali conflict has also created, what Menkhaus calls, "the counter terrorism blowback." He says, "Our counter terrorism policies from the United States have clearly not succeeded. If you look at the situation in Somalia, it is a far more dangerous, more radicalized situation today than it was two years ago. A couple of the policies that we have pursued have inadvertently made things worse. Our backing of the Ethiopian occupation has provided a perfect breeding ground for insurgency and radicalization. The continued partnership with armed groups…that some would call warlord militia is deeply unpopular and has created a great deal of anti-Americanism in the country."

The ENOUGH Project strategy paper recommends that the international community put enormous pressure on all parties in Somalia to allow humanitarian operations to resume to the millions in need of assistance. It says longer term goals include supporting the Djibouti peace agreement among moderates and look for better ways of state building in Somalia after 17 years of failure.

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