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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Somalia - As uncertainty reigns

 By Mark T. Jones - The nature of the human condition is such that progress and setbacks are all part of everyday existence. The Somali peoples having become use to the vicissitudes of life invariably remain sanguine and this is what ensures that they are such good company.
They are the great survivors, who sustained by a deep and profound faith have weathered the worst that life can throw at them. Hardened by an often harsh and forbidding landscape and tested by truculent and jealous neighbours, their indomitable spirit is truly humbling. Resilience and self reliance would appear to be hot wired into their very DNA. Yet for all this they, just like all humanity are not without their flaws and even the staunchest of friends of the Somali peoples find themselves having to admit that chief of these is a pride, a pride that invariably means that at times the Somali can be his own worse enemy.

The current political crisis in Mogadishu amply demonstrates just how dangerous this pride can be. Somalia's government has become polarised and as a consequence a paralysis is affecting ministries. Those who have been elected to serve are preoccupied by a power struggle that is not only unseemly, but extremely damaging for the country and the region as a whole. The air appears full of intrigue and as a consequence not only are historic clan divisions exacerbated, but those with nefarious intentions have been provided with near perfect conditions to carry out their activities. Somalia's enemies, both internal and external must be thrilled by what is taking place. An already weak and ineffectual government appears to be intent on tearing itself apart and offering what is left to the hyenas and vultures. Al Shabaab, having been on the back foot for so long, is being given valuable breathing space and those intent on fleecing the people know their corrupt activity is likely to go unchecked. Such is the seriousness of what is taking place that if this situation continues the country will fragment as parts of the federation will have no choice to break away in order to survive economically.  Already there is growing disquiet in the other parts of the country, people yearn for peace and development and they feel that the bonds of familial and national loyalty are being stretched to breaking point. The current impasse and the uncertainty that has resulted has severely dented investor confidence, something that has undone a lot of excellent work.

Somalia's trials and tribulations have far reaching consequences, not just for a county trying desperately to re-establish itself after years of conflict, but also for a region that has become a byword for natural and manmade catastrophes.  The current leadership appear to have a limited grasp of what leadership and service actually means. As things stand the political elite seem to be dodging responsibility at every turn, something that has frustrated the likes of Nicholas Kay, the UN Special Representative for Somalia. That said, Kay himself is not without fault, as in the opinion of some he often comes across as some latter day Evelyn Baring (1841-1917) or Miles Lampson (1880-1964). Somalis are rightly occasionally suspicious of the UN's activities and effectiveness, all the more so as the UN spends the lion's share of any aid and assistance on itself in Somalia. For all the political machinations, it is the ordinary people who continue to pay the real price, they remain in a desperate situation, with unemployment and under employment a continuing scourge and the sense of hopelessness within some communities palpable.

Should the instability continue it could well create the sought of vacuum that pulls in external forces, ones who see a potential theatre operation for their activities having exited Afghanistan. The geopolitics of the region is such that it does not take a genius to work out how some policy makers and planners might wish to proceed. The threat to vital international shipping lanes, continuing instability and extremism in Yemen, and the securing new and existing oil, gas and mineral reserves will all play their part in their thinking.  Already Somaliland in particular has witnessed a dramatic upsurge of interest from those looking for a regional presence, something that may well be a portent of future covert activity across the Horn.  Whilst the region is no stranger to external meddling, it would do well to note that much of this could be tempered by addressing internal weaknesses. Nations in a state of civil war beggar themselves, and what we are witnessing in Mogadishu is an administration little short of being at war with itself. It should be a matter of particular concern that those who have a duty to report what is taking place are increasingly being targeted. Journalists are being routinely arrested, kidnapped or murdered. Being a journalist almost anywhere across the entire the Horn of Africa is an extremely perilous occupation. In truth nations rely on responsible journalists to elucidate issues that certain peoples, especially powerful, corrupt and criminal elements would rather we not know about. The degree of threats and intimidation that journalists and their families are receiving is indicative of the importance of their work. It should be a matter of concern for all right minded people that journalists are being targeted in this manner, all the more so as some of the intimidation is coming from the forces of the state.

Somalia's current agonies are already causing regional anxiety and there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that potential investors and especially financial institutions are rethinking their short to medium term strategies. Success stories such as Somaliland cannot firewall themselves entirely from what is happening to its neighbour. As for the likes of Puntland State there is increasing frustration that the madness in Mogadishu could cost them dear. Uncertainty is always bad for business and if it is allowed to continue to reign in certain quarters the ramifications will be far reaching. It is said that pride comes before the fall, well in that case, certain individuals need to swallow their pride and start putting the people and the country's peace and prosperity before themselves. Let us hope sanity prevails.

Mark T. Jones
International Speaker & Leadership Specialist
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