Lawrence Solomon: Drop effort to keep Somalia together

(June 1, 2012) Better to break up this artificial nation. Last in a series.

To save Somalia from piracy, terrorism, hunger, corruption, warlordism and a third decade of anarchy, representatives from 54 countries, along with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, met in Turkey on Friday.

The root causes of Somalia’s many problems, and the remedies, should by now be obvious to all involved. Instead, the dignitaries assembled in Turkey — representing one-quarter of the nations on Earth — are proposing policies that would continue to doom the Somali people.

Somalia, the failed state in the Horn of Africa, was born in 1960 with the seed of its own destruction — a grandiose commitment to achieve the dream of a Greater Somalia at the expense of its neighbours. Somalia’s five-pointed flag demonstrated this commitment. Two of the points represented British Somalia and Italian Somalia, the only two foreign protectorates that merged to form the newly independent nation. A third point represented French Somaliland to the north, a French territory whose population in a referendum had just voted against joining the new state; a fourth point represented the Northern Frontier District of a soon-to-be-independent Kenya; and the fifth point represented territories of Ethiopia, a sovereign state, to the west.

Six months after Somalia’s day of independence, Somali hostilities against its neighbours began and, with few respites, have persisted almost continuously since. Somalia first precipitated attacks on Ethiopia and Kenya, then civil war broke out among the clans within Somalia. The upshot was untold suffering among the peoples of the region, secession by the former British Somaliland; and continuing chaos in what remains of Somalia.

The British and the Italians, who had bought into the Somali activists’ demands for a Greater Somalia, unwisely facilitated the merger of their two culturally different protectorates, then saw the region drown in blood as the Somalis attempted to capture territory from their neighbours.

Yet the demands for a Greater Somalia had neither historical nor cultural legitimacy — Greater Somalia was merely a post-colonial conceit. The Somalis — a dark-skinned people with Caucasian features — didn’t even exist until circa 1200 AD when the male Arab colonizers of the Horn of Africa formed new clans by marrying blacks, multiplying in number rapidly, and then squeezing most non-Somalis — those without male Arab lineage — out of the lands. The Horn of Africa did see some scattered clan-based Somali sultanates and empires, but mostly it saw colonization at the hands of Ottomans, Ethiopians, and Europeans. At no time were Somalis united in a Greater Somalia — the chief allegiances of these clan-based societies were to their own clans.

The culturally different Somali clans of the north — what was once British Somaliland — were the first to see that a Grand Somalia led to a deadly dead end. In 1991, it seceded to become the independent state of Somaliland, over the objection of Somalia’s central government, of Arab and African states that didn’t want to legitimize secessionist movements of their own, of the former colonial powers who didn’t want to admit their mistakes, and of the United Nations, which wins the support of corrupt regimes by guaranteeing their sovereignty.

Yet Somaliland has thrived, despite a brutal civil war that saw its capital city destroyed. Somaliland’s secret? Because the government of this breakaway state was ineligible for foreign aid, it became a self-reliant, peaceable and free-market state relatively free of corruption, unlike the official government of Somalia, which lavish foreign aid has made one of the most corrupt states on Earth. This week, World Bank auditors revealed they could account for only US$11-million of the US$94-million that the central government had received in 2009, and just US$22-million of its 2010 revenues of US$70-million.

But for dependency on foreign aid, the northern part of what remains of Somalia — an historically independent-minded region called Puntland — might also have seceded. Puntland, in fact, has already gone partway to independence, by declaring itself an autonomous region. Now Puntland may break off entirely, mostly because Puntland appears to have so much oil that it would become one of the richest countries in the Middle East.

To prevent a further breakup of Somalia, which would encourage breakaways by independent-minded peoples in other countries, the nations meeting in Turkey are promising to reward the leaders in Puntland if they’ll stay, and those in Somaliland if they return. If the Turkey meeting succeeds, it would create Somalia’s 15th failed government and set the stage for more like it. If it fails, the Somali people will have succeeded, by freeing themselves of the binds of foreign aid and false nationalism.

For a fascinating description of the origins of the Somali people, click here.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe. This article first appeared in the Financial Post.

Last in a series. Previously: Capitalist Haven

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