Somalia is frequently described as a country "on the brink." Some experts may tell you that this refers to Somalis being on "the brink" of disaster, or of collapse, as access to every life-sustaining service, such as food, water, and health care, is becoming more and more scarce, while the demand grows.
But at a time when there are already roughly 700,000 Somalis internally displaced, an estimated 20,000 people leaving Mogadishu every month, and with insecurity so severe that the international humanitarian response is being operated almost entirely by ‘remote control’ from Nairobi, it would be reasonable to say that Somalia is already well over the edge.
In a March report from the UN Secretary General on the situation in Somalia, there seemed to be an indication that the country might be returning from the brink.
The report speaks of a positive momentum toward peace negotiations, including the new Prime Minister’s openness to dialogue and outreach to opposition forces, the energy and commitment of new UN leadership, and the re-engagement of the UN Security Council.
However, this belies the ongoing realities on the ground. Insurgent groups seem to be making gains every day. Actions taken by the United States, such as the "surgical attack" on Doble in March, are undermining the credibility of the entire international community, including the UN.
And the opposition forces, Somalia's security forces, and the Ethiopian military all continue to perpetrate gross human rights abuses against the Somali people.
Somalia is not "on the brink" at all -- it crossed that threshold some time ago. Rather, it is the international community that has come to the brink of a new sort or engagement in Somalia, and a major reassesment of old assumptions is in order.
After 17 years of ongoing engagement, the international community is finally realizing that 'business as usual' is not going to cut it this time around. Severe insecurity on the ground has meant that the standard approach of UN agencies and international non-profits depending on international staff is no longer feasible. Likewise, the UN system that has long supported the Somali government is finding that it’s losing credibility.
The trouble is that after years of inattention - including a notable lack of engagement during a period of overwhelming stability in 2006 - the world is looking for a silver bullet to 'fix' Somalia. What is needed here, however, is not just grand gestures. Somalia needs an honest, impartial engagement on issues such as the ongong human rights abuses displacing thousands. The US Congress, for example, should investigate any military support provided to Ethiopia to ensure it adheres to human rights principles outlined under US law. Furthermore, Somalia needs the international community to continue to support the institutions of the Transitional Federal Government without continuing to support the spoilers within those institutions.
The people of Somalia don't need big gestures, but rather a commitment to carrying out the small, incremental steps that will add up to a durable solution.
January 13, 2009
| Tagged as: Somalia