Somalia: Tragedy Repeated

19 dead in Mogadishu suicide bombing, AFP

Another bloody day in Somalia. This looks like one of the worst suicide bombings to be carried out in the lawless country. So far it looks as if 19 people have been confirmed dead – although that is likely to rise way beyond 40.

The target was also a desperately cynical choice – a hotel graduation ceremony for health workers, exactly the sort of people this fractured land needs. The place was also packed with government ministers and journalists. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to suspect the deadly handiwork of Al Shabaab.

Nor is it difficult to predict what comes next – a fresh round of handwringing by the international community. The danger as always is that spectacular bloodshed will lead to a spectacular attempt at fixing the country and then, inevitably, another round of spectacular bloodshed.


President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed is a decent man and a man with the potential to unite his country. His government though has only a thin hold on power; nothing more than a few blocks of Mogadishu. His power is limited by the machinations of the warlords, clan leaders and Islamists who are constantly jockeying for position. Nor though should the power of Al Shabaab be overestimated. They do not represent many in Somali society and the scale of destruction wrought today is no indication of their military strength. Suicide bombers always punch above their weight.

This latest bombing makes it tempting to believe that Somalia is locked into a Groundhog Day cycle of misery, repeating its mistakes day after day, year after year in a wearying spiral of death.

Yet it is equally possible to point out that the United Nations, Western diplomats and now the African Union are guilty of making the same mistakes time after time. Policy after policy has viewed Somalia as nothing but collateral in the war on terror. Decisions are made not because of what they mean for Somalia – but what they mean for global security. The Islamic Courts were destroyed three years ago, because the world mistakenly feared them. With them went any (albeit still slim) chance of stability. Somalia and its people have to be the reason for acting, not the fear of a global Jihad.

Again the temptation is to try to send in more peacekeepers, more cash for security and call in more American airstrikes to prop up the transitional government and bolster its hold on power. Tomorrow the op-ed pieces will again be warning us that failure to do so risks leaving Somalia to Al Qaeda.


But imposing solutions does not work in Somalia. Picking sides merely upsets Somalia’s ability to reach a balancing point. Sheikh Sharif will ultimately pay the price for accepting Western support. Finding solutions requires a different approach. Somalia is the ultimate bottom-up society. Villages and clans control the destiny of the country. Winning them over is an impossible task. Leaders have to emerge from within, building consensus and support as they rise. Only then can the rest of the world have a meaningful impact, pouring in aid to build a government that already belongs to the Somali people.

Picking one side, in this case the Transitional Federal Government, is the kiss of death. If we are serious about wanting a stable, successful and ultimately peaceful Somalia then we are going to have to take a step back.

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