Building a secure Somalia
Somalia has had perhaps the most turbulent statehood in modern history but perhaps that is turning into an era of peaceful leadership.
ALEXANDRIA, Va., — The territory of the Federal Republic of Somalia has had perhaps the most turbulent statehood — or marked lack thereof — in modern history. Somalia has been an ambiguous conglomeration of entities that struggled to provide any semblance of order for its estimated 10 million citizens over the past two decades.
U.S. President George H.W. Bush and the wider international community publicly conceded that Somalia had ceased to exist as a state in the early 1990s, as the country collapsed spectacularly into a series of brutal civil wars fueled by resource and power competition between warring clans.
For the next 20 years warlords, rival clans, transitional governments and myriad coalitions attempted to quell the violence and offer any sort of governance that would elicit international recognition. None succeeded for nearly a quarter of a century, until last week.
The era of ambiguity ended for the Somali people and government of the Federal Republic of Somalia on Jan. 17, 2013, when Somali President Hassan Sheik Mohamud traveled to Washington to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
After their meetings, the U.S. government formally recognized the government of Somalia, a development Mohamud said was, “A very turning moment of the history — of the recent history of Somalia and the relationship — and the diplomatic relationship between the United States government and the government of Somalia.”
Mohamud was elected as Somalia’s leader last September after choosing to stay in the country following the outbreak of civil war in the 1990s. In the passing years he worked both as a professor and alongside international organizations to advance institutional capability in Somalia.
In 2011 he was selected to be a member of Parliament and was then chosen by his peers to replace incumbent President Sharif Sheik Ahmed in a run-off election.
Mohamud summed up his understanding of the challenge had undertaken when he spoke Jan. 17 to a full house at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Twenty-two years of lack of functioning state and institutions and 12 years of transition is enough for us to reclaim our sovereign territorial integrity and our people. We are now ready to lay down strong institutions with good governance,” he said.
Mohamud publicly acknowledged the pivotal role that private companies have played in delivering improved technology and opportunity to the people of Somalia. In addition to ongoing aid and development programs through intermediary institutions such as non-governmental organization and U.N. agencies, Mohamud credited private contractors for their ongoing support of Somali interests.
For example, the performance of specialized technical work and investment of private money has resulted in Somalia having one of the fastest growing telecommunications infrastructures on the continent.
When asked what the Somali diaspora could do for the fledgling government, Mohamud touched on the dearth of technical expertise and practical know-how in the public and commercial sectors.
He went on to explain: “In our way, in our vision, private-public partnership is the only way out. The Somali government has no capacity. The international community will never come [on] time. So it’s the private who has been [addressing needs].”
A number of forward-leaning private entities have already started working with local authorities and recognized stakeholders to lay the groundwork for success in the relegitimized state.
What is perhaps the lynchpin of success for the new government is the ability to build stable institutions that will incubate improved security throughout the country.
Mohamud realizes this and admitted, “Institutions are the basis of good governance, and in Somalia, there are no institutions, no resources to make institutions easily and even no capacity in certain areas.”
He went on to say, “One of our main challenge[s] is to build our security forces, who are now doing a good job compared to previously. This is an area we would need the international community’s help and assistance.”
Security sector reform and capacity building are areas with which both the U.S. government and private sector have much recent experience.
Mohamud volunteered: “The United States’ government is the largest contributor to Somalia in the past 22 years. The limited security forces that we have today is existing with the support of the United States government.”
As skilled military and civilian personnel depart from postings in Iraq and Afghanistan, there may be great opportunity to realize synergies between those individuals’ mentoring experiences and the needs of the nascent Somali federal force.
The Somali National Armed Forces is composed of veteran fighters. They don’t need to learn how to fight; they need to learn how to administer and develop a professional army that is proficient in upholding the rule of law and promoting a responsible monopoly on the use of force.
(Whitney Grespin is an operations specialist at Atlantean, a provider of specialized services to the U.S. government and private sector clients around the world. She has overseen operations for private firms operating in Afghanistan, Kenya, United Arab Emirates and Somalia as well as managed development and educational programs on four continents.)