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Somalia's Next Step: Restoring Economy

THE initial phase of the Somali intervention is now nearly complete and the United States forces anxiously await the deployment of the United Nations force so that more American troops can return home. The American-led intervention has succeeded impressively in improving the security situation and easing the delivery of relief supplies, but Somalia is still a very long way from achieving normalcy.

In addition to enhancing security and helping to organize a new government, international assistance is required to facilitate the rebuilding of the rest of Somalia's social and economic life.

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Recognizing the importance of hearing what Somalis think about the rebuilding of their country and their views regarding the role the international community should play, the United States Institute of Peace convened a series of meetings from October through February for a group of prominent Somalis residing in the US. The group, reflecting a range of political and regional perspectives, included several former Somali ambassadors, a retired general of the Somali army, several professors, a physician, lea ders of Somali nongovernmental organizations, and other professionals.

The group of 17 Somalis achieved an impressive degree of consensus on key points. It emphasized the need for the UN to undertake disarmament in an even-handed fashion. If comprehensive disarmament is not possible, then the process of disarmament should be delayed until after there is a political settlement, with voluntary disarmament being a component. To bolster internal security, the study group asserted that rapid progress is required in the organization and deployment of a police force. Local securit y forces need to be well-organized and prepared to handle the policing function prior to the withdrawal of international forces. Moreover, the international arms embargo needs to be enforced more vigorously.

A third component of the security program is the removal of mines, which inhibit Somali pastoralists and farmers from returning to their herds and their plots.

It is evident that there can be no quick return of Somalia to normalcy. Grass-roots, participatory democracy is essential, and democratic elections must be the basis of the establishment of a new political order, but appropriate conditions must prevail before elections can be held.

ADMINISTRATIVE reconstruction needs to proceed in a decentralized fashion. Structures of authority need to be constituted and administrative services provided at village, sub-regional, regional, and national levels. Central structures are required to permit the establishment of a central bank, the issuance of currency, and formulation of foreign policy, among other functions. It is essential that qualified Somalis, and particularly those resident in Somalia, play central roles in planning Somalia's recon struction.

The revival of the economy will come primarily through stimulating the private sector. Priority needs to be given to creating a climate of confidence to encourage Somali business people to invest in Somalia. Those living abroad need to be encouraged to return home and invest in the local economy, but improved security is a prerequisite to an improved business environment. The rural sectors are the most productive portions of the Somali economy and need to receive the greatest attention.

The creative and productive energy of Somalis needs to be utilized. Empowerment must start at the local level by encouraging Somali nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), women's groups, and other local associations. Somalis want to avoid allowing their country to become a parasitic nation. International relief organizations must be encouraged to cooperate with and strengthen embryonic Somali NGOs.

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Women should be given special attention, in part as a reflection of their economic productive potential. They should receive training in income-generating activities and be provided with credit to enable them to invest in such activities.

One of Somalia's major problems is its ecological crisis. Grazing lands are deteriorating. The habitat is having grave difficulty supporting the Somali population, and reconstruction needs to highlight the environmental component.

Account needs to be taken of the trauma that so many Somalis have experienced. Human reconstruction and psychic rehabilitation are required. The critical role that poetry plays in Somali life suggests that Somali poets must be accorded prominence in the process of national revival.

The American-led intervention has been a daring initiative promoting humanitarian ends. Now that US special envoy Robert Oakley has returned his post at the United States Institute of Peace, the next stage of the process of economic and social rehabilitation will be led by the UN. Success requires the ingenuity, resources, and resolve of Somalis, Americans, the UN, and the international community. It is essential that Somali voices be heard.

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