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Nations must learn from past mistakes in helping Somalia

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To avoid the sins of the past, Britain – and the international community generally – must recognize why earlier efforts have failed, and then develop a realistic agenda and goals for its efforts. Most importantly, the world needs to acknowledge that international actors are greatly limited in what changes they can expect to achieve as outsiders in the country.

Past initiatives, led by the United States, the United Nations, and other members of the international community, have repeatedly attempted to impose a centralized bureaucratic governing structure on the country, a structure ill-suited to Somali society. Such efforts have never been effective and have only aggravated domestic tensions.

Decentralization is the key.

The population of Somalia is divided into four major clans and a number of minority groups, all of which consist of sub-clans and extended family networks. Loyalty to these groups overrides any sense of a common identity. Although these ties are not as strong as in the past, social relationships and customary law still have much greater relevance to Somalis than any government in Mogadishu.

While the country would benefit from some central institutions – such as a central bank and a mechanism to resolve disputes between clans – Somalis have no successful experiences working with these entities.

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