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From Blackhawk down to standing up

Foreign Policy
Friday, June 07, 2013

The United Nations mission in Somalia celebrated a milestone this week, by moving — to Somalia. For the last 18 years, the U.N. Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) has had to operate from Nairobi, Kenya, since the Somali government, when it existed at all, controlled only a few spots in Mogadishu, the capital city, and virtually nothing beyond that.

But in the summer of 2011, an African Union force finally pushed the Islamic militants known as al-Shabab out of the capital, and since then both people and money have poured in.

On May 2, the U.N. Security Council voted to replace UNPOS with the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia, and actually put it in Somalia. If you’ve held the top spot in Foreign Policy’s Failed States Index five years running, that’s a real achievement.

Somalia is still, of course, the failed state nonpareil, with no functioning government or military and an insurgency still capable of mounting audacious attacks in the heart of the capital. In mid April, al-Shabab suicide bombers killed 35 people at the Supreme Court complex, the highest death toll since they fled Mogadishu en masse. Nevertheless, conditions are now present for Somalia — with an immense amount of outside help — to begin healing itself. And this raises two important questions: What went right, and can those factors be applied to states in similarly dire straits?

A few weeks ago, Augustine Mahiga, the very capable Tanzanian diplomat who has just stepped down after three years as the head of UNPOS, returned to New York, and I asked him just those questions. Mahiga, who is a good deal more plain-spoken than your average U.N. official, said that the key prerequisite was exhaustion: After 22 years of war, he said, “People were looking for an opportunity to transcend the vicious cycle.” Of course, this is a little like noting that even the worst fire eventually consumes everything in its path and dies out. The implicit inference is that outsiders can’t do much until years of bloody stalemate have proved to combatants in a civil war that there is nothing to be gained by more fighting — as Edward Luttwak argued in his notorious essay for Foreign Affairs, Give War a Chance.

Syria, for example, may be at the very early stages of this process.

When Mahiga arrived in 2010, Somalia’s factions had been engaged in a U.N.-sponsored “transitional process” since 2004. When I went to Addis Ababa with Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary general, in 2005, I watched a session of Somali clan leaders trying to find common ground to form a government; it ultimately dissolved in chaos, as did subsequent efforts. But fatigue slowly induced a willingness to share power, and Mahiga and regional leaders initiated a process of negotiation which included factions who had not been given a seat at the table in the past, including leaders of provinces seeking autonomy and moderate Islamic fighters who had taken on al-Shabab. The Transitional Federal Institutions, as the process was called, ultimately agreed to choose a parliament, which in turn elected a president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, in September 2012. This, in itself, represented a modest triumph over fratricidal clan politics — though a report from the International Crisis Group called it a “botched process” shaped by “short-term political expediency.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/06/3436143/from-blackhawk-down-to-standing.html#storylink=cpy


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