Somalia Votes, but No One Notices

Posted: July 27, 2012

[This article was written to bring international attention to the elections in Somalia. Although SAIPR is assisting the People Party of Somalia, the goal of this article is not to be partisan, but to engage the international community in this important event.]

For two decades Somalia has existed as a failed state. Transitional governments have come and gone with little influence beyond the capital, Mogadishu. The most noteworthy activity gaining international attention has been a rash of piracy and kidnappings. The average ransom is five million dollars, a hefty wage by most standards, but especially in an impoverished country like Somalia. The Somali coast occupies much of the Horn of Africa and is coast line to one of the world’s most important shipping routes, so pirates have some rich pickings. When the United Nations holds an election that could correct this failed, but geographically important state, why is no one paying attention?

The United Nations is in the process of overseeing the elections in Somalia at a critical time when the tide seems to finally be changing. International efforts to thwart piracy in the vital oil-shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden have resulted in a substantial reduction in hostage taking. While some incidence of violence certainly persist, efforts by the Ethiopian and Kenyan armies have successfully beat back advances of the al Qaeda linked al-Shabab. If ever there is a time to embrace a UN effort, it is now in Somalia. As the hurdles to normalizing this failed state begin to diminish, it is time to help install a government that is capable of responding to its citizens.

There are two compelling reasons for the international community to engage in this process. First is the danger that a failed state imposes on the international community. Somalia could very well become another Afghanistan if ignored from where terrorists can train and launch attacks. Neighboring countries recognize this and with the assistance of western powers have helped police large regions of the country.  In a recent speech cover by Eurasia Review, AFRICOM Commander Carter Hamm said, “The absolute imperative for the United States military [is] to protect America, Americans, and American interests … from threats that may emerge from the African continent.” He named the Somali-based al-Shabaab as a prime threat claiming that “al-Qaeda is a global enterprise… we think they very clearly do present, as an al-Qaeda affiliate… a threat to America and Americans.”

The second reason is that the country’s human capital continues to decline the longer the state remains ineffective. Today the Transition Federal Government can barely govern the Capital. Large parts of the country are ungoverned or patrolled by foreign troops. This means that many Somalis receive no government services, such as an education. The difficulty of taking a failed state with a large uneducated populace and transitioning it into a modern country with a competitive economy cannot be understated. The sooner a Somali government can patrol its own country and educate its citizenry, the sooner the international community will have a partner rather than a pariah.

For these reasons, the elections held next month in Somalia matter. The election will be far from perfect and will leave many stakeholders unhappy, but the UN effort is an opportunity to begin the process of fixing this failed state. While the general public cannot participate in the process due to safety concerns, a process has been put in place to ensure no one is disenfranchised. To address Clan rivalries, UN procedures allow clan elders to select members of parliament proportional to the clan’s size. This mirrors the approach taken in Sierra Leone and Lebanon that ensures all groups have a stake in governing and that no clan will be excluded. These MP’s will then select the President. Candidates running for President range from corrupt politicians from the current Transitional Federal Government to a former college professor who lived in the United States. The vote for President is slated to take place on August 20th.

Fixing Somalia will help direct the country away from piracy and terrorism. Generations have grown up never having seen the inside of a classroom. These children are perfect recruits for criminal gangs and al Shabab, which means “the Youth.” The international community should pay attention to Somalis as they navigate this election, because what happens in Somalia does not stay in Somalia.