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Where is Somalia’s Marshall Plan?

On the bright side, the Nairobi Westgate mall tragedy must bring Kenyans together again and perhaps even go some distance to heal the wounds from their recent internal conflict. Conflict, in general, including the very thing that has just happened to the Kenyans at the hands of al-Shabab, has been a prolific source of underdevelopment in Africa, and it therefore needs a comprehensive approach to managing it, and this must ultimately be a mixture of international as well as indigenous conflict-management mechanisms.

Sure, terrorism is terrorism, it is unquestionably bad and it must be dealt with decisively, however, there should also be no obfuscating the fact that Africa has been the epicentre of some of the world’s most difficult conflicts and social problems. All rhetoric about “punishing” the perpetrators and waging a “war on terror” is welcome and is necessary, but it should not preoccupy us so that we forget the “elephant in the room” – the root cause – which is Somalia, apparently the world’s most failed state and a safe haven for “breeding” terrorists.

If world leaders are resolute about global “peace” and “harmony” and “human development” and all that, surely then Somalia needs a much more robust and vigorous plan than what’s currently in place. That the Kenyan Defence Force had to go into Somalia unilaterally, and then only after their intervention was expediently legitimised through incorporating them into the African Union Mission in Somalia, is telling of the uncoordinated, disorganised, and therefore inadequate response of the international community on this otherwise extremely pressing situation.

The recent geopolitical “neglect” of Somalia by the international community probably has much to do with the unforgettable failures of US intervention in Mogadishu in the early 1990s, famously captured in the Hollywood movie Black Hawk Down. In addition, as just mentioned, it also has to do with the fact there has been a litany of UN/AU interventions over the years in Somalia with little to avail, except only recently when Kenya went in. Mind you, there are reports that intelligence services with Western interests have been working alongside the Kenyans to address the terrorist threats emanating from Somalia.

My view is that the US/Western failures must not be a deterrent but lessons learnt on what not to do. The UN/AU failures must be treated similarly, but I suspect at UN-AU level the issues are (1) lack of capacity on critical fronts (eg financial, human resources, etc) and (2) lack of political will from the international power-brokers to tackle the Somalia question boldly enough.

But then there was the Marshall Plan to help Western Europe emerge from a devastating world war, in particular to assist Germany, which was then perhaps the world’s most failed state in human history. So this stuff is do-able. The invocation of the Marshall Plan is not to say that it should be imported verbatim or mimicked in its form, but it is invoked here to question whether the scale of intervention in Somalia has been adequate.

Over the weekend, as the horror hostage situation continued at Westgate mall, debates were rampant in the blogosphere and social-media networks regarding the very principle of foreign intervention in Somalia. Expectedly, there will be a line of argument that supports “self-determination” and “non-intervention in sovereign matters of foreign states”. This principle has much virtue and has come to be seen as progressive, decent, and civilised; rightfully so.

But in the case of Somalia, it is a failed state of epic proportions so much so that it has been ranked as the number one most failed state in the world for several consecutive years running, based on the Failed States Index published by Foreign Policy magazine. It is widely reported to have large swathes of its land cut off from any control by the central government, and run by al-Shabab and other warlords.

By the time Kenya went into Somali territory, its sovereignty, especially along its border with Somalia, had reportedly been violated by these warlords as they would kidnap Kenyan tourists, rob police stations, and so forth. Also, given the history of terror attacks in the region on the part of al-Shabab, notably in Kampala, Uganda, (while football fans where watching the final of the 2010 Fifa World Cup), Kenya had some good reason to fear an “existential threat”.

It should therefore stand to reason that for Somalia, self-determination requires certain preconditions of socio-political stability, and many sources have argued that these preconditions have not existed in Somalia for many years, hence the need for external intervention to prop up the country to a position where decent deliberations on self-determination can be had. Indeed there must be a point where external intervention is necessary not just for the country concerned, but for the sake of regional and global peace.

In spite of all of this, and maybe even because of it, it just appears as though not enough effort has been put into Somalia by all concerned, save for the Kenyans who have now paid the ultimate price for being the face of the coalition of forces against al-Shabab and Islamic fundamentalism in the region. It cannot be that it is humanly impossible to resolve the problems of that country. So my question to world leaders is where is Somalia’s Marshall Plan?


  • Gareth Setati

    Gareth Setati holds a masters degree in electrical engineering and qualifications in business management and economics. He is a graduate of the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute and is currently pursuing further studies there. He works in the Communications Service Provider industry involved with systems and software engineering.