Somalia - You break it, you own it.Ken Menkhaus
"You break it, you own it." The Pottery Barn rule of intervention and nation-building, made famous in Iraq, is about to be tested in Somalia.
Ethiopia, with support from the United States, has just broken a rather pricey piece of pottery in the Horn of Africa. In launching a major military offensive against Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), Ethiopia removed an increasingly radicalized and arguably dangerous movement from power, but one which had succeeded in bringing rule of law to the capital Mogadishu for the first time in fifteen years.
Thanks to the Ethiopian intervention, the jihadist wing of the UIC is at least temporarily on the run. But Mogadishu is again ungoverned and growing more lawless by the day.
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is now expected to assume administrative control of Mogadishu, a city of one million hostile, fearful, and well-armed people. But the TFG is weak and intensely disliked by most Mogadishu constituencies. It is in no position to govern absent a partnership forged with the Mogadishu leadership, and will not even be able to remain in the capital without the continued presence of Ethiopian forces.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Ethiopian intervention, all concur that the fragile TFG must be made to work, lest Somalia fall back into a state of collapse. To this end, external actors are promoting power sharing between the TFG and its Mogadishu-based opposition, pledging support to improve the TFG's capacity to govern, and working to rapidly deploy an African Union peacekeeping force to Somalia.
All of these efforts are appropriate; all are long-shots. The quick deployment of an African Union force is especially problematic. Ethiopia is keen to avoid being drawn into a quagmire and has announced intent to withdraw its troops within weeks, passing Pottery Barn responsibilities on to the international community. The odds on assembling and deploying a viable peacekeeping force in that brief period of time are poor. And if peacekeepers are deployed absent a political dialogue that reassures Mogadishu-based groups, they will be viewed as not neutral and will be subject to attacks by both residual jihadi cells and clan-based militia.
Under these circumstances, the most likely scenario for Somalia is not hard to foresee. Ethiopia will partially withdraw and will not be replaced by adequate numbers of African Union peacekeepers; the TFG leaders will be unable to govern Mogadishu, will face a mounting insurgency, and will beat a hasty retreat to the countryside; and Somalia will fall back into political division and de facto collapse.
The Pottery Rule, it turns out, does not apply in Somalia. For obvious reasons, the optimal outcome for almost all concerned would be the revival of a functional, moderate government that provides security for its own citizens and not insecurity for neighboring states. But if that state-building project is too onerous or risky, renewed state collapse is an outcome that many key actors – Ethiopia, the United States, and a variety of Somali constituencies from businesspeople to Islamists – have learned to live with and occasionally prosper in.
In other words, a return to state collapse is almost no one's first choice for Somalia, but almost everyone's second choice.
Given how difficult, time-consuming and expensive reviving a failed state is, many external actors – especially those with notoriously short-attention spans for nation-building – will fail to follow up on oral commitments to shore up the TFG once Somalia fades from media attention. Some Somali groups, too, will undermine risky state-building initiatives the moment they threaten parochial interests, preferring the devil they know – anarchy – to the devil they don't.
For weary residents of Mogadishu, these narrow calculations are a recipe for misery. For six months in 2006, they had a taste of life in a safe, governed city. Though many Somalis were deeply uneasy with the radical and reckless direction the UIC leadership gradually took, they were willing to tolerate almost anything in return for public safety.
Unless some inspired Somali leadership produces a break-through agreement that produces a government of national unity and speedy revival of a municipal administration, Mogadishu residents will soon be plunged back into lawlessness, and forced to revive the many coping mechanisms they have devised to survive. And they will blame the US and Ethiopia for breaking the pottery and walking away.
Dr. Menkhaus is professor of Political Science at Davidson College, North Carolina and author of "Somalia: State Collapse and the Threat of Terrorism." allafrica.com
Labels: Luar Negeri, Somalia, Ummah