Gideon Rachman: Somali lessons for Afghanistan

Gideon Rachman is chief foreign affairs commentator at the Financial Times.] Whenever western leaders ask themselves the question, why are we in Afghanistan, they come up with essentially the same reply – “To prevent Afghanistan becoming a failed state and a haven for terrorists.” Until Afghanistan is stable, so the argument goes, we cannot risk withdrawal.
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Gideon Rachman: Somali lessons for Afghanistan

Yet there is very little evidence that Afghanistan is becoming more stable. On the contrary, the fighting is intensifying, casualties are mounting and the Taliban is becoming more confident.

So perhaps it is time to rephrase the question. Rather than asking, “Why are we in Afghanistan?”, we should ask, “If we are in Afghanistan, why are we not also in Somalia, Yemen or Pakistan?” All three countries are now plausible bases for potential terrorists. Somalia, in particular, looks increasingly like Afghanistan before 2001. It is an almost completely failed state and western nationals are known to be undergoing terrorist training there. Somalia’s central government controls little more than a few blocks around the presidential palace in Mogadishu and the airport. The rest of the country is home to a radical Islamist insurgency, as well as to pirate fleets that prey on international shipping. Somalia is also exporting terrorism to its neighbours, as a recent deadly bombing in Uganda has illustrated. Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia and lies across the sea from Somalia, is also attracting increasing concern from western intelligence agencies. And it has long been known that the remnants of al-Qaeda’s leadership are now based in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. The west is fighting a war on terrorism in Afghanistan. But the terrorists are somewhere else. Meanwhile, our ability to combat threats around the world is sapped by the huge drain on resources caused by the Afghan war. This observation leads in two possible directions...


Somalia: west has yet to come clean over its policy of neglect

Published: July 30 2010 03:39 | Last updated: July 30 2010 03:39
From Mr Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.
Sir, I understand Gideon Rachman’s frustration with western policy in Afghanistan (
Somali lessons for Afghanistan , July 27). I share his frustrations but for different reasons. The western world’s policy towards Somalia, which one may call “containment” but in reality is closer to neglect, is hardly an example to follow.
More than Afghanistan, Somalia, where I have just served three years as the UN representative, is a threat not only to itself and the region but to the world, notably through piracy. The long Somali war with its criminalised economy, attendant greed and cynicism and above all impunity and violence against the weakest, is also a profitable business for many, including western actors. Somalis bear a great responsibility for this. But western organisations too have yet to come clean. Western assistance comes too late and even then is mostly spent outside Somalia. Of $213m raised towards assisting the transitional government in establishing its authority at a donor conference in Brussels in 2009, only $3.5m actually reached the government. International conferences and calls for dialogue have become a profitable end in themselves and a motive for the Somali actors of the day to undermine the transitional government and broader stability. Managing the status quo is benefiting in particular many external actors and cementing so many alliances of convenience. It is hard to sell proposals for a way out, when the circumstances in the country are so sparsely reported and analysis so weak. Is it widely known, for example, that Somalia has become a global centre for the dumping of solid, chemical and possibly nuclear waste? That Somali waters are plied by hundreds of illegal fishing boats, cruising in total impunity? During my three-year tenure as UN representative to Somalia, I saw genuine interest and commitment only from secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon and the African Union. The US would like to help more but is an easy target for western critics and hence is often undecided. It has become clear to me that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional sub-organisation, would do a better job at establishing stability. In the former Yugoslavia, this was a role the European Union took on supported by the US. In West Africa, it was Ecowas, the sub-regional organisation that helped to bring stability, especially in Liberia. With the African Union and the UN, IGAD could help stabilise Somalia if timely assistance is provided and less external interference is accepted. In the end, the European approach to Somalia is more a surrender of international obligations than “containment”.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah,
Brussels, Belgium
Former UN Under-Secretary General to Somalia   

SOURCE: Financial Times (UK)


Article 21 May 2021 10:14

I read your article on Foreign Policy with keen eyes and interest. While whining from public officials does not deserve response from any sensible citizen of the Republic of Somalia, I felt compelled to counter false narrative with more objective analysis.