12 October 2011

Somalia: Aid's Quicksand?

Over 20 years of instability in Somalia has lead to a price tag of $55.3 billion to the global community say John Norris and Bronwyn Bruton in their paper Twenty Years of Collapsing and Counting for the Center for American Progress. 

In Foreign Policy the two write:
Somalia's ruin can't simply be chalked up as a case of Western neglect. For decades, the United States and international organizations have poured money into Somalia despite its relative geopolitical insignificance -- first as a Cold War bulwark, then as a humanitarian emergency, and now as an effort to contain crime and terrorism...For all the treasure expended there, Somalia is no closer to stability than it has been at earlier points in its two-plus decades of chaos. The country is currently experiencing the worst famine the world has seen in two decades, with more than three-quarters of a million people at grave risk of starvation, and remains riven by civil conflict, piracy, and extremism.

The world's approach to Somalia has long been trapped in an unhappy middle: It has been insufficiently robust and well-designed to resolve the country's conflicts but far too heavy-handed and frequent to allow the country to resolve its own problems. An entire generation of Somalis now views the "state," whether it is the Transitional Federal Government or al-Shabab, as a largely predatory institution to be feared, not as a source of stability. Perhaps more than anything, the spending on Somalia demonstrates how the world -- and Washington in particular -- keeps groping for quick tactical fixes while failing to embrace the sensible diplomacy and the kinds of patient engagement that might help Somalia achieve peace.

This is all only made worse by the present famine in the Southern half of the country. Yesterday, the AU said that it had successfully gained control of Al-Shabaab-held Mogadishu. However, it seems that the terrorist organization always comes back in bursts after being driven from a city. The AU will also probably want to push a bit further which means that more fighting will continue and thousands more people will be displaced from their homes. A portion of these people will be those who fled the South because the famine.

All of this means that things are not on track to change in the short term and more money will be spent in the region. As can be seen on the right hand chart, refugee numbers are again spiking to the same levels of the early 1990's.

Somaliland has become a favorite example for how aid is not needed for a country to grow.  The same people will likely look at this study to support the idea that aid has not been working in Somalia.  The latter assessment seems to be pretty fair, but it (like all things) is not so simple.  Governance in Somalia continues to be nearly non-existent which means that programs will be harder to implement.  What we do know is that over $50 billion has been spent and little progress has been made.  What we cannot measure is if this money was not available if things would have been better or worse.

Everyone can agree that the status quo is not working.  What do you think the international community should do in regards to Somalia?  I think Somalia and DRC are places where the AU can come together to support governance efforts and assist in ensuring safety.


Do take a look at the full report, is definitely worth your time to read.