By J. Peter Pham

In the more than two decades since the collapse of the last entity that could be reasonably described as the central government of Somalia, the Texas-sized territory has become the byword for state failure, stubbornly resisting no less than 14 attempts to reconstitute a national current internationally backed effort, the unelected and ineffectual Transitional Federal Government (TFG), just barely manages to maintain a presence in a few of the districts of its bombed-out capital, Mogadishu—and that much only thanks to the presence of the approximately 10,000 Ugandan and Burundian troops that make up the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The foreign security force is needed because, while TFG politicians, led by their president and parliamentary speaker, dicker endlessly over the few remaining assets of the former Somali Democratic Republic, large sections of the country have fallen under the de facto control of the Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (“Movement of Warrior Youth,” better known as al-Shabaab). This militant Islamist movement was declared a “specially designated global terrorist” by the U.S. Department of State in 2008; a “listed terrorist organization” by the Australian government the following year; and in 2010, a “proscribed organization” under the Terrorism Act by the British government and a “listed terrorist group” by the Canadian government.


Meanwhile, taking advantage of the absence of any authority capable of opposing them, Somali pirates have wreaked havoc with global commerce from the Gulf of Aden to the Gujarati Coast of India as emboldened marauders seize ships in order to extort ransoms that continue to spiral upward into the millions of dollars. Additionally, in July 2011, amid the worst drought in East Africa in 60 years, the United Nations (UN) declared two Somali areas to be in a state of famine and warned that the crisis could quickly engulf all eight regions of southern Somalia and spread beyond, putting more than 12 million people across the Horn of Africa at risk of starvation.

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J. Peter Pham

Peter Pham, associate professor of justice studies, political science, and Africana studies at James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and senior fellow and Africa Project director at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, New York, New York, is vice president of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Middle East and Africa.

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