Today Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was elected as Somalia’s new president, in the latest step to end decades of war. It is a positive sign for a shattered and exhausted nation.
I have only been to Somalia once, in July 2009. It was a brief visit to Buale in the south and Dusamareb in central Somalia. We flew with the WFP and were able to visit food distribution centres. We even met a local Al-Shabaab Commander who surprised me by being very friendly and welcoming. Here’s the link to the piece my colleague Andrew Harding wrote about the trip, and below is the film that we made:
Like many people I have a superficial understanding of Somalia and its problems that barely extends beyond the classic “Failed State” description. That was until I picked up a copy of Mary Harper’s book, Getting Somalia Wrong: Faith, War and Hope in a shattered state. (published by Zed Books) Mary is a long term BBC Journalist who has been covering Somalia since 1991. We haven’t met but I have heard her name spoken of positively many times.
If you work as a Journalist, Aid-worker or just have an interest in the horn of Africa then I highly recommend giving it a look. It is broken down into brief but fairly comprehensive sections covering:
- Clan and country
- A failed State?
- Somalia and the outside world
On the whole it makes for a readable and comprehensive introduction to a complex nation that is almost impossible to explain within the brief parameters of a news report on TV or Radio. In the introduction Harper says that because Somalia is viewed as a haven for Al Qaeda and its allies it has been squeezed into the post 9/11 narrative as the “African Afghanistan.” – Beyond help. But as she goes on to say:
“Until Somalia is more clearly understood and a different approach is found, it will continue to perplex, alarm and threaten the outside world, and it will be very difficult to find a way forward for the country which works for both Somalis and non-Somalis alike.”
Having read Harper’s book I now feel that I have a more positive, nuanced opinion of Somalia and Somalis and an understanding of the reasons behind the problems and challenges that afflict the country. I was especially impressed with the creation and growth of large and functioning money transfer and mobile phone networks that plug even the most rural areas of Somalia into the outside world – this is an example of a nation that can be very good at doing things for themselves.