What is a Visionist?

"A visionist is an artist, a creator or an individual that sees beyond what is visible to the eyes and brains of human beings. Visionists are thinkers, they are the recognisable brains in soociety, but most times they are seen as absurd, "nerds" and misfits – they just don't fit into the societies. They are people with great dreams and minds."

The English Wikipedia

Friday, January 9, 2009

OOTB Idea # 2 - How to Fix Somalia and Other Failed States

Until the world became transfixed with the terrible problem in Gaza, it was fascinated with the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates of Penzance. Now it's Pirates of Puntland. Arrgh! Before this problem exploded--and it has existed at lower levels for years--Somalia was already the prototypical "failed state." Ever since the US and the UN abandoned Somalia following the "Blackhawk Down" incident, Somalia has been mired in chaos and anarchy. A wild west land of warlords whose militias rode around in "technicals" and a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

In fact it was the chaos that brought into the forefront the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) that came close to taking control of the country, largely because they offered law and order to quell the disorder. In fact, it was the Mogadishu business community, which somehow managed to conduct its affairs in the country, that encouraged the CIC to bring Sharia law, peace and order to the anarchy. However, the rise of an Islamic group that included radical extremists posed a threat to both the United States and to neighboring Ethiopia. The US did not openly oppose the CIC, but it did not object when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in December 2006. Ethiopia's involvement was linked to a concern with a a historically redentist Somalia intent on taking back the Somali region of Ethiopia, commonly known as the Ogaden.

This is not the place to go into the complexity of relations in the Horn of Africa. What is important is that after two years trying to bring some order to Somalia in support of an extremely weak Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) whose legitimacy largely derived from its recognition by the African Union, it has decided to pull out. Only a small, undermanned Ugandan-Burundian AU peacekeeping force (AMISOM) will remain in Mogadishu. This is happening when the most radical wing of the Islamic movement in Somalia, a group called Al Shebaab, declared a terrorist organization by the US government and with ties to Al Qaida, is resurgent in the country and fast taking more territory.

At this very moment, the problem of Somali piracy burst upon the scene. Former fishermen turned pirates started overtaking and rendering ever larger ships, including a huge Saudi petroleum tanker and a cargo ship loaded with heavy weapons and tanks. By holding the ships and their crews hostage, the pirates have negotiated tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments and have turned once sleepy fishing villages into high life, big-spending centers of conspicuous consumption. No local Somali government has the force or the will to stop them.

So, doing nothing is not an option. The implosion in Somalia represents only the latest incident in which the world is feeling the risks and dangers of globalization. Globalization is in its essence the shrinking of time and space due to technological advances. A recent article in Foreign Affairs, actually pinpointed the onset of globalization with the invention of containerized shipping. It was predicting an "end to globalization" with the high cost of oil. This is a rather parochial view of globalization focused purely on international trade, but the advances in shipping are a huge part of globalization. The vulnerability of these ships to private individuals empowerd by simple technology of fast boats, GPSs, modern cheap weapons, cell phones and radios, however, is also part of globalization.

The world can no longer accept the existence of "ungoverned spaces." Whether Somalia or the under-governed tribal areas of west Pakistan, terrorists and criminal organizations can not be allowed to operate with impunity. The response to the Somali pirates has been to beef up and organize a multi-national naval force that is backed up by a united diplomatic effort or contact group meeting at the UN, which passed a Security Council resolution authorizing stronger measures against the pirates, including striking at the pirates' land-based lairs.

A few people have said, however, that the problem of piracy and anarchy and the threat of the establishment of a Taliban-like nation-state in Somalia cannot be dealt with by military means alone. The problems of Somalia are political. Where their is not a rule of law, i.e. governance, you get lawlessness. So the large question is will the international community take responsibility to bring governance to Somalia, or will it continue to be traumatized by the failure of "Provide Comfort" and keep an arms length and for how long?

The answer to Somalia and in my view other failed, failing or collapsing states is a UN organism that can assume responsibly for the political and economic aspects of these areas. Call it "nation building" if you will. Call it an ER for sick states. The logical organization within the UN system for this task is the now nearly defunct Trusteeship Council. The TC is the only organization of the UN to actually successfully work itself out of a job. It was asked, at the inception of the UN, to take overseeing the governance of former League of Nations Mandated territories as well as other territories taken from Japan, Germany and Italy following WW II, eleven territories in all. Large chunks of Africa gained Independence or joined together with other territories to gain independence through trusteeship. The last trust territories were the three Micronesian mini-states that found self governing status in the early 90s. The TC was then suspended. However, it was not abolished.

Trusteeship is a status that goes beyond a name. Indeed, many referred to such UN missions in East Timor, Cambodia and Kosovo as forms of trusteeship. There are, however, legal and political impediments to simply putting already independent states under the control of another state or entity. But it is not impossible. Sovereignty is not always a black or white kind of thing. There are shades of grey. There is nothing in the UN charter that says the TC cannot be assigned new territories to govern . Most likely, however, an amendment to the UN Charter would be required, but not a wholesale one. Also, one might want a name change that focused more on the positive purpose of re-establishing the failed state as soon as possible, such as the Council for Governance and Rule of Law. I would not abandon the TC and start from scratch, in part because the TC was designated as one of the UN's six "principal organs." It also has its own chamber at the UN Headquarters in New York. Together these status elements would demonstrate the UN's priority in finding a way of dealing with ungoverned spaces.

Bringing the UN back into Somalia (beyond its present humanitarian mission) should not be done as an invasion of a soverign state by foreign armies. the stage needs to be set diplomatically to get the various parties in Somalia, the TFG, the unrecognized governments of Puntland and Somaliland and the non-radical elements of the CIC, plus a large commitment by the AU. A significant UN/AU force needs to back up this civlian effort with enough cloat to either convince the more radical groups to agree to a diplomatic solution or to confront them.

Will this be easy? Not at all. Do we really have any better ideas? I have not heard any. What advantage we have is the coming into office of the new American adminsitration with a large amount of credibtility and capital and a capcity to spread hope, especially in Africa. It is also an administration publicly commited to using multilateral as opposed to unilateral solutions to global problems. This cannot be squandered or deferred. The Horn of Africa is an extremly vital and vulnerable geopolitical space. The threats looming there need to be addressed

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