FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Partial Notes/Summary on "Getting Somalia Wrong" by Mary Harper

Partial Notes/Summary on Getting Somalia Wrong: Faith, War, and Hope in a Shattered State by Mary Harper (her blog is GREAT)

BONUS LINK:  My entire (so far) grad school notes collection can be found here. 

1960's Catholic Church in Mogadishu

Snapshot Takeaway:
Before a journalist writes a Somalia story for a paper—they should be required to first read this book.

Harper take issue with the notion of the ‘failed state’ label which is important because as she points out, when was Somalia ever a working state. 

Importance of not simply equating idea of Somalia with Mogadishu—the two aren’t interchangeable. 

2007 intervention overthrow first source of stability in almost 20 years. 

“Trouble in Somalia can mean trouble across the Horn of Africa.”  This stems from the idea of the “Greater Somalia” and the substantial linguistic and ethnic Somali population living throughout the neighboring countries. 

Clan and Country:
- Camels a symbols of Somali life—as a currency—as a lifeblood of society at large—for transport, for trade, for marriage. 

Oral history and storytelling remains central to Somali life.  Oral poetry stems from figures like the Mad Mullah of late 19th century (to early 20thto popular rapper K’naan

Qat is also central and a point of contention and economy.

4.5 formula for clan is widely contested: Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Rahanweyn.  Al-Shabab seeks to subvert/overtake clan culture.  However, lineage still remains of incredible importance.    Harper aptly describes the complexity and fluidity of clan structure today where alliances are important but there are so many sub-clans that outside observers (and even students) are unable to permeate their web. 

Harpers devotes only 25 pages to Somalia’s history but does so with journalistic flair and skill, interspersing colorful quotes and anecdotes through her retelling of drier dates and figures.  It is here that she hits her stride and were graduate students steeped in the mundane, heavily-reviewed but poorly written academic writing will appreciate her writing prowess. 

She hits the high points as she takes reader through Somalia’s contact, conflict and expansion

Following Siad Berre falls, she describes a “country without government, affected by vicious, unpredictable and widespread violence.” 

The international intervention of course did little to stop it and in many ways served to only further solidify the position of the warlords, encourage mal-intentioned entrepreneurs and intensify the urban conflict (Bradbury 63). 

Her mention of the myriad ‘self-declared’ presidents is apt as this is a very real occurrence.  A new one was ‘elected’ just recently: http://www.somaliareport.com/index.php/post/3317/Harardheeres_Newly_Declared_Female_President

She points to the ingenuity of the Somali people in living without a state as holding myriad lessons for addressing the issue today in Somalia and throughout the world. 


Most Somalis don’t practice militant Islam—they are in fact mainly moderate Sunnis.  They’ve mainly clung to sufi theosophy—not sharia. 

While militant jihad has reared its head throughout their history it has often play the role of reaction in their history

Show Al-Itihaad as an Al-Shabab precursor—and as a purist reaction to amalgamated Somali Islamic practice. 

The effectiveness of the UIC and the order brought (at the expense of personal freedoms)

Fascinating details of her own communication and efforts at insight into the Al-Shabab organization.  She also captures the noted worry of their import and exportation of radical jihad. 

She correctly surmises that violent Islamism has always existed in Somalia’s peripheries and has reacted to outside intervention—taking advantage of it to move to the forefront. 

Islam does not equal bad—all the time. 

A Failed State
Somalia and the Outside World

Want to read more on Somalia?  I received Warriors: Life and death among the Somalis for Christmas and I look forward to reading it.

I've also frequently commented on Somalia in this blog:
The story of a small group of adolescent girls who are dropped into Kevin’s life from half a world away in war-torn Somalia.  After surviving a childhood marked by violence and deprivation, they now find themselves in a strange land with little to hold onto beyond the familiar comfort offered by family, culture and religion.

My post "Famine and Photography Examined" or "The Children Cried Thunder Through My Feet" about Barry Malone's thoughtful article Me and the Man With an IPAD by Barry Malone.

This is an important article and is striking in its honesty and self-examination.  Particularly cogent is 
when he writes the following:
"Because it’s a cycle. African governments know that drought is coming and they don’t prepare. Foreign
charities working there talk about long-term plans to help people become self-sufficient but they’ve been
failing to achieve them for 20 years. It’s as much about politics and war and poor economic policies as it
is about no rain. I’m no expert but I know that much."

Minneapolis-A Twin with Mogadishu? or Mogadishu's calling Cory Booker

TZB Chronicles continue- Learning about the Somali Civil War

Key passage from today's notes on the US involvement in Somalia's civil war:

Instead of detaining or killing the warlords the US invited them to peace conferences etc
"encouraging the militias to form a government was like appointing the Mafia to run Manhattan.”  
John Fox commented: “At least I get to do what they taught me in the foreign service and have 
drinks with a room full of mass murderers."

My Post on 'On Ending Piracy in Somalia' or 'Rebooting Max Boot' or 'It's time Kelly Rowland Got Hers'

My post on Why did Somali pirates kill four American yachters?

The Christian Science Monitor asks this question and I think it's a good one to examine in that it leads to further important questions?  

Poet of the Week from Somalia: Abdirashid Omar: A brave poet of the week from Somalia!

Poet of the Week from Somalia: K'naan

Want to read more on Africa?  I put together an executive reading list here (of which Getting Somalia Wrong is Included):

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