I’ve been mercilessly pilloried in the past when I’ve suggested the Somali state is nonsense on stilts that should be unwound, or dismembered. I understand the patriotic jingoism and the pain my Somali brethren must feel when I utter this bitter truth. I would see red too, and curse the speaker. But facts are stubborn things. Undeniable.
Last month, the spectacular fall of Kabul to the Taliban after two decades of American “nation-building” in Afghanistan, should be a wake-up call to Somalis in the region. But for the African Union Amisom troops, the Somali State – or what passes for one – would’ve collapsed eons ago. Denial isn’t a strategy. Somalia is a legal fiction, not a state.
I take absolutely no pleasure in passing this dire judgement on Somalia. Even though my Somali detractors think so. Why should I? The stability, prosperity and well-being of every single African state have been my life’s work. But I am a realist. I know Africans didn’t participate in the creation of virtually all modern post-colonial states.
Our states are the dregs of vile European imperial excreta. Europeans made up our states to exploit us. African states were meant to serve White Supremacy. The states are the scaffolding of that demonic project. In most cases, we as Africans have failed to legitimise the imposed states because of the combined psychoses of our elites and the scandalous Western-dominated international order.
Ruins of colonialism
We’ve tried, but largely fallen short. Even Kenya is a fledgling work in progress. Some African states are more legitimate than others, and have been more successful in building viable countries out of the ruins of colonialism. But Somalia isn’t one of them. Even so, Africans continue to hold on to some of these figments of the imagination of international law.
It’s not just the classic African post-colonial state that’s in distress. Ethiopia, an empire that’s failed to become a republic, was never truly colonised, but has all the malaise of a post-colony. It may very soon fall apart again, as it has done in the past. That’s why Somalia is no exception, except for its eerie similarity with Afghanistan.
Somalis, much like Afghans, are trapped in a vicious temptation with a medieval interpretation of political Islam. The grip and seduction of the caliphate, or emirate, have a chokehold on their societies. Their version of Islam is antithetical to the values of liberalism that have come to define most global cultures today.
These include political democracy, human rights and the centrality of the rule of law. The key tenets are equal protection and anti-discrimination norms without regard to gender, identity and other classifications. There’s clearly a clash between liberalism and versions of Islam. The Taliban represent one worldview, while the Americans and the departed puppet government represented another. In this ideological conflict, the Taliban have prevailed in Afghanistan.
The question is whether al-Shabaab, the ragtag terror group – much like the Taliban were once – can exhaust and defeat the Mogadishu-based Somali government whose writ is wafer thin. The African Union forces with UN and Western support have kept the rump Somali state alive, even as it’s been unable to corral breakaway putative mini-states and regions. Will the story of Afghanistan be repeated in Somalia, or is it wrong to draw the equivalency between the Taliban and Afghanistan on the one hand, and al-Shabaab and Somalia, on the other?
I see little difference. Both were propped up by Western powers in the face of domestic political and religious-based insurgencies. Both puppet states had little international legitimacy or staying power.
If the United States, the most powerful state and the wealthiest, couldn’t save Afghanistan after pouring over $3 trillion and thousands of lives in two decades, how is the AU going to save Somalia? The answer is nyet. al-Shabaab may not emerge victorious. We could have a nightmarish prolonged period of dystopia until Somalia is dismembered, or breaks up into separate independent statelets.
An untenable myth
It’s time to abandon the dream of one great Somalia. The cost to lives and peace isn’t worth holding onto an untenable myth. It’s true that imperial powers in Europe and the United States have retarded the Somali State but the whole thing is now humpty dumpty that can’t be put together again.
The lessons of history are cruel, hard and bitter. That’s one truth out of Afghanistan. The puppet government collapsed after the US concluded it couldn’t win and withdrew in a chaotic humiliating defeat. Withdrawal was the right decision.
If the Afghan government could collapse without a single shot being fired, then none should defend it. We don’t know what’s next, but I don’t think the Taliban emirate will succeed either. There are too many internal and historical contradictions at work. It will repress its people and deny women basic rights. I have no doubt al-Shabaab would do the same in Somalia.
Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School. He’s chair of KHRC. @makaumutua