It is a failed state in which the United States knows al-Qaida and its allies have operated, where endemic lawlessness provides a haven for terrorists. Yet Washington isn't investing in talks aimed at addressing the failure of the state.
The failed state is Somalia, possibly the only country in the world without a government, and a perfect example of the humanitarian, economic and political consequences of state collapse. Most important from the U.S. perspective, Somalia's governance vacuum makes the Horn of Africa country a comfortable home for terrorist groups looking for refuge or a logistical staging area.
It was before "Black Hawk Down," before Somalia became the only country in the world without a government, that I took my first trip there. It changed my life. This was in the mid-1980s, when the United States was underwriting a warlord dictator in support of our Cold War interests, at the clear expense of basic human rights. As a young, wide-eyed activist-in-training, I couldn't accept the idea that my government would use defenseless Somali civilians as pawns on its strategic chessboard -- in a strategy that ultimately produced only state collapse, civil war and famine.
Twenty years later the enemy has changed, but the plot is hauntingly similar. In recent trips to the capital, Mogadishu, I have seen evidence of U.S. support to warlord militia leaders in the name of counterterrorism operations. Since the beginning of the year, pitched battles between U.S.-backed warlords and Islamist militias in Mogadishu have claimed hundreds of lives and displaced thousands of families.
President Robert Mugabe can't believe his luck. At the beginning of September, he faced humiliating public criticism and an ultimatum for the first time from fellow African leaders.
A special delegation of Commonwealth foreign ministers meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja secured Mr Mugabe's commitment to upholding Commonwealth principles of democracy and restoring the rule of law. South African Development Commission (SADC) leaders had also given Mr Mugabe four weeks to address the land crisis or face isolation. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) loomed in early October, with Zimbabwe possibly facing suspension. The European Union and the United States had also threatened moves against Zimbabwe. Then, on 11 September, the attacks in the United States blew the steady diplomatic march on Zimbabwe off the map. CHOGM was postponed until next year, and Mugabe now believes, quite rightly, that the world's attention is focussed elsewhere.
Washington, D.C. — Already notorious as the world’s only state without a functioning government, Somalia may be about to deteriorate even further. The country is rapidly sliding back toward war. As an Islamist militia, the Council of Somali Islamic Courts, consolidates control over large swathes of southern Somalia, neighboring Ethiopia has sent thousands of troops over the border, and both sides are preparing for a showdown. A return to war could bring about the same horrific famine conditions that precipitated a US military intervention 14 years ago, and damage rather than advance US counter terrorism objectives in a vulnerable region.
George Clooney's meeting to discuss Darfur with Vice President Joe Biden and with President Barack Obama Monday night at the White House provided one of the first glimmers of Africa involvement from the top echelon of the new administration.
According to Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander, Clooney was told that Sudan policy is under "ongoing review." The Academy Award-winning actor, who skipped the Oscar's ceremony Sunday night to fly to Washington, said he welcomed what he heard "because there was some concern this could fall off the radar."
Eleven African Union peacekeepers were killed in a brutal attack in Mogadishu, Somalia on Sunday. Witnesses described hearing two massive explosions.
A spokesperson for the Shabaab, a radical yet powerful Somali militia that the United States labels a terrorist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The spokesperson warned more is yet to come.
This weekend's tragedy makes the title of Jeffrey Gettleman's new piece on Somalia - "The Most Dangerous Place in the World" - particularly pertinent. Gettleman, the East African bureau chief for the New York Times, writes in Foreign Policy that even after reporting in Afghanistan and Iraq, "nowhere was I more afraid than in today's Somalia."