The most dangerous place in the world.

Might be Somalia:

Somalia won independence in 1960, but it quickly became a Cold War pawn, prized for its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, where Africa and Asia nearly touch. First it was the Soviets who pumped in weapons, then the United States. A poor, mostly illiterate, mainly nomadic country became a towering ammunition dump primed to explode. The central government was hardly able to hold the place together. Even in the 1980s, Maj. Gen. Mohamed Siad Barre, the capricious dictator who ruled from 1969 to 1991, was derisively referred to as “the mayor of Mogadishu” because so much of the country had already spun out of his control.

When clan warlords finally ousted him in 1991, it wasn’t much of a surprise what happened next. The warlords unleashed all that military-grade weaponry on each other, and every port, airstrip, fishing pier, telephone pole—anything that could turn a profit—was fought over. People were killed for a few pennies. Women were raped with impunity. The chaos gave rise to a new class of parasitic war profiteers gunrunners, drug smugglers, importers of expired (and often sickening) baby formula—people with a vested interest in the chaos continuing.

Somalia became the modern world’s closest approximation of Hobbes’s state of nature, where life was indeed nasty, brutish, and short. To call it even a failed state was generous. The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a failed state. So is Zimbabwe. But those places at least have national armies and national bureaucracies, however corrupt. Since 1991, Somalia has not been a state so much as a lawless, ungoverned space on the map between its neighbors and the sea.

What I find interesting is that, according to this essay, nearly everytime the U.S. has intervened in the affairs of the country, things seem to worsen at a rate proportional to our involvement.

After our most recent interference, when the Bush administration handed guns to the the Ethiopian army, we’ve now reached a point where Ethiopia and neighboring country Eritrea seemed poised for another chaotic and deadly border war:

If the Shabab, which boasts Eritrean support, took over Somalia, we might indeed see round two of Ethiopia versus Eritrea. The worst-case scenario could mean millions of people displaced across the entire region, crippled food production, and violence-induced breaches in the aid pipeline. In short, a famine in one of the most perennially needy parts of the world—again.

The hardest challenge of all might be simply preventing the worst-case scenario.

That leaves me with a question: what, if anything, is our nation’s responsibility in such a scenario? Is it possible for the U.S. to do something other than deepen the suffering there?

History would suggest not.


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • Grump

    it’ll be interesting to see how Mrs. Clinton and Susan Rice handle things in a proactive sense. I hop that they aren’t waiting for the worst case scenario to happen, but that one of them or somebody in our government is making little/slight moves to stem the situation.

  • Actually, according to the essay, history suggests any foreign involvement has screwed up the country. Somalia is also one of those rarities on the African continent in that it is mostly a nation-state (Somalia is predominantly made up of Somalis, with few minorities), and back in the 1970s people were CERTAIN that Somalia was going to be an African power based on the supposed natural cohesion of the country in being made up of one ethnicity. Whether the Soviets, the United States, the Kenyans, or whomever else, getting involved in Somalia is always a bad idea. If you want some histories of the country or anything let me know.

  • Scott


    Why you pin the blame on the US when the essay doesn’t? The essay seems to say that Somalia was recovering until the Shabab tried to take over. Or is the article just an excuse for some US/Bush bashing?

  • glory

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s book, Infidel, shed so much light on Somalia for me. I really can’t see outside influence helping much. I think it would be seen as imperialist colonialism. Though there’s one ethnicity, the various clans continue to struggle against each other. And the stronghold the Muslims have on many aspects of culture makes a war against Christian Ethiopians and Eritreans a holy war, not just a war. I think it’s possible for Somalia to be another Afghanistan or Pakistan regarding the training of militant and extremist jihadists, who would rail against Western influence to the death. I think that it would be great to lend Somalia humanitarian aid, but I can see how the lawlessness and other factors complicate that.

  • Well, I disagree with the characterization of me “looking for an excuse” to engage in some Bush bashing. That’d be too easy, and too boring. Been there, done that. I’m looking forward.

    But Gettleman refers very specifically to three big mistakes that the U.S. made in regards to our involvement in Somalia. I’m thinking of the parts of the essay where Gettlemen talks about “Strike One, Strike Two and Strike Three.”

    Also I singled out the most recent Bush administration because they made the most recent blunder there, trying to use with the Ethiopian army to do our biding. That has put Somalia on the precipice of disaster. But no doubt, the first Bush and Clinton administrations certainly bear responsibility for some of the ongoing problems in Somalia.

    That said, I was asking a sincere question about where we should go from here. Do we have any responsibility to clean up some of the mess we made there? Can we be honest brokers of peace and prosperity in Somalia? I’m not interested so much in assigning blame as I am in finding a solution.

    And that’s the honest truth. I’m no foreign policy expert. I’m asking questions. Got any answers?

  • Grump

    We should broker a peace where Somalis do for Somalis. It was working until we felt that under the Sharia government that Somalia was falling under al-Queda’s influence. Instead, we should demand peace but let them(The Clans) work it out, peacefully.

  • Grump, I feel that. That’s what I’m talking about. Thanks much.

    And you’re right” bringing guns to the table doesn’t seem to be a terribly effective way to make things change for the better there. They’ve already got plenty of that.

    My question to your answer, though, would Somalis ever consider us (the U.S.) to be honest brokers in any peace process? And do you think the U.S. could ever accept any government-building in Somalia that included Islamists (not Al-Qaeda)?

    And I’m prepared to accept that there might not be an answer. In fact, there might not be an answer. More than anything, I was just taken with how bad things were there and was curious to know if anything could be done to improve a worsening situation.

  • Grump

    Well, more than likely, The Somalis would not think of us as being altruistic. I’m not a foreign policy expert either, but I do know that on a micro level, if I’m having a dispute with somebody and a 3rd party offers to broker peace, part of me is wondering what’s in it for them. I figure that would just come with the territory.

    In order for peace and some form of civility to return to Somalia, we would definately need a coalition of the willing in the truest sense to step in and handle things. Like a region East African family intervention. Have Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kenya and whomever else meet somewhere neutral and talk things out. As far as the U.S. concerns about islamist theocracy in Somalia, we should cross that bridge when we get to it. Peace first, then organizing life and government should come 2nd.