The Arab Spring: Revolution and Shifting Geopolitics - Somalia: Where a State Isn't a State

By: J. Peter Pham

J. Peter Pham is director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. A prolific scholar of African politics and security, Dr. Pham is also editor-in-chief of the refereed Journal of the Middle East and Africa, published by the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA).

Excerpt -  35 Fletcher F. World Aff. 133

INTRODUCTION

On February 22, 2011, as one of the United States Navy's newest guided-missile destroyers, the USS Sterett, and three other warships stood by virtually helpless, Somali pirates killed four boaters they had seized just days earlier off the coast of Oman. The four victims--yacht owners Scott and Jean Adam of Marina del Rey, California, and their friends, Phyllis Macay and Bob Riggle of Seattle, Washington--are the first Americans to be killed by the pirate gangs, which have become increasingly emboldened, operating ever farther from their native littorals in search of vulnerable vessels and the spiraling ransoms to be won. Naval analyst Martin Murphy summarized it neatly in his authoritative study on the subject: "Piracy is a low-risk criminal activity that pays well. It occurs for one overriding reason: opportunity." 1 And it is hard to imagine a more facilitating environment for the marauders than Somalia, which lacks anything even remotely resembling a functioning central government. 2

In the two decades since the dictator Muhammad Siyad Barre ignominiously fled Mogadishu in January 1991, leaving behind a capital in ruins and in the throes of uncontrolled street violence, Somalia has been the prime example of what political scientist Robert Rotberg has termed the "collapsed state," a "rare and extreme version of the failed state" and "a mere geographical expression, a black hole into which a failed polity has fallen." 3 Somalia has stubbornly resisted no fewer than fourteen attempts the fletcher forum of world affairs to reconstitute a ...

 

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