The Al Shabaab bombers in Kampala killed 74 people watching World Cup soccer. Here are some thoughts about the situation.

1.  Al Shabaab, whether linked to Al Qaeda by actual ties or only by sharing enemies, is obviously able to strike outside of Somalia. Could they reach the US? It’s not impossible.  They have already recruited about 20 fighters in Minneapolis (also in Canada and Scandinavia), including a suicide bomber, a Somali-American who blew himself up in Somalia.  Burundi is a closer target which, like Uganda, also sent peacekeepers to Mogadishu through the  African Union (AU).

2.  The US/EU/UN will probably increase military aid to the largely fictional Transitional Federal Government, which controls about one square mile in Mogadishu with the help of 4,000 AU soldiers.  This is pure reflex, and pointless. Without some kind of Somali solution, the present situation won’t change.  There is no evidence that a feasible and locally rooted approach is being developed, though nothing else stands a chance of working.

3.  The parallels between Afghanistan and Somalia are increasingly obvious.  Neither has a functioning central government.  Both have populations with deep historic divisions and rivalries.  Both have always turned on foreigners, but then turn on each other when the foreigners go, or even sooner.  In both, solutions imposed from outside don’t gain local support.  Despite their differences, both share this: neither has had, except briefly, the historic experience of a time when the concept of Somalia or Afghanistan was stronger than regional, clan/subclan  or ethnic loyalties.  Local rule has usually been the only rule.  The  ’national capital’ had little authority or status.  The Peace Corps happened to be in both countries during recent short periods of central rule.  Neither central government survived for long.

There is no reason to think that Somalia, or Afghanistan, will have a functioning national government in the foreseeable future. It is the repeated mistake of foreigners to assume that people everywhere really want a nation/state and that they want to replace local leaders with members of other clans or ethnic groups who rule over them from far away. These two countries are obviously not ready to do that, particularly under pressure from foreigners.  Are there others that are only going through the motions of modern governance as they sort out their internal conflicts?  (Did anyone mention Iraq?)

4.  Somaliland, the former British colony that just had a peaceful transfer of power between rivals, is still denied international recognition as a legitimate state.  Hasn’t anyone noticed that it is a functioning democracy that just had its 3rd election? This is more than bizarre.  The rest of Somalia, an anarchic and bloody mess that is now exporting suicide bombers, is considered a legitimate state.  The US, Europe and all of Africa are coconspiritors in this absurdity.  A touch of leadership might help, but the Obama administration is as indifferent to Africa as the Bush and Clinton administrations — bipartisanship at its worst.  A career diplomat and RPCV, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson  (Tanzania, 1965-68) may have a title, but extending recognition to Somaliland is above his pay grade, as they say now.