I seem to remember another country that tried: in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and oh, in Nicaragua. And her adversaries tried in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary; and other adversaries in Tibet.
None of those worked very well. What’s critically important this time, is that the big failures don’t derail the little success. Listen, please, to Kenya.
Thursday’s peace conference in London is being reported by the western media almost like composers gathering to write a funeral dirge. At first I just couldn’t understand this.
Then it hit me: peace is coming to Somali, not through the bigwigs and their F16s and drones and special operations and decades of failed warring, but because of a slow and methodical and most importantly, little military operation by Kenya that began last October.
Some argue that incessant droughts, western European poaching of its rich fisheries, and the west’s systematic routing of al-Qaeda are the main reasons, but I disagree. They are all important, of course, but the main reason is that a neighbor on its own volition stepped in less as the Terminator and more as the School Mom with a big stick.
None were more skeptical than me. The notion of getting “bogged down” grew literal with early, heavy rains. And it was only reasonable to suppose that no major putsch was possible with such a little force.
But what appears to be the new working military formula, is that putsch is old school. Perhaps necessity structured the Kenyan campaign, so be it. Civilian losses, mostly in terrorist revenge attacks near the border, are subsiding and “pacification” by Kenyan troops as the inch themselves towards the sea seems to be working.
Somalia was too far from Europe to be a cultural center like Alexandria. There were no Lawrence Durrell’s writing about its ancient spirits. But Somalia in the old days was very much of a Mediterranean-like African country: pretty if lazy, modern if low-key, and increasingly self-sufficient.
Above all they were seamen, accomplished fishermen and navigators. As world wars loomed at the end of the 19th century, Britain used the pretext of suppressing a popular local ruler, Abdullah Hassan, to gain control of critical ports accessing the Red Sea.
Similar to earlier jihadists like Sudan’s Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad, Hassan could easily organize the enormous local antipathy to modern western ideas like school for women. The “modern world” was thrust on much of Arabic Africa far too quickly.
After the world wars it was only natural that the former colony would choose the other side of the Cold War, and Somali became a Soviet ally. Even so it prospered nearly as much as neighbors like Kenya who had chosen the West, and education, especially exploded throughout the population.
The end of the Cold War left Somali without a patron. And ideologues like Reagan thought no further than ending the reign of an adversary. A huge vacuum was left in the societies which for a generation had depended upon the Soviets and Chinese.
It was like a calendar flipping backwards in time.
Mogadishu imploded in 1991. Black Hawk Down ended in catastrophe in 1993, and Somali was apportioned by warlords who had been the benefactors of a quarter century of arms buildup by proxy adversaries a half a planet apart.
One can read the history of 1990s Somalia very similarly to General Gordon’s battles in Khartoum in 1884. A century apart, the killing and fighting is placed conveniently far away from the main protagonist, a distant super power trying to impose an alien culture on a local people.
But such analogies probably have little significance, today. Historical imperatives might just have evaporated in the last quarter century. The world is too closely connected, now. Hiphop is just as popular in Mogadishu and Nairobi as in London.
And I am surprised by the Kenyan success. Fighting which brings peace. I hope I am not surprised once again that I was surprised.