Andrew Korybko:Somalia Can Be Saved By Multipolarity

Andrew Korybko:Somalia Can Be Saved By Multipolarity

Ernestine ADJA Ernestine ADJA

 The inauguration of former Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi "Farmajo” Mohamed as Somalia’s new President early last month is a pertinent occasion to ponder the future of this war-beleaguered country. The international community is full of optimism, and high (but vague) hopes have already been placed upon Farmajo’s administration. The state that he leads is full of internal conflict and has a long-running history of foreign interventionism – both clandestine and overt – which has led to the present-day stationing of approximately 22,000 African Union troops.  

 These international forces are expected to depart in 2020, so President Farmajo needs to realistically do everything in his power to make sure that Somalia is capable of properly securing itself when that time finally arrives. Moreover, it’s not enough just to reach peace – which will be difficult enough to attain – but to keep it, and this leads to the relevance of a genuine multipolar strategy for Somalia. Only a sustainable socio-economic development agenda bolstered by multipolar balancing in Afro-Eurasia can suffice as the solution to Somalia’s woes, but pursuing this broad-based and ambitious platform is a lot easier said than done.  

 Having expressed that, there’s no better time to start than during the opening days of the Farmajo Administration, which is why it’s imperative that the country consider these proposed policy guidelines as soon as the new government is fully formed and its recently appointed members are comfortable with their responsibilities.

 The intention behind this document is to inspire a fresh outlook for Somalia’s grand strategy, importantly accounting for the dynamic changes that are taking place in the New Cold War during the tumultuous global transition towards multipolarity.  The report is divided into several sections, each of which will cover a different theme such as security or governance and be introduced with an introductory summary. The main proposals will then be presented in a bullet point format for readability and convenient skimming, while supplementary explanations will follow every suggestion for readers who are interested in learning a little bit more about every idea. Lastly, before beginning, the author encourages the reader to review his Hybrid War vulnerability assessment for Somalia in order that they can be on the same page of understanding about the most pressing strategic threats facing this nation.  


 The basis for Somalia’s grand strategy needs to be the diversification of its existing partnerships and the cultivation of new ones with the BRICS countries. This is the only way for Mogadishu to compensate for the massive shortcomings over the past few decades when Somalia expected that its international backers would sincerely help to rebuild the country. That hasn’t been forthcoming, and likely won’t ever be, unless the country invites new partners into the mix and spurs a healthy competition of sorts between them. The difficulty, however, is in maintaining a stable balance between old and new friends, and not doing anything which could inadvertently prompt the former to suspiciously question the intentions of both Mogadishu and the latter.  

* Court The BRICS Countries: 

 The first step that Somalia must immediately embark on is attracting the attention of the BRICS countries, preferably by appealing to their economic interests in the country’s underutilized resources (energy, minerals, and fisheries) and geostrategic position. This will be elaborated on more in-depth in the final section about various economic proposals, but for now it’s enough to recognize that outreaches must be made to each of these countries in order that they begin establishing a soft economic-diplomatic presence in Somalia. Suffice to say, the BRICS members aren’t the only states that Somalia should court, but they’re generally the most promising for realistically satisfying the country’s long-term strategic needs in the broader context.  

* Promote Anchor Projects: 

 Somalia needs to sustain the attention of its new partners, so it must promote anchor projects which will keep the BRICS countries interested in this Horn of Africa nation for years to come. Whether it’s military and anti-terrorist cooperation (be it bilateral or multilateral through AU coordination) or New Silk Road investments, there have to be incentives for the BRICS countries to want to retain and expand their commitment to the country. Collective brainstorming and expert collaboration can begin right away, but Somalia’s full partnership potential can’t be realized until security returns to the country, which is why the next main section will discuss proposals for helping to bring this about. In the meantime, Mogadishu needs to get ahead of the curve and already have multipolar projects waiting to be actualized for when that moment finally arrives.  

* Balancing Between Blocs: 

Somalia already has preexisting and high-level partnerships with several of the unipolar-aligned antagonists in this global conflict, and it would be extremely unwise for Mogadishu to get on their bad side or lead them to believe that it’s deliberately plotting against their interests. Instead, it’s best for Somalia to find a way to balance between the unipolar and multipolar blocs, reaping the benefits of each without being forced to politically commit to either one. In this way, the country doesn’t have to become any more of a conflict flashpoint than it already is, and can leverage itself as a crucial convergence point between a variety of actors, one day aspiring to become equally important to each one so that all parties reach a common ground of understanding that it would be counterproductive to their collective self-interests to see Somalia destabilized once more.  


 None of the above strategies can tangibly play out until Al Shabaab and other terrorist-insurgent groups are defeated, an arduous task which has yet to be fulfilled more than two and a half decades after the Somalian state first collapsed. Much of the reason for this is due to foreign factors and the interference of rival Great Powers in the country’s affairs, which have inhibited Somalia’s internal reconciliation prospects and prevented Mogadishu from ensuring security throughout the rest of the country. The state’s law enforcement and military assets are totally unprepared for carrying out their constitutional duties, and this fault lies primarily with the international (Western and AU) community which has heretofor failed to properly train their Somali counterparts for this impending role.

* Restore The Security Forces:

 It’s obvious that the quality, capacity, and competency of Somalia’s domestic security forces must be urgently improved, though it’s unclear how this can feasibly come about. The past few decades proved that Somalia’s existing partners either don’t have the political will or interest in helping it achieving these ends, usually only resorting to half-sincere measures in the most desperate of circumstances in aiding it just barely enough to get by and make for a misleading photo-op or upbeat "news” article. What’s required is a fundamental rethinking of Somalia’s security partnerships, one which doesn’t seek to jettison its legacy relationships but rather diversify away from them in favor of the BRICS (primarily Russia, China, and India).  

 The Somalian forces need reliable equipment and effective training, and they might be able to finally receive these long-overdue security upgrades through weapons deals and advisory contracts with the aforementioned states (whether with their armed forces or private military companies). Only through the restoration of the security forces can Somalia ever sustain its statehood, which in turn enables it to become a more attractive partner for the BRICS. An innovate way in drawing their attention to this imperative and clinching their support for these urgent measures might be to pair any proposed military-security aid with forthcoming economic deals, such as the sort which will be discussed in the last section. The purpose is to give Somalia’s new partners a stake in its security and to incentivize them into making long-term mutually advantageous commitments to the country.  

* Go On The Multilateral Anti-Terrorist/-Insurgent Offensive: 

 Even with improved qualities, capacities, and competencies, the Somalian forces might not be able to successfully liberate the entire country from illegal armed groups, whether they’re terrorists, insurgents, or whatever else they may be described as. The best course of action would be for Somalia to lead the way in these offensives, but to have the multilateral back-up support of its AU and other international military allies that are presently in the country. These forces can provide intelligence, logistics, and battlefield support when necessary and therefore greatly augment the state’s capabilities. Utmost caution needs to be applied, however, in avoiding the appearance that this is yet another overt international military intervention such as the 2006 Ethiopian invasion and periodic cross-border ‘surgical strikes’ by Kenya.  

 No matter how much foresight goes into the optics of this operation, it’s inevitable that there will still be some actors who perceive the forthcoming nationwide offensive as being yet another imperialist attack against their nation, which could consolidate grassroots resistance against it and play to the favor of Al Shabaab and other groups’ recruiting efforts. A preemptive deflection of this narrative might come in the form of Mogadishu declaring – and more importantly, publicly signing agreements to mandate – that all foreign forces involved in the liberation-unity campaign will leave the country shortly after its completion.  

 This would satisfy the desire of grassroots and patriotic elements which want to see the AU and other foreign anti-insurgent elements withdraw after their mission has been completed, while still allowing some non-combat forces to remain in the country to temporarily ensure security in the capital while the state reestablishes its sovereignty in the countryside. Moreover, the wording of the declaration could also give Somalia enough leeway to possibly allow other countries to set up naval bases sometime in the future, though with the strict stipulation that these post-conflict deployments not be used for any on-land purposes. This could present a compromise agreement in winning the grassroots/patriotic forces’ support, while still giving some of Mogadishu’s most important foreign allies a reason to back it in the coming offensive.  

* A Somali-Led And –Owned Solution To Al Shabaab: 

 There is no way that international forces can totally snuff out Al Shabaab, as the group’s growth was a direct reaction to inherently domestic and local issues, albeit accelerated by foreign support. This isn’t at all to "apologize” for the atrocious terrorism that the group has a proven track record of committing, but just to explain that any long-lasting solution to this problem must come from Somalis themselves, not the "international community”. To that end, the latest advances in the Syrian conflict resolution process could serve as useful models for inspiring something similar in Somalia, and perhaps one day even in far-away Afghanistan, neighboring Yemen, and nearby Libya.  

 Constructive political progress in ending the War on Syria had been frozen for years already, but it received a fresh impetus recently through three innovative (albeit very controversial) interlinked structural breakthroughs. The first is the implementation of a nationwide ceasefire accord, which leads to the second logical development of differentiating "terrorist” groups from "moderate rebel armed opposition” ones. This in turn facilitates the third step of having all parties attend third-party-brokered talks aimed at finally resolving their domestic challenges, all in parallel with legitimate state forces and their newfound "moderate rebel armed opposition” partners coordinating or joining their forces to fight against the terrorists which refused to agree to the ceasefire accords.

 This model is far from perfect, but it provides a framework for spurring a new Somali peace process and reaching compromise agreements with the myriad armed groups in the countryside, something which is absolutely necessary to achieve in order to protect and expand any gains reached during the suggested multilateral anti-terrorist/-insurgent offensive. The exact specifics of the Somali-led and -owned peace process will be up to that country’s citizens themselves to decide, but the solution should be comprehensive and include matters as diverse as Al Shabaab, the status of foreign troops inside the country, and "Somaliland”, et al. 


 Somalia’s greatest weakness which has prevented it from emerging out of its decades-long chaos is a total lack of governance. The country used to have stability under President Siad Barre, and it was actually with his overthrow in 1991 that Somalia began to unravel into the loose clan-based political entity that it is today (which is difficult to call a "state” under the present circumstances and in the true sense of the word). In the years since, Somalians have been unable to recover their lost governance amid internal conflicts and external intervention (both secret and open), but with President Farmajo’s inauguration, it looks like the country is about to turn the corner on the darkest period of its history and finally be allowed a chance to succeed.  

 Even so, simply having a nominal government isn’t enough to qualify as "governance”, and President Farmajo will have to lead Somalia to victory in its War on Terror in reunifying and reintegrating the rest of the country, Somaliland included, before he can have any realistic chance at exerting actual governance over the country. Optimistically forecasting that Somalia will be able to overcome its military-security challenges and end the Al Shabaab terrorist insurgency, it will then be confronted with the gargantuan task of reintegrating Somaliland in parallel with nurturing a cohesive and inclusive sense of national identity. President Farmajo has an epic quest ahead of him if he’s serious about accomplishing these goals, but his efforts would be greatly facilitated if he adheres to the following guidelines: 

* Dismantle The "Deep State’s” Dual Loyalties: 

 Many members of Somalia’s academia/expert community and permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies have dual citizenship, and President Farmajo himself had previously lived in the US for decades and became a legal citizen prior to being elected as his country’s newest leader. Dual citizenship could be either a technical formality for the millions-large Somali diaspora scattered across the world, or it could also mean loyalty to their newfound home, the latter of which is extremely troublesome if they’re in a position of influence in leading their native homeland. It might be extremely difficult to root out the Somali patriots from the foreign proxies, and doing so simply on the basis of dual citizenship is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.  

 The author isn’t sure how this process of "deep state” cleansing should go about, but is convinced that it must happen sooner than later in order for Somalia to begin regaining some of its lost sovereignty and independence, though it might realistically take longer than a single presidential administration to completely eradicate the problem. In any case, the first steps need to be taken now, and they don’t even have to be as dramatic as publicly ousting compromised individuals from their positions of power (though that too is a viable option), but instead reassigning them to roles where they could do comparatively less damage to the state, essentially serving as placeholders until more patriotic "deep state” elite can be recruited/cultivated to replace them.   

 It should be cautioned, however, that any sincere efforts to dismantle the "deep state’s” dual loyalties will predictably be met with a fierce response, both from the compromised elite themselves and their foreign patrons. This needs to be taken into consideration, because it could very well spark the type of "deep state” war that’s going on in the US nowadays. At the same time, however, that given intra-governmental conflict might provide President Farmajo with the window of opportunity that he needs to make decisive moves and prove his leadership in this regard, since the American "deep state” might be much too distracted with their own internecine conflict at home to concentrate on Somalia.  That being said, the US isn’t the only country controlling Somalia’s elites, so backlash can be expected from other foreign powers too, especially if they’re in a better position to respond than Washington is at the moment.  

* Unify And Strengthen The Collective Somali National Identity: 

 The whole world by know is largely aware that Somalia is a clan-based society which has mostly fractured along those lines over the past 26 years, and many outside observers are pessimistic about the prospects that this national mosaic can ever be pieced back together into its old form. It might very well be the case that this is impossible, but it shouldn’t be immediately discounted without genuinely trying. In spite of the clan and territorial allegiances which have kept Somalis divided over the decades, they still all share the same language, religion, and historical experiences, thereby meaning that the simplest basis for a restored nationhood is still present and could theoretically be rebuilt.  

 The author is by no means an expert on Somali national identity or clan relations, so no specific advice can be offered on the step-by-step process that needs to be initiated as soon as possible, but it can be safely assumed that this outreach would have the greatest odds of success following the reestablishment of government control all throughout the country. The reason why it’s so crucial that Somalis unify and strengthen their collective national identity is because it would complement the government’s efforts to dismantle the "deep state’s” dual loyalties and counteract the divide-and-rule strategy that foreign powers have been practicing against the country’s various sub-identities (clans).  

* Reverse The Effects Of "Identity Federalism”: 

 Somalia’s 2012 constitution devolved the formerly centralized state into a loose federation of clan-based entities, which pretty much allows for what the author has previously termed "Identity Federalism”. This model of governance is becoming preponderant in countries that have recently emerged from prolonged periods of internal strife (Bosnia, Iraq, South Sudan, Nepal, and soon possibly Syria), and it creates the de-facto internal partition of the said country into a checkerboard of several identity-centric statelets. Great Powers and their regional cohorts are thus able to more easily exert their influence over their patronized areas of the erstwhile unitary country, and in the Somali case, this has been proven to be very effective.  

 Somalia has no real future as an independent state so long as the institutionalized framework for Identity Federalism remains in effect, though it might be all but impossible to formally reverse the damage that’s already been done through this model’s enshrinement in the constitution. Instead, what’s needed is for President Farmajo and his supporters – both in the "deep state” and grassroots – to develop innovative workarounds for avoiding the divide-and-rule destiny set out for them within their country’s foreign-influenced founding document. A temporary or indefinite exception, however, might have to be made for the transitional period during which Somalia might reintegrate Somaliland (provided that this is even still possible).   


 Somalia’s future will remain bleak as long as it’s unable to attract substantial investment from its existing (Western/Gulf) and hopefully newfound (BRICS) partners, but this can only happen if the country has something to offer them which would make it worth their while to commit to it. Somalia’s infrastructure is largely in ruins, and most of the country remains disconnected from the other parts, which feeds into "Identity Federalism” and the feeling of "separateness” that some of the clans have towards their compatriots, so it’s of the highest priority that the government seek out reliable contractors in helping to physically reconnect the people of this vast state. Roads aren’t all that’s needed, though, as municipal infrastructure such as sanitary facilities, communication outposts, and other such symbols of 21st-century life which Westerners oftentimes take for granted need to proliferate throughout Somalia in order to strengthen its statehood.  

 Aside from the socio-economic fundamentals which were just described, there are also more strategic motivations behind why the BRICS – especially China and India – should be eager to invest in a stabilized Somalia. Unique aspects such as the country’s geostrategic location need to be emphasized in order to market Somalia’s attractiveness abroad, thereby helping to court the highest amount of investment and economic aid as possible. The country is blessed with an irreplaceable location which positions it near the maritime fulcrum of the Afro-Eurasian hemispheric-wide landmass, and thereby endows its partners with unparalleled influence over the supercontinent’s affairs, provided of course that they’re aware and capable of leveraging it properly. It’s these elements which should be promoted alongside Somalia’s untapped natural resources (minerals, energy, and fisheries) in order to ensure that the country is successful in clinching key partnerships in the future that could bestow it with maximum strategic flexibility.  

* Double-Layered Balancing: 

 Somalia’s new government needs to focus on a double-layered balancing strategy in order to maintain and grow its independence. Mogadishu must balance not only between the unipolar and multipolar camps, but also within each of them for a combination of three total balancing acts. For example, the unipolar community which most closely interacts with Somalia can be broadly characterized as Western and Gulf countries, both of which have very similar long-term goals vis-à-vis their multipolar rivals, but also plenty of differences between themselves. If Somalia is guided by wise enough strategists and bold decision makers, it can experiment with ways of exploiting these intra-bloc contradictions to its military, economic, and strategic advantages.  

 The same can be said for balancing between India and China, which despite their nominal BRICS membership are in a heated rivalry in the Indian Ocean, one which is rapidly spreading across this body of water and to East Africa’s shores. Somalia can’t go wrong partnering with either or both of these countries, and it would be most ideal if it can spark a friendly competition between the two which ultimately serves the Horn of Africa state’s overall long-term interests. For that to happen, however, Somalia needs to offer much more than just its potential resources to its current and prospective partners, and therein lays the relevancy of its geostrategic position at the global crossroads.  

* Straddling The Global Crossroads: 

 Somalia is crucially located at the fulcrum of Afro-Eurasia, in that it abuts the Arabian Peninsula (West Asia) and is alongside the Suez-Mandab Red Sea waterway enabling direct European-Asian maritime trade. This location will only continue to heighten its importance in the future as China’s One Belt One Road global vision of New Silk Roads and international infrastructural connectivity begin linking all parts of the Eastern Hemisphere more closely together. Accordingly, the Indian Ocean will become much more significant than it already is, figuring into the grand strategic calculus by being the midway point between Europe/East Africa and Asia. Considering Somalia’s position, it can be said that this Horn of Africa country will correspondingly become all the more strategic as the future of Afro-Eurasia increasingly becomes more dependent on the Indo-Pacific waterways that Somalia sits on.  

 It’s not only East-West connectivity that Somalia has a handle on facilitating, but also North-South as well. The EU, China, and India all have their eyes on Tanzania and Mozambique’s copious offshore LNG deposits, which are already estimated to be some of the largest in the world. The moment that they become extractable on a large enough scale and enter into the global market, this somewhat forgotten corner of Southeastern Africa will see an immediate boost in worldwide geostrategic significance, of which Somalia is also expected to benefit. European-East African maritime trade – whether in energy or other products – must sail past Somalia, and even Indian and Chinese trade with this region will come very close to it as well (especially as the latter continues to rely more on CPEC for interfacing with East Africa).  

 Expanding even further on the concept of how Somalia straddles the global crossroads, the country isn’t just important in maritime terms, but also continental ones as well. Neighboring Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, made all the more promising by its very close relations with China. However, the only dependable access route for trading with this landlocked giant is via the recent Chinese-constructed Djibouti-Addis Ababa railway, which is shaping up to become a land-based chokepoint. What China and any other country interested in or already investing in Ethiopia needs to pioneer is an alternative access route to this country, which is where Somalia once again comes into play as the most realistic partner for enabling this. Relations between the two neighbors are fraught with distrust and a lot of blood, but the collaborative interests of the Great Powers might be able to bring them together to the point of promoting multilateral win-win cooperation between them all.  

 Somalia’s future as Afro-Eurasia’s maritime gateway and Asia’s alternative access point to Ethiopia is fully dependent on Mogadishu’s ability to propose relevant projects to its interested partners, particularly India and China. Port, highway, communication,  and other sorts of connectivity investments must be centered on the abovementioned principles of having the Horn of Africa state serve as the facilitator for much grander trading routes, be they across the Indo-Pacific to Europe (and vice-versa) or into the African hinterland in further penetrating the Ethiopian marketplace. As per the latter, the development connections which could unfold between these two rival states per the necessary Great Power investments might even provide an impetus to improving bilateral relations through people-to-people trust-building mechanisms such as trade and travel, though all of this is conditional on the security situation in both states.  

* The Indian Ocean Pivot: 

 In terms of the global picture, Somalia is indeed one of the most pivotal states in the Indian Ocean, and it’s for this reason why it was even included in the New Delhi-led Indian Ocean Rim Association despite its contemporaneously dysfunctional status at the time of its admission. Much ado has been made about Yemen’s geostrategic significance, and not without good reason, but Somalia outdoes its northern cross-sea neighbor by not only being a maritime transit area for EU-Asian and EU-East African trade, but for Asian-African trade as well, which will become much larger in the coming future as India and China both compete for more of the continent’s marketplaces and resources. In a sense, Somalia can be grouped in with the Maldives and Sri Lanka as one of the most up-and-coming strategic locations in the near future, and the argument can be made that it might actually be more important than both of them.

Here’s why.

Comparative Advantages 

 Sri Lanka is relevant for as long as East Asia’s commercial and energy trade with Europe, Africa, and the Mideast transits through the Strait of Malacca or overland to the Bay of Bengal via any forthcoming Chinese high-speed New Silk Road railway through its territory, while the Maldives enjoys a residual benefit from this as well. However, India is capable of handling its trade relations with all three of these entities without boosting the Maldives or Sri Lanka’s geostrategic profiles, and as China spearheads more overland New Silk Roads from one side of the supercontinent to the other or through the alternative Northern Sea maritime route, it’ll become less reliant on the Strait of Malacca and Bay of Bengal, thus comparatively diminishing the Maldives and Sri Lanka’s relative importance. They’ll still have a role to play in ASEAN’s trade with the EU, Mideast, and Africa, but not so much East Asia’s like they used to (after a certain amount of time, of course).  

The CPEC Factor 

 However, it’s confidently forecast that the progressive rolling out and steadily increasing utilization of CPEC will instead give China reason to focus on the Arabian Sea much more than before. Granted, Mideast energy resources will eventually reach China evermore often via overland trade routes, but maritime commercial trade with the EU and especially East Africa will still depend on the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, the former of which Yemen does admittedly have a stake in through the distant strategic island of Socotra. Nevertheless, that piece of territory isn’t ‘mainland’ Yemen in the sense of how the country is popularly conceived, nor does it have much connection with its nominal rulers in Sanaa, so it should for all intents and purposes be treated somewhat separately from the rest of the nation on the Arabian Peninsula.  

East African Gateway 

 Considering that, Somalia thus reveals itself to be even more crucial than Yemen in the sense of being alongside Asia’s trade routes with East Africa, which will only become more popular in the future as China’s regional New Silk Road OBOR investments of LAPSSET, the Standard Gauge Railway, and the Central Corridor begin to come online, to say nothing of Tanzania and Mozambique’s impending large-scale LNG exports. While Somalia won’t figure into play so much when it comes to India in these regards, the same can’t be said for a CPEC-utilizing China, which would have to sail quite close to Somalia’s shores en route to Gwadar and back. Moreover, both competing Great Powers might converge in Somalia if modernized overland connectivity routes are trailblazed in connecting with Ethiopia and diversifying away from sole economic dependency on the Djibouti Corridor.  

 Looked at from this perspective, Somalia is veritably emerging as one of the most pivotal states in the world, and this alone should be reason enough for it to succeed in courting the multipolar BRICS investments and partnerships that it needs in order to thrive in the 21st century, but only if it can stabilize its domestic security situation first.  


DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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