By Makau Mutua
There comes a time when you’ve got to save your neighbour from himself. For, if you don’t, you might be damned with him. Methinks it’s time Kenya thought boldly – and compassionately – about the mess that’s Somalia. One of the options – bold and compassionate – of salvaging a seemingly irredeemable and terminally dysfunctional state is to move in and take it up.
Can Somalia be saved as a single state as we know it? Perhaps not. But the bold and compassionate move to save Somalia should be a Kenya-only burden – the contiguous states should jump in and take their own slices. Let’s remember this – there’s nothing “sacred” about post-colonial states that imperialists made up just over a century ago.
Some countries should’ve a claim to statehood. That’s why they should be combined with other, more viable, states. Somalia falls in that column because it’s shown itself incapable of self-governance. The Federal Government of Somalia – the current attempt by the AU and the West to resurrect “humpty dumpty” – has all the marks of illegitimacy. It can hardly hold any territory in Somalia on its own. Nor does its writ extend beyond several neighbourhoods in Mogadishu. It’s nonsense on stilts. Just because a state was established long ago, doesn’t mean it should continue to exist – especially as a fiction of the imagination.
As a state, Somalia is merely a romantic idea, nothing more. It’s an unworkable, unviable, and destabilising concoction – a total charade.
Already, “Somalia” is hopelessly divided. Its own inhabitants have “disappeared” it as a single state. The Federal Government controls Mogadishu, but then there’s Puntland, Somaliland, and Jubaland. There’s no realistic expectation that all these little enclaves can cohere into one viable state.
Either the international community recognises each of these statelets as sovereign, or it allows neighbouring states to absorb them. States can only exist where the inhabitants exhibit a will to form a political community. Absent such a patriotic commitment, it’s futile for the “international community” to impose statehood on an unwilling populace. It’s an unimaginative solution to a modern paradox. Not all states are, or should be, permanent per se, and nor should they be so treated.
In 1963, the OAU – now the AU – adopted the doctrine of uti possidetis, which is Latin for “as you possess”. It provided that colonial borders were inviolable and had to be treated as “sacred” after decolonisation. It essentially froze in place colonial maps even those that didn’t make sense.
Newly independent African states feared that re-opening colonial borders would undo them. European cartographers didn’t know what they were doing – they only sought chunks of land to exploit. We were stuck with the silly maps after the Europeans departed. Africans have redrawn some of these crazy maps. Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia. South Sudan forced a divorce from Sudan.This brings me to my central thesis – why Kenya should permanently save Somalia. The most compelling reason is the security and viability of Kenya. Of all the countries in the Horn of Africa, Kenya is imperiled the most by a rogue and ungoverned “Somalia”. Yet Kenya is the unquestioned and indispensable anchor state in the region.
As Kenya goes, so does the rest of the region. Kenya doesn’t face any rival or existential threat from any other source except “Somalia”. That’s because Kenya is Somalia’s economic lifeblood.
There’s a real existential symbiosis between Kenya and Somalia. It’s fact Somalia is a haven for terrorists, extremists, weapons trafficking, and other evils. We leave Somalia alone at our own peril.
Where do Somalis run to when there’s trouble in Somalia? Kenya is the country of refuge. Think of Dadaab Refugee Camp – now the largest refugee camp in the world. It’s also Kenya’s fourth largest city. I don’t see those refugees ever going back to Somalia. Mark my words – they will eventually become Kenyans. And that’s not a bad thing. I know that some xenophobic Kenyans may object – thinking that Somalis would dominate Kenya. But what’s wrong if those Somalis become Kenyans?
It would integrate them into the Kenyan state and give them a stake in Kenya. This strategy would work well if Kenya annexed southern Somalia, including Kismayu. It wouldn’t be a buffer, but a part of Kenya.
But the annexation of Somalia as a strategy for peace in the Horn can only work if Ethiopia and Djibouti – the other states that border Somalia – get into the act. Ethiopia has a large Somali population in the Ogaden region.
That may be the impetus for its annexation of a chunk of neighbouring Somalia. Djibouti would need some help, but demographically may be the most suited to swallow a huge portion of Somalia. Kenya must think radically, otherwise its incursion into Somalia will have been for naught. It will have squandered blood and treasure in a fool’s errand.