Where Bradbury’s Becoming Somaliland concentrates on the former British colony, now an independent though unrecognised state, Lewis, who has been researching Somali history and culture for five decades, looks at the bigger picture of the failure of the state of Somalia and the pathetic international strategy to try and put things right – a cycle of offering formal international recognition to a series of pseudo-governments with little actual authority and no legitimacy which goes as far back as 1990. Lewis’ book was published late last year, just before the latest round in this expensive project of wishful thinking, but there is no reason to suppose that things will be much different this time. Meanwhile the most democratic regime in the region continues to function moderately well, if without international recognition.
Lewis also pays some attention to the wider regional context, particularly (of course) the Ogaden conflict in Ethiopia – the Ogaden are a Somali clan, and advocates of a Greater Somalia still hope to annex them along with northern Kenya and Djibouti (and I wish Lewis had also written a bit more about those two). And there is the question of geopolitics as well: the British administration of all the Somali areas bar Djibouti during and after the second world war; the Soviet support of the “scientific socialism” of Siad Barre’s regime, which ended after the Ethiopian revolution brought Addis into the Communist camp; the American bombardment of the country in support of Ethiopia’s invasion two years ago in the cause of fighting Islamism (and of course the US and EU are now celebrating the election as president of the same guy they chased out of Mogadishu then).
Lewis doen’t mention the curious fact that Berbera, Somaliland’s main port, has the longest airport runway in Africa at over 4 km – originally built by the Soviets as part of the scientific socialism project, then improved by the Americans as a potential emergency landing strip for the Space Shuttle. Just thought you ought to know.