Could Somalia Be the Next Afghanistan?
A similar rapid collapse of state institutions awaits if Somali elites and Western governments don’t alter their approach.
The Taliban’s swift capture of power in Afghanistan took the world by surprise and triggered considerable introspection in the West about a 20-year conflict waged at immense human and material cost. More broadly, the outcome raises serious questions about the viability of internationally supported state-building projects, especially in the absence of an inclusive political settlement. This experience has ramifications well beyond Afghanistan, but perhaps nowhere are the parallels as striking as in Somalia.
Somalia bears many similarities to Afghanistan. In both countries, an Islamist governance project took root after a lengthy period of conflict, only to be dislodged by outside powers within the context of the global war on terrorism (the United States in Afghanistan and Ethiopia in Somalia).
What ensued were externally driven state-building projects to replace the previous governance structures, as well as burgeoning insurgencies against those interventions (led by the Taliban and al-Shabab, respectively). The new governments were sustained by external security assistance but struggled to generate the required levels of local legitimacy to succeed. In fact, the Somali government’s own survival is heavily dependent on external troops, as it is unable to pay the salaries of its own police and military. With limited capacity in manpower, protective equipment, and training, the Somali national army is facing modern guerrilla-style warfare and enemy fighters hellbent on risking their lives at any cost.
Both situations resulted in fledgling governments dependent on external actors for their survival and which struggled to keep up with their enemies. In Afghanistan’s case, this project was incapable of survival once external actors drew down their support—in other words, despite the massive investment in billions of dollars of largely unconditional aid over a two-decade period, this never translated into the development of a political order that could sustainably stand on its own. Whether Somalia will become Afghanistan 2.0 is now very much a topic of debate.