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Getting Somalia Wrong?: Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State (African Arguments) Paperback – March 27, 2012
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"For the past two decades, books on Somalia have tended to mirror some of the attitudes about the country itself. They have been either analyses by a small and highly specialised field of policy analysts and academics, or written from and for the perspective that caters to the most common cliches and impressions about this most failed of failed states; a nation of warlords, pirates, jihadists and refugees fleeing in unseaworthy boats often only to drown. All of these are of course part of the narrative of Somalia's inability to break from its repeated cycles of the failure of domestic politics and outside intervention over the past 25 years, but what Mary Harper has done is to explain this narrative as a whole - rather than a series of snapshots. This is a book which is clear, accessible and thorough. It has done what books on Somalia rarely do, which is to examine the multitude of failures, misunderstandings, and wilful acts of destruction that have caused Somalia's downfall, but it has also gone much further, by outlining the huge part of the hidden Somalia that have survived the decades of turmoil and which are the only foundations upon which anything approaching a post conflict and stable Somalia can be built. There are significant parts of Somalia where civil society is functioning with fragile but functioning institutions of business and commerce, security and representation. She has written and explained this detailed yet vital aspect of the Somali crisis in a way that is accessible and enlightening not just to the international reader but also to those shaping global policy on Somalia. This is an important book for both." - Rageh Omaar, host of The Rageh Omaar Report and author of Only Half of Me
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One thing that bothered me was that I think the author spent a little too much time and effort blaming everyone and anyone for Somalia's troubles, except for the Somalis. I find myself wondering whether her seemingly contention that the Islamic Courts Union would have brought lasting and permanent peace to Somalia would have proved correct or not if Ethiopia had not intervened in 2006. Maybe it would have and maybe the factions of the ICU that evolved into al-Shabaab would have seized control from the relative moderates in the ICU. I also feel that she sometimes goes overboard arguing that Somalia isn't terribly broken in total. Yes, Puntland and Somaliland are doing relatively well but the overall condition of the entity known as Somalia is a mess that is full of terrorists.
I also can't help but wonder about the endorsement of the book (which appears on the back) by Adam Curtis, the individual who made the documentary "the Power of Nightmares" which argues against all evidence that "neocons" manufactured al-Qa'ida. This is a contention that Peter Bergen, who is an internationally known expert on al-Qa'ida has rubbished (and Bergen is hardly a "neocon.") The fact that the author uses an endorsement from a conspiracy theorist like Curtis makes me kind of wonder about her overall judgment.
But even with that, it's a good book.