Nadifa Mohamed's latest novel is set at the birth of a new conflict for Somalia and runs right up to the present day. To understand the whys and wherefores of Somali lawlessness is to gain insight into one of the most treacherous parts of the world.
In 1991, the country's socialist dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was overthrown, and an unremitting state of conflict and lawlessness followed for many years. Warlords and militant groups spent over two decades locked in a power struggle that has destroyed Somalia's population and laid waste to the country's towns and cities. Conditions were often so bad that the country was abandoned even by U.N. peacekeepers. After a series of peackeeping initiatives, the current government led by President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has been in precarious charge of a country already ravaged by famine.
In Somalia, destabilizing forces have historically been difficult to hold at bay. The Islamic militant group al-Shabab, closely linked with al-Qaeda, has lead this charge. Although forced to withdraw from the capital Mogadishu and their last stronghold, Kismayo, in the last few years, the force still exerts a strong hold and influence on the state. As well as daily insurgencies against the peacekeeping AMISOM forces (African Union Mission in Somalia) and the general subjugation of the population, al-Shabab has claimed direct responsibility for various high-profile terrorist attacks in recent years including: the 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi; attacks on supporters watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final in Uganda, and bombings at the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. The group deems "outside interference" in Somali affairs as unacceptable and death and destruction as the ultimate deterrence.
Any internal support from which al-Shabab may have benefited began to waver substantially following the 2011 East African drought when the group strenuously opposed foreign aid, kidnapping and, in some cases murdering, relief agents and exacerbating the situation considerably. To add to an already strained political climate, tens of thousands of people, many of them children, perished in the famine.
Although conditions in the country are still desperate, hope could arguably be on the horizon. Does al-Shabab's retreat from the capital speak volumes? To aid a president with peacekeeping credentials, the U.N-backed force of AMISOM is an ever-present force in the lawless state. The presence of U.S. military advisors in Mogadishu and a temporary lifting of the arms embargo, are also hopeful signs. Inspiring literature written by Somali writers such as Nadifa Mohamed can only serve to further educate readers about the plight of this war-torn state and its people.
This article was originally published in March 2014, and has been updated for the
June 2015 paperback release.
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