THE belief that the vast human tragedy in Somalia will finally
end now that American troops are restoring order and speeding the
delivery of relief supplies assumes that political anarchy and clan
feuding are the cause of the violence and starvation there.
This assumption may be correct, but shortsighted. A long-term
view is that the crisis is caused, not by a temporary breakdown of
Somali political institutions, but by a century of economic
"development" that was disastrous for Somalia, both ecologically
Unsustainable "development" began in Somalia at the end of the
last century, when Great Britain and Italy imposed colonial
economic systems on the traditional nomadic herding culture. The
British redesigned the pastoral subsistence economy to produce a
surplus of livestock for export to the port of Aden. This
commercialization of the pastoral economy expanded during the
colonial era, and still more after Somalia became independent in
1960. Since 1955 exports of sheep, goats, and cattle have increased
at least tenfold, and of camels twentyfold. Livestock now account
for about three-fourths of the country's export earnings. This
production of a surplus of animals has led to overgrazing, soil
erosion, and degradation of Somalia's range lands.
After Somalia became independent, well-meaning international
development aid paid for the drilling of wells in the arid range
lands. This frequently induced nomads to settle around the wells,
which in turn led to local overgrazing and desertification. Such
"development" showed little or no understanding of the ecological
sophistication of traditional pastoralism.
Ethiopian expansionism also changed nomadic life for Somalis.
Between 1887 and 1904 the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik conquered the
Somali-inhabited Ogaden region. With the concurrence of the British
and Italians, national borders were drawn up, splitting the
ecologically and ethnically uniform region between Ethiopia and
what later became Somalia. The result is an unnatural border that
has restricted the traditional migrations of Somali herders to this
seasonally lush region.
The settling of nomads increased population growth in Somalia.
One demographic study found annual population growth rates of 1.7
percent among nomads, 2.2 percent among settled people, and 4.9
percent among city dwellers. The country's overall population
growth rate is now about 3 percent a year. At this rate, the
current population of about 7 million people will double in less
than 25 years.
The current Somali conflict is also a legacy of the cold war.
Because of its strategic location near the oilfields of the Middle
East, both superpowers formed military alliances with governments
in the Horn of Africa, and poured weapons into the region for
almost four decades. …