Hope for Somalia?

Mogadishu, Somalia

Mogadishu in wilder days, prior to the African Union peacemaking mission. Photo credit: ctsnow (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Al-Shabab is in retreat. The country has a new president respected by many at home and abroad. Foreign donors are pledging significant new aid. Peace is taking hold in larger portions of the country. This is a season of hope in Somalia. Or, at least it seems that way to outside observers.

But what are Somalis envisioning for their future? Are ordinary people eager for a federal system held together by a Mogadishu-based central government? The new president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has impressed Britain, America, and other key states with his rhetoric about a decentralized political system. No significant tasks have yet been completed on the path to a federal Somalia.

Like Afghanistan, Somalia does seem to be an appropriate candidate for shared power between local and national governments. Both countries have long histories marked by intense political loyalties rooted in local communities. Both countries have cultural foundations in pastoral lifeways.

In the case of war-ravaged Afghanistan, federalism is the road not taken. The Hamid Karzai era has been one of centralized political power, backed by foreign military might and international aid.

In Somalia, President Mohamud may yet prove skeptics wrong by pursuing and constructing a democratic federal system in this failed state. Developing a federal structure is hard, even in more favorable environments than Somalia. To succeed, federations need strong momentum in favor of democracy and the rule of law. And decentralized systems require particularly strong courts, in order to sort out power struggles between local governments and the central government.

Putting all of these challenges aside, it is still not clear that most Somalis want a modern state—federal or otherwise. Western governments, the African Union, and the UN may all desire a reconstructed Somali state. Perhaps most Somalis continue to see the modern state taking more than it gives. If that perception continues to hold sway at the grassroots level, maybe the latest state building effort in the Horn of Africa is just old wine in new wineskins. I welcome feedback from those on the ground in Somalia.

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The Fall of Bangui: State Failure in the Central African Republic

On the Sudan - Central African Republic Border

The Central African Republic is located in one of the most conflict-prone regions of Africa, which includes Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Photo credit: hdptcar (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Over the weekend of March 23-24, the brittle government of President Francois Bozize was finally overthrown. A coalition of rebels known as Seleka has now seized control of the capital city, Bangui. Bozize and many senior figures from his government have fled the Central African Republic (CAR). This new development re-confirms the country’s status as a failed state. Here are two key indicators of that status.

  1. Limited rule of law. The ousted president, Bozize, came to power through a military coup in 2003. Despite CNN’s designation of last weekend’s change of government as a “coup,” the successful rebellion has led to another unconstitutional change of government. In response to the illegal action, the African Union has suspended the membership of the Central African Republic. And, not surprisingly, the new Seleka government has suspended the country’s constitution, promising free and fair elections within a few years.
  2. A stark core-periphery pattern. As I have previously written, the divide between the CAR’s capital city and its hinterlands is immense and longstanding. The core region around the capital has been the main focus of government authority, while the outlying regions – especially in the North and the East – have largely existed outside national government influence. In the past decade, these “ungoverned spaces” have been regionally important as fighters and weapons have flowed across porous borders with Chad, Sudan, and the DRC. If the rebels are successful in retaining control of the capital, will they be any better at forging a geographically unified, well-functioning country?

Outside of obvious concerns about an intensifying humanitarian crisis in the CAR, it does not seem that the international community is all that concerned about the situation there. Notably, France did very little to oppose the fall of Bangui. Yet, we should applaud the African Union (AU) for quickly acting to suspend the CAR and sanction the country’s new leaders. For all of its dysfunction, the AU has at least created a regional political culture that stigmatizes unconstitutional changes of government. If only the AU would get tougher with African dictators that run sham democracies.

Corruption Kills … and Other Signs

Effective states are marked by a strong respect for the rule of law. Corruption undermines a culture of respect for the rule of law. Instead, government decisions – both big and small – are shaped by corrupt practices. Or, in the case of “grand corruption,” senior officials simply help themselves to public resources in unlawful ways. In the end, though, all states – even the most effective ones – face a perpetual struggle against graft and official thievery. The images below provide some snapshots of anti-corruption campaigns in places as diverse as Detroit, India, and Uganda.

Corruption Complaint Box in India

An ironic shot (2007) from the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Photo credit: watchsmart (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

"Corruption Kills" sign in Uganda

This sign from Uganda says it all. When corruption results in ineffective governance, it is indeed deadly. Photo credit: futureatlas.com (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Poster from Nigeria

What does it mean to inhabit a “corruption-free zone”? Photo credit: jbracken (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

A Protest Sticker in Detroit

Corruption is universal, as this sticker from Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. suggests. Photo credit: CAVE CANEM (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Anti-corruption Stop Sign

A simple, but powerful statement of civil disobedience. Photo credit: Naberacka (via Flickr, Creative Commons license).

Bloggers Take Note: Google Cares About Copyright Law

The digital age has greatly enhanced information flows, but at a cost. It is now easier than ever to plagiarize or use content without permission. Fortunately, the landscape of copyright protection is starting to shift toward respect for content creators, partly thanks to Google. The search giant recently announced on its official blog that it would move to  aggressively punish copyright infringement. Bloggers and others should take note.

But what is copyright infringement? Here we will focus on the domains of blogging and electronic publishing. And, by way of background, I taught in a university setting for over a decade. Over that time period, copyright law was one of most challenging topics to discuss with students.

In order to grasp the basics of copyright law, you need to address two questions: 1) For what purpose is another author’s content used? 2) What rights has the copyright holder reserved?

In the educational context, limited amounts of works (e.g. a chapter of a book, or no more than 10 percent of a published work) may be reproduced without permission. This reproduced material, however, cannot be publicly disseminated on the Web, nor may it be used in a commercial context. Reproduction along these lines is considered “fair use” in the context of learning and education.

Points of confusion for many bloggers are the issues of attribution and the amount of material that may be republished without permission. Absent permission from the copyright holder – either specifically, or through a general statement like a Creative Commons license – it is not lawful to republish large amounts of a work. If it is unclear what rights an author has reserved, bloggers should assume that all rights have been reserved. Though there is some debate about how much is too much, a good rule of thumb is 50-100 words for a piece of writing. Under United States copyright law – and that of most countries – it is permissible to quote small portions of works for the purposes of criticism and public debate. Even if a blogger provides attribution (i.e. cites) the author(s) of a written work, it is copyright infringement to post more than a small excerpt without permission.

So, that brings us to Google’s recent announcement. As the Google blog post states, “. . . we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.” Wow, that is a penalty with real significance. Given the search engine’s dominance, and given the exponential increase in copyright infringement notices reported to Google, content thieves – including unscrupulous bloggers – have been served notice. That is a huge victory for the important institution of intellectual property rights.

Hat tip: Shahzad Saeed’s guest post on ProBlogger