Money makes the (neo-imperial) world go round
- August 21, 2012
The ‘international community’ is making cautiously optimistic noises regarding the highly-selective attempts to conjure up a new government in Somalia. The new parliamentary institutions are intended to replace the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that Western governments and their African allies so disastrously supported both before and after the 2006 Ethiopian invasion.
Shadows continue to flit across the horizon however, partly because the extremist al-Shabaab movement is far from a spent force, partly because the obsession with a central government in Somalia fails to take into account the local and regional realities of a country that badly requires more federalist and regionalist institutions, and last but but by no means leas, because the beneficiaries of TFG sleaze in the past are still looking to turn the new ‘democratic’ dispensation to their political – and financial – advantage.
These include Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the incumbent president, and the prime minister and parliament’s speaker, all of whom are vying for the presidency. All these officials belonged to a ‘government’ of warlords and freeloaders that essentially acted as a machine for sucking in money for its own members and associates rather than for the benefit of ordinary Somalis.
According to a report last month by the UN Somalia monitoring group, a staggering $7 in every $10 received by the TFG between 2009-2010 was siphoned for purposes that have never been made clear.
No wonder a new report by the International Crisis Group worries that Somalia may be heading for a ‘tarnished transition’ in which
The current political process has been as undemocratic as the one it seeks to replace, with unprecedented levels of political interference, corruption and intimidation. The end of the transition roadmap process that is supposed to usher in an inclusive political dispensation may fail to bring stability.
Indeed. The ICG also notes that
Convening an incomplete parliament and electing a contested, tainted leadership in Somalia”s polarised political environment could easily unravel the painstaking humanitarian, political and security progress made in the past three years.
Somehow, I find it difficult to imagine Western governments working themselves into a paroxysm of concern over such warnings. Because the TFG and the various warlord flies who have hovered over Somalia’s descent into the vortex over the last three decades are not the only de facto Western allies to have displayed similar levels of rapacity and corruption.
Earlier this year the US Ambassador in Pristina claimed that Kosovo was ‘sinking’ in corruption, and the head of Kosovo’s anti-corruption task force was arrested on charges of bribery. In Iraq during the Anglo-American occupation billions of dollars were flown into the country in suitcases full of bills, much of which vanished into the pockets of Iraqi politicians and foreign carpetbaggers.
In Afghanistan the corruption of the Karzai regime – an apt term for a government that faked its last election victory – is so extensive and so endemic that it has been a key factor in galvanizing popular support amongst ordinary Afghans for the ‘Taliban’ insurgency.
All this is somewhat at odds with one of the key assumptions behind the resurgent neo-imperialism. One of the key justifications for the various wars, invasions and occupations of the last decade or so is the idea that Western military ‘interventions’ are required to bring stability, order and good governance to an array of ‘rogue states’ and ‘failed states’ that have fallen from the map of civilisation, to the point when they threaten regional or even global security.
Yet these interventions have a striking ability to generate outcomes that are radically at odds with these stated objectives, and which actually undermine them, through alliances with dubious and corrupt actors like the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the Northern Alliance and the TFG.
These alliances might be due to marriages of convenience generated by immediate military considerations, or they may reflect a more longterm attempt by Western states to work with the local political forces that they believe are best placed to realise their strategic and economic interests – regardless of whether these forces profit from such partnerships to the detriment of their own populations.
In some cases, corruption may be unexpected consequence of the incompetence and ignorance on the part of the interventionists, which enables local players to run rings around them. In others corrupt local actors may work hand in hand with equally corrupt companies and individuals who ride in the slipstream of Western military power.
Corruption may also be a consequence of a top-down, neo-liberal approach to development and post-conflict reconstruction that itself seeks to make a fast buck wherever it can and naturally gravitates towards local actors who share the same philosophy.
Whatever its causes, the grasping elites that have benefited from such activity are further evidence that the neo-imperial military violence of the last decade is not the catalyst for viable democratic governance and economic development that its proponents proclaim it to be.
And the striking willingness of Western states to work with organizations like the TFG raises questions about whether these states have the ability to realise their more lofty and supposedly disinterested objectives, and why it is that they so often act not as forces for stability, but as facilitators for corruption, sleaze, criminality and disorder in the countries they purport to save.