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Book Review
Deadly descent into chaos

From Nation-State To Tribal Mutiny
by Nur Ali Qabobe
Pharos Rs 300/US$ 20 pp 151 h/b
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Twentieth century’s final years witnessed some cataclysmic events unprecedented in history. The spectacle of the super-state of Soviet Union imploding into 15 nation states, followed by Yugoslavia's far more violent disintegration into half a dozen states and potential states, seemed to suggest that the new trend would be for smaller, more manageable states. Even Britain had people who wondered whether it was desirable to keep Northern Ireland and Scotland endlessly.

On the other hand, a less spectacular but far more steady process was gaining ground-- the unification of states like North Yemen and South Yemen, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, West Germany and East Germany. Side by side a far larger experiment was underway-- the unification of Europe and the emergence of European Union as superstate.
Around the same time, in the distant "Dark Continent" (to have some idea of why Africa is called Dark Continent, read this book), a gruesome fratricide was on in Somalia. As if to compound the brutal deeds of humans, nature chipped in with a devastating famine. Tele-images from those years in Somalia are among the most awesome visual records of human misery.

As all this was going on, a thuggish "government" was "ruling" Somalia. Calling that "government" thuggish would be an insult to thuggery, because it was far more brutal and rapacious. While the people were at each other's throats, settling tribal scores of centuries, the "government" (if we can call it that) was busy looting the country's assets with monumental single-mindedness. 

Helping President Barre in his Project Plunder Somalia was his family (all of them occupying the highest government positions without deserving to be door-keepers), gang of rapacious relatives, their clans, and finally, their tribe.

A time came when there was nothing left to loot, and the "government" vanished into thin air, taking away with it all the loot. And with that the state too melted away into starving (yet charged with all the murderous fury) tribes. What was once a state was a gaggle of querulous tribes, with nothing in common between them, except the desire to inflict more damage on their "enemies", and themselves. 

All attempts by the world community to turn this vicious assortment of warring tribes into a semblance of a state have crashed, thanks to Somalians themselves. When you look closely at the world community's efforts, the naivete of tilting at the Somalian windmill becomes evident.

The world community has been soldiering on manfully, nonetheless.

It is like this: these tribes had an aquarium called Somalia. They decided to turn this aquarium into fish soup, and worked with great gusto on this project. Now that they have turned the aquarium into fish soup (and eaten away much of it), the world community is valiantly trying to turn this fish soup into an aquarium as the Somalians look in amusement.

The book presents a ringside view of all that happened in Somalia’s final years as a state. The author, somehow managed to escape the murderous mobs with his family to Yemen, where he teaches English literature at San’aa University.

The author has the good luck (or misfortune) to have been a colleague of Siad Barre’s daughter Faduma, a good-for-nothing woman, who "rose" to the highest position in the Central Bank merely by virtue of being Barre’s daughter. Qabobe was her colleague at the Department of Research and Economic Statistics of the bank in Mogadishu.

She has been described as a menace, surrounded by gun-totting guards. Nobody dared to stir when she was around. The employees trembled in their boots to seer her coming in.

Readers are likely to feel that this account is a little too emotional. However, when one looks at all this from the perspective of a Somalian, one knows how difficult it is to keep one's cool when people are raped and murdered all around, while famine has decimated the population, when anarchy is let loose upon a clueless people, when all hope of coming out of this hell is dashed.

For quite a few Third World countries there is a lesson to learn here: Don't loot your country; don't set your people against each other. The political elite of India (and the greedy bureaucracy) take note. Divisive agendas like Ayodhya and Gujarat, the criminal loot of the kind exposed by Tehelka and the Indian Express (Bhartiya Janata Petrol Pump Party) and the cynicism of the political class look ominously like parallels of the Somalian situation before that country disintegrated.

The book is beautifully designed and produced. As there are very little writing available on the subject, this one fulfills a sorely felt need.

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