In This Review

The Somali Challenge: From Catastrophe to Renewal?
The Somali Challenge: From Catastrophe to Renewal?
Edited by Ahmed I. Samatar
Lynne Rienner, 1994, 297 pp.
The Cost of Dictatorship: The Somali Experience
The Cost of Dictatorship: The Somali Experience
By Jama Mohamed Ghalib
Lilian Barber Press, 1995, 267 pp.

When Somali dictator Siad Barre was driven from power by armed rebels in January 1991, he left behind a state and society in anarchic collapse. With urban areas of the country's north already despoiled by civil war, the southern centers fell prey to gunslinging factions fighting for turf and booty as starvation wracked the hapless civilian population. If ways out of Somalia's continuing catastrophe are even to be discussed, correct explanations for what happened in 1991 must first be found. These two works attest that this is no easy task, even for expert Somali analysts.

The first, a penetrating look at Barre's rule by a former high-ranking member of his regime, attributes Somalia's descent into bankruptcy and chaos almost entirely to Barre's cunning but inept and immoral leadership. The author poses no theories about Somali culture or history but paints an illuminating picture of regional, clan, and class conflicts during the post-independence years. The second work, a collection of nine essays (five by Somalis) on Somalia's economy, society, politics, and foreign relations, presents a less coherent analysis but contains much useful data and commentary. A provocative contribution by David Rawson, an American diplomat who served in Mogadishu in the late 1980s, faults the U.S. government and the World Bank for their assistance policies in the Barre era, which in the end did little to develop Somalia and much to fuel the corruption, inflation, and militarization that brought the country to ruin.