AS the United States Marines and Army move into Somalia to restore peace, we need to look forward and contemplate the process of reconstruction.
The international community's effort through the United Nations should have both a long- and short-term objective. The latter is to ensure that food is accessible to those devastated by the famine. The long-term project is much more difficult and problematic, but the ultimate purpose of the project must be to lay the groundwork for a sustainable social and economic system.
The UN and others who want to help Somalis help themselves should be careful about the assumptions they make concerning what went wrong in that country. Above all, they should drop the erroneous assumption that international bureaucrats seem to endorse: that clanism has been central to Somali social and political relationships. The traditional kinship that knits together Somali society was fundamentally different from the present clanism. Two central features of that kinship were the Heer, or social cont ract (a form of constitution based on tradition), and the dictates of Islam. Blood ties were only a part of this complex social contract.
This system had an economic counterpart: Nomadism and peasant agriculture. All households had access to productive resources in the political and economic system (livestock, farm land, and the pastoral commons). The system was egalitarian and lacked institutionalized forms of state power.
The establishment of colonial and post-colonial state systems subverted the Heer-based social order. Clanism, as a means of mobilizing the population, was invented by the political elite, who competed among themselves to capture state power for their personal enrichment. That competition gradually destroyed the older national institutions and led to the present calamity.
This analysis leads me to conclude that the so-called clan leaders of today are not rooted in the old tradition. Consequently they do not have the moral sway to command respect. Furthermore, they do not have the experience to run a modern state.
Hence a sound and stable state edifice cannot be built on such a shaky foundation. What other foundation is there to build on? The Somali people are reasonably fair-minded. This characteristic may provide the basis for national reconstruction. Popular democracy and accountable government can be married to the people's sense of social justice.
After the roads are secured and the physical infrastructure is rehabilitated, so that food can be moved to where people are in need, the entire country should be disarmed. Then a national police force and a small navy should be created to ensure basic security and keep weapons from filtering into the country. These forces must be accountable to a UN commission based in Somalia. The UN also should guide the formation of a civil administration whose mandate is limited to the reconstruction of the social an d economic infrastructure.
Once peace prevails and the economy responds (which probably will take up to four years), a national conference should be convened. The participants will be those who have served their communities well during the four years of transition. They will decide on the nature of future political order of the country.
Two elements will need to be considered in the creation of a new political dispensation: (a) the central state must be strong, but not authoritarian; (b) local councils should be in charge of regional affairs, although national institutions should ensure social justice. Finally, the new Somalia ought to be a constitutionally demilitarized country.