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It was both a luxury and a challenge for me to write the book. I am a BBC news journalist responsible for covering all fifty-four countries in Africa, although I have a special interest in Somalia, and have reported from and about the country for the past twenty years. I work in seconds, not numbers of words or pages; most of the pieces I write for broadcast are thirty seconds long. If I am lucky, I will get to go on for about a minute. So writing a book of 60,000 words was for me a new and at times intimidating adventure.

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Why have two signature international approaches to Somalia—installing a central government and military intervention—failed repeatedly? What explains the persistence of the international community in efforts that have so little hope of success?

Perhaps the root of the problem is a simple intellectual failure.

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Instead of emphasizing misery, crisis, and violent chaos, she stresses local governance, resilience, and adaptation, including accounts of Somalia’s vibrant private sector that at times are so enthusiastic she could almost pass for a libertarian celebrating the virtues of life without a state. That is not her intent, of course – instead, she is pressing home the point that Somali communities are not passive victims in the face of state collapse and war, but are instead actively forging coping mechanisms and systems of trade and security despite the deep challenges of living beyond a functional state.

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Less than a year ago, in July 2011, as drought gripped the Horn of Africa, the UN declared that famine had returned to Somalia. For the second time since the Somali state was ripped apart by civil war two decades ago, Somalia children, women and men were unnecessarily dying from starvation. Foreign donors responded with [...]

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By Judy el-Bushra and Judith Gardner

Mary Harper’s book Getting Somalia wrong? Faith, hope and war in a shattered state paints a picture of Somalia as a vibrant and resilient society, for which statehood is, and may always have been, an unsuitable model.  International efforts to bring it into line with the conventional model of [...]

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