Since the rise of al-Shabaab (The Youths) terrorist group, Somalia has never been far from headlines across the globe. It is this troubled and tragic country that journalist James Fergusson profiles in his most recent book, The World’s Most Dangerous Place. Fergusson has had a diverse career, including being a press spokesman for the Office of the High Representative in Sarajevo after the Daytona Peace Accords and he has extensive work as a journalist.
Fergusson’s work on Afghanistan is highly regarded, even if some of his conclusions (such as the suggestion that ISAF should negotiate with the Taliban) were considered controversial. Fergusson applies a similar on the ground approach to his latest book, but the subject this time is the Horn of Africa and not Central Asia. In compiling the book Fergusson travelled across “Greater Somalia” from Hargeisa in the north to the Somali majority areas of Kenya in the south.
When Somalia first made global headlines after the end of the Cold War, most of al-Shabaab were still in theirs diapers. Between 1992 and 1995, Somalia was home to the United Nation’s largest international mission, UNOSOM. UNOSOM’s staff of 30,000 consumed an annual budget of $1.5 billion.
The international community seemed committed to stabilising Somalia in the spirit of pan-humanism that briefly characterized the Post-Cold War period. Then the fateful 1993 Battle of Mogadishu occurred, best chronicled in Mark Bowden’s 1999 book Black Hawk Down, and in its aftermath the international community decided that stabilizing Somalia wasn’t worth the price. It wasn’t until the rise of the Islamic Courts Union in 2007 that Somalia again captured headlines across the world. The country’s status on the fringe of global news is superficially similar to Afghanistan (not to mention its tribal politics), which is perhaps why Fergusson decided to make Somalia his next project after extensive reporting in Afghanistan.