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Posts & articles that have helped thousands build performance through pragmatic leadership.

Leadership and Problem Solving in Somalia

The United Nations peace-building mission in Somalia failed because of several key strategic errors that resulted from poor pragmatic leadership. International awareness and resource allocation weren’t the only hurdles.

The Somali state collapsed in 1991-1992 from a civil war among the United Somali Congress (USC) who were responsible for overthrowing the brutal Siyad-Barre regime. The infighting crippled the branches of Somali’s central government and forced Siyad-Barre and his army into the countryside. What ensued was a series of civil wars between General Adid’s USC and Siyad’s forces. The resulting clashes turned the nation’s capital, Mogadishu, into a famine-plagued war zone. Events spiraled out of control and the international community stepped in (1992-1995). The last UNSOM mission was depicted in the movie, Black Hawk Down.

Hussein Adam writes, in his article Somalia: International versus Local Attempts at Peacekeeping, that international attempts at peace building failed because “a mix of factors led to incorrect UNSOM decisions: incompetence, vanity, ambition, short term orientation, and bureaucratic infighting.” Then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali selected Admiral Jonathan Howe to lead the UN mission in Somalia. Howe failed to implement a strategy suited to the unique environmental and structural factors present in Somalia.

A critical failing was that the United Nations leadership did not accurately assess the political and social realities in place at the time of the intervention. Even though UNSOM moved to support decentralization in Somalia, the organization was itself highly centralized, which led to problems with managing crises in outlying regions.

Somalia, like many other African nations, is a decentralized country divided along regional and clan lines. The UNOSOM method attempted to establish district and regional councils based on a top-down approach rather than focusing locally. Needless to say the measures implemented by the UN did not yield the intended results.

Somalia was originally intended to be an example of how the “New World Order” could eliminate large-scale humanitarian disasters…and it failed. The ramifications of the Somali intervention caused the United States to prevent or delay taking humanitarian action in Haiti and Rwanda. When organizations face unique structural and environmental challenges it’s vital to take time to understand the parameters of the problem. Over confidence and trying to solve the wrong parts of a problem can lead to bigger disasters.

Good pragmatic leadership is about seeing the problem in the right light and analyzing it with the correct information. It’s not about easy solutions and old formulas. All anyone truly cares about is how well you can problem-solve and execute. Leaders who incessantly pontificate, instead of taking time to see the whole picture, have little value.



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