The September 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine features an article on page 70 titled, “Somalia: The Number One Failed Nation.” According to the English Wikipedia, the term “failed state” is:

…often used by political commentators and journalists to describe a state perceived as having failed at some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government. In order to make this definition more precise, the following attributes, proposed by the Fund for Peace, are often used to characterize a failed state:

  1. loss of physical control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein,
  2. erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions,
  3. an inability to provide reasonable public services, and
  4. an inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.

The article’s opening story about 18 year old Mohammed is eye opening:

Mohammed is a fisherman. Every morning at five he pushes out into the water with his nets in a small boat. Whatever Mohammed catches, he hauls by wheelbarrow to the market. On mornings when the wind is not too hazardous, his catch fetches two or even three dollars—which means that he, his parents, and his two younger siblings will have enough to eat that day. A mortar blast incapacitated his father years ago, and his family has depended on Mohammed’s income since he was 14. He cannot afford the ten-dollar monthly cost to attend school. And anyway, all his former schoolmates have disappeared. Most have joined the Islamic extremist militia called al Shabaab, which in Somalia’s latest chapter of misery is locked in a ferocious power struggle with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), a shaky alliance backed by the United Nations. For young males like Mohammed, al Shabaab is a tempting exit strategy from powerlessness. Then again, many of his former playmates are now dead.

Consider sharing this school-related statistic and story with your students this week: In Somalia, it costs some young people $10 per month to attend school, but even at that price many cannot afford to attend. Statistics and stories like these can help us establish some global perspectives on issues like income, educational opportunities, and prosperity.

You may have read or seen news stories in the past year about the terrible problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. Piracy was discussed in our April 2008 conversation and podcast, “Stories of Life on the High Seas by Jonathan Gayton in Perth, Australia to Oklahoma Over Skype.”

The online photo galleries which accompany the online, full-text version of this article include many images NOT in the print edition. The power of images and visual storytelling here is clear.

Students are engaged to a much greater degree by sophisticated, complex tasks rather than overly simplified, straightforward ones. Why does my 11 year old son LOVE the iPhone game “Civilization?” One big reason is that it’s complex, and there are multiple paths of learning which he must follow to be successful at it.

As we consider the assignments and topics we provide for our students, we should embrace complexity. Consider the statement and question which accompanies the photo gallery for this online National Geographic article:

Mogadishu is ground zero for the failed state of Somalia, a place where pirates and terrorists rule. Yet to the north, the breakaway region of Somaliland is stable and at peace. What happened?

That’s a great question to consider posing to a group of students engaged in social studies research. With access to the Internet, students should not only have access to rich, static online resources they can use to answer this question, but they can also access country-specific experts via email, website comments, and interactive conferencing technologies like Skype. Anytime your students conduct country-specific research, show them the website “Global Voices Online.” The following is a quotation from a Syrian blogger, quoted in the November 2008 post by Ayesha Saldanha titled, “MENA: How to deal with Somali piracy?”

Apparently this Somali piracy issue has only become a problem since 2005, around the time that somebody started supplying the men with fast white speedboats. There is probably some truth to this, and somebody is probably making a lot of money out of this, so the actual pirates are getting only a fraction of the takings. Still, there are huge sums of money being paid in ransoms, lots of good which are being stolen and I’m not so sure I understand how well these goods are being sold in a country with practically no infrastructure. Recently a shipment of Russian tanks was also seized. Interesting that Somalia was only recently “liberated” by Ethiopian troops with US blessings.

Did you know U.S. forces three years ago supported the Ethiopian military in overthrowing the regime in Somalia? Did your students? We need to help our students become more internationally and interculturally literate, and that process should go far beyond learning about holidays and foods.

More posts about Somalia are available from Global Voices Online.

What should the international community do to help the people in Somalia? That is a question worth exploring and answering both inside and outside the four walls of the traditional classroom, and this recent article from National Geographic by writer Robert Draper and photographer Pascal Maitre provides a great starting point for such an investigation.

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  • http://www.downes.ca Stephen Downes

    Actually, Somalia had finally achieved a measure of stability a few years ago. However, power was held by an Islamic republic, so the U.S. enticed Ethiopia to invade. This unseated the Islamic government, but at the cost of reducing Somalia once again to anarchy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_in_Somalia_%282006%E2%80%932009%29 That’s also about the time the piracy started.

    It’s important to read non-U.S. sources on issues such as this.

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