About the Author

Mary Harper is a BBC journalist specializing in Africa. She has reported from Somalia since the outbreak of civil war in 1991 and from other war zones across Africa, including Sudan, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. She has written for several publications including The Economist and The Washington Post.

Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State

Somalia is a failed state, representing a threat to itself, its neighbours and the wider world. In recent years, it has become notorious for the piracy off its coast and the rise of Islamic extremism, opening it up as a new ‘southern front’ in the war on terror. At least that is how it is inevitably portrayed by politicians and in the media.

In Getting Somalia Wrong? Mary Harper presents the first comprehensive account of the chaos into which the country has descended and the United States’ renewed involvement there. In doing so, Harper argues that viewing Somalia through the prism of al-Qaeda risks further destabilizing the country and the entire Horn of Africa, while also showing that though the country may be a failed state, it is far from being a failed society. In reality, alternative forms of business, justice, education and local politics have survived and even flourished.

Provocative in its analysis, Harper shows that until the international community starts to ‘get it right’ the consequences will be devastating, not just for Somalia, but for the world.


‘This has done what books on Somalia rarely do — it outlines the hidden Somalia that has survived the decades of turmoil. Accessible and enlightening, this is an important book not just for the international reader but also those shaping global policy.’ – Rageh Omaar, journalist and broadcaster

‘The most accessible and accurate account available of the contemporary Somali world – pirates and all.’ – Ioan Lewis, author of Understanding Somalia and Somaliland

‘Somalia is one of the most neglected and misunderstood casualties of the war on terror. If you want to understand more, this is your book: succinct, perceptive, judicious, it traces a compelling narrative which brings vividly to life an extraordinary country and its turbulent history. Its scope is wide, ensuring that there are many questions here relevant to places far beyond Somalia: issues of how a people and culture adapt to the challenges of globalisation with ingenuity, as well as how they suffer from its impact; of how Western interventions pursue their own agenda. This was a book which urgently needed writing.’ – Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian

‘Mary Harper’s informed, perceptive and empathetic book on Somalia could not be coming out at a more apt time. A work that demonstrates the importance of engaged but impartial journalism and clear, uncluttered thought and writing, it should make a big impact on the understanding of what is happening in Somalia and why.’ – Keith Somerville, lecturer in journalism at Brunel University, BBC World Service from 1988 to 2005.

‘Mary Harper has written a brilliant book that will completely change the way you look at not just modern Somalia but also much contemporary journalism. So much reporting today divides the world beyond Britain into goodies and baddies. Mary Harper’s book cuts through that simplistic naivety in a fantastic way. She vividly shows how the cartoon nightmare vision of Somalia as a failed state is wrong. It’s like being lifted up in a helicopter and looking at something you thought you knew in a completely new way.’ – Adam Curtis, maker of The Power of Nightmares

‘The best contemporary introduction to Somali politics and humanitarian issues on the market.’ – African Affairs

‘Mary Harper has done a great service to students and the general public who really want to know what has gone so tragically wrong with Somalia. There now is a readable, well-argued book that one can refer to students and colleagues when peppered with the common question: ‘why is contemporary Somalia such a troubled nation?” – Peter D. Little in Journal of Modern African Studies