Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Worse Than Darfur: U.S. Proxy War in Somalia

According to a new article by Steve Bloomfield in the UK Independent, the U.S. policy of advising Ethiopia in its war with neighboring Somalia has failed. Not surprisingly for the Bush team, it has achieved results entirely the opposite of what it intended. The outcome? UN officials describe it as the "the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world.... the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror."

According to Bloomfield, the U.S. believed that Al Qaida had established a presence in the "failed state" that was Somalia at the beginning of this century. The U.S. wanted to strike at the Union of Islamic Courts, a fundamentalist coalition that was ruling over much of central and southern Somalia.
On Christmas Day 2006, Ethiopia invaded its neighbour, Somalia. The aim: to drive out a coalition of Islamists ruling the capital, Mogadishu, and install a fragile interim government that had been confined to a small town in the west. But Ethiopia was not acting alone. The US had given its approval for the operation and provided key intelligence and technical support. CIA agents travelled with the Ethiopian troops, helping to direct operations.
But things didn't turn out as the administration experts had hoped. Of course, they tried to play the same old colonial card, turning one sordid group against another.
The CIA's desperation to root out the men on their list saw them turn to some old enemies for help. CIA agents landed at tiny airstrips outside Mogadishu and handed briefcases full of crisp new $100 notes over to the same warlords who had chased the US out of Somalia in 1993. The warlords took the money and used it to take on the Courts. They formed themselves into the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism – before proceeding to do very little to find the supposed terrorists the CIA wanted caught.

The strategy backfired. The leaders of the courts united their militias and defeated the US-backed warlords.
Meanwhile, Ethiopian troops occupied much of Somalia, and like the U.S. and its faux-coalition forces in Iraq, ran smack into an authentic insurgency, complete with hardline Islamic leadership -- just the opposite of what the administration said they wanted in Somalia. Now there are daily gunfights and violence in Mogadishu, leading Ethiopia to plan its own "surge" in Somalia. It's estimated there are 15,000 Ethiopian troops there right now.
The number of armed soldiers may seem smaller than in Iraq, but the refugee problem resembles that created by the U.S. invasion to the north.
More than 600,000 people fled Mogadishu last year. Around 200,000 are now living in squalid impromptu refugee camps along a 15km-stretch of road outside the capital. According to UN officials it is the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world. Those same officials now consider Somalia to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror.
Bush's Talk of Democracy = Endless War, Millions of Refugees, Untold Dead

Pondering the ruins of Bush's "war on terror" policy from afar, one wonders what the hell Bush, Cheney, and the Pentagon tops were trying to accomplish in their "regime change" wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia.
Chris Floyd, who has been covering the Somalia crisis for some time, has his own take:
Each ["regime change" war ] has radicalized vast swathes of the populations under attack, while driving out moderates, technocrats, professionals: anyone who cannot easily be bought or manipulated – or provoked into some violent action that will "justify" American domination. Indeed, this profitable and politically expedient exacerbation of terror and extremism is such a deep-rooted characteristic of the "regime change" wars that it would take a mighty act of will to believe that it is not deliberate.
It will take a victorious populace, forcing open the secret archives of this country to know just what the rulers of this country is really trying to accomplish. (Somalia's strategic location on the horn of Africa, and proximity to oil reserves may have something important to do with U.S. intentions.) One thing is for certain, Bush and his team have created a greater load of refugees than anyone in this world has seen since at least the great Indian partition of the late 1940s.

I would like to see whether either Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton, one of whom seems certain to become the next U.S. president (and my money's on Obama), have any policy statements to make on Somalia. Thus far, I don't know of any. Obama's stance against the Iraq War is a step in the right direction, but at times he has fed into Bush's fake war on terror rhetoric, and that's a step directly into the maw of the Pentagon's war machine.

Meanwhile, as Somali refugees fan out all over the world, they are having a particularly difficult time, as this report from Norway suggests:
According to most indicators of living standards, Somalis are the refugee group that has poorest ratings. They are more often unemployed than any other groups of first-generation immigrants in Norway. In 2001, 25.8 per cent of Somalis in Norway were employed, as against 38.3 per cent of first-generation Pakistanis and 64.8 per cent of persons without immigrant background. Nineteen per cent of Somali women had work, whereas 31.1 per cent of the men were working.... Many Somalis have great difficulty in finding accommodation; landlords are often reluctant to let to Somali families with many children. In a study of living conditions among immigrants in 1996, half of the Somalis reported that they definitely had been discriminated against when trying to rent or buy an apartment....

Indicators of mental health also point to a worse position for Somalis. In a study of different immigrant groups in Norway, more Somalis than most other refugee groups reported that they had nervous symptoms.... Literature from other Western countries, such as Australia, the UK, Canada and Finland, reveals very much the same picture of the situation for Somali refugees.... Chronic unemployment, poor housing, illiteracy and consequent problems in accessing mainstream social and educational services are typical for Somalis both in the UK and in Norway....

A study of Somali refugees in Canada shows that they encounter considerable difficulties during the initial stages of resettlement. They face social exclusion and multiple forms of disadvantages including high unemployment, underemployment, and overcrowding, as well as frustrations and despair that sometimes result in suicidal behaviour, particularly among the young males.... In a Finnish study, Somalis faced more negative attitudes and experienced more racist crimes than any other immigrant groups Somalis in Norway have been stigmatized by both media and officials as the worst case group of refugees.
While the U.S. cannot be held responsible for every case of civil war and unrest in the world, this government seems to have done its best to worsen matters, and in some very extreme, cynical ways.
The UN World Food Program is trying to help by sending food to over 2 million Somalis. They explain:
Somalia remains in a precarious food security situation, the result of more than 15 years of civil conflict, recurrent drought, crop failures and severe floods. Chronic food shortages and malnutrition persist.

Global acute malnutrition rates are above the emergency level. Poor road conditions and insecurity pose a major challenge in food aid delivery in the south, especially during the rainy season.
If any readers have any good links for donations to refugees in Somalia, please leave them in the comments section. Otherwise, you can go to the UN World Food Program website and make a contribution.

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