Thursday, November 01, 2007

And now back to Africa

Not the entire continent, no, but to territory familiar to any TWM reader, namely Somalia and that region's troubles.

This first article is getting a little old, but trust me, things haven't changed for the better in the meantime. From the NY Times:

It has been nine months since this country went through its biggest political change in 16 years, but surprisingly little has changed.

Hundreds of thousands of people are still on the verge of starvation, pirates still roam the seas, teenage gunmen still roam the streets, and the promise of a functioning government remains a vapor.

The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, a United Nations creation that was always considered a shaky, short-term compromise, was finally installed in Mogadishu, the capital, in December, but it, like many Somalis, is now teetering on the edge of survival. A raging insurgency has confined the government to a handful of heavily fortified buildings in Mogadishu, while the rest of the country suffers.

In other words, same ol' same ol'. Or rather, a return to the conditions that initially prompted US intervention in 1993. Famine, drought, war, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and starving in a war-torn country; it's all there. The only thing left for this to be a Biblical story is pestilence. Then again, it's not like these people have much in the way of medical care, so I'm sure there's plenty of disease going around untreated too (while Sub-Saharan Africa is now suffering from the double threat of drug-resistant TB combined with HIV).

The Washington Post just published a story about yet more people fleeing Mogadishu.

Nearly 90,000 people have fled fighting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu in recent days, a mass exodus that comes on top of the 20,000 or so who have left each month since spring, U.N. officials said Thursday.

Fighting between Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops and insurgents has raged for months, but clashes that began over the weekend have been the most intense since Ethiopian tanks and attack helicopters assaulted the city in March and April, officials said.

Since then, tens of thousands of people have abandoned their homes and scattered across a Somali countryside that is harsh under the best of circumstances, with frequent droughts, floods and little reliably arable land.

Keep in mind there are no governmental structures in place to take care of these people. There is nothing keeping them from starving except for food being brought in by NGOs operating in Somalia, although they're having an increasingly difficult time keeping up with them.

In all, more than 800,000 people are displaced in the Horn of Africa country of 9 million. An estimated 1.5 million people are in need of assistance, officials say.

That's just staggering. Nearly a 10th of the population is wandering around the countryside with nowhere to go and no one to help them. This is a consequence of Ethiopia's invasion, which the US is partly responsible for. Incredible.

In related news, we're hearing very little about the conflict in the Ogaden, which I've also referenced before in earlier posts. Slate tells us that we're not hearing this story because the Ethiopian government is cracking down on those who would tell it.

During post-election demonstrations, at least 30,000 people were arrested, and more than 100 were killed. Snipers were used on protesters. All the top opposition leaders were arrested, as was the mayor-elect of Addis Ababa.

I, too, was arrested. At the time I was working for a regional African newspaper, and I had been caught taking photos of federal police beating young boys. For 12 hours I sat on a dirt floor in an old customs house, and, because I am American, I was largely ignored. The detained Ethiopians were beaten and forced to crawl over sharp rocks and hop up and down on bloodied feet. The lucky ones were released after a few weeks. Others were taken to rural prisons and not heard from for months.

What are they hiding?

In Addis, there are several neighborhoods populated by ethnic Somalis, and one was made up almost entirely of internally displaced people from the Ogaden. I started spending time there, meeting secretly in living rooms with cautious, veiled women and angry men, young and old.

They would tell me their stories and show me their scars. One elderly woman even removed her hijab, exposing her shoulder and back, to show me the grotesque, deep scar hidden there. Ten months earlier, she had been stabbed with a bayonet by an Ethiopian soldier. "He asked me to stand up, and I guess I did this too slowly for him," she said, focusing her rheumy, blue-rimmed eyes on mine. "He meant to hit my face."

Every person I interviewed had a similar story. Their villages had been burned. Their men and women had been jailed, tortured, and raped. Many had been killed. One student I spoke with said, "There are only two options for us: Join the rebels or flee."

It's not completely one-sided, of course. There are a lot of ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden, some of whom have formed rebel groups fighting the Ethiopian government.
The Ethiopians long contended that the ICU was supporting Ogaden separatists. Whether they were is impossible to know, but I have read that some of the escaping ICU members fled into Ethiopia. They at least have some support there. Thus, ironically, it looks like Ethiopia is contributing to its own destabilization by pursuing war with Somalia's ICU, a fact that argues against the idea that any of this was in Ethiopia's best interests.

Lastly, we have an article from Newsweek describing how refugees on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border are preparing for a new war between the two countries:

Both sides say publicly they want peace and accuse the enemy of warmongering. But last month Ethiopia's foreign minister warned that Eritrea's army had occupied the U.N. Temporary Security Zone along the border and that the two armies were less than 75 yards apart in some places. Earlier this month an Eritrean opposition group said the government was sending 25,000 reinforcements to the border. Ethiopia has also sent more reinforcements, say residents near the frontier, and has jammed Eritrean broadcasts and Web sites. One Western diplomat puts the chances of war within the next few months at 50 percent. An Ethiopian official who spoke to NEWSWEEK said some elements of the government are calculating that Ethiopia has four to five weeks to topple the Eritrean government before international pressure—particularly from the United States—forces a ceasefire. Landlocked Ethiopia might also try to grab the Eritrean port of Assab.

The Horn of Africa is a troubled land.


Xanthippas said...

God things are so bad there.

Anonymous said...

Xanthippas, Things may be bad but not as bad as it is put on this post.
Westerners are only interested to report our bad sides. Yes we have lots of problems but we are also learning from our previous mistakes. Africa's problem can only be solved by Africans and if the west wants to resolve all the problems, The best they can do is be neutral and force every side to talk. If one takes side, it is very hard to mediate. Life is not just black and white or good and evil. Africans in general should learn that Democracy means accepting the will of the majority without destroying the minority and with democracy comes responsibility.
That is what we are lacking in that part of the world.