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Monday, April 28, 2008

Somalia: Most Neglected Crisis

Somalia, the country made famous in America in 1996 because of the movie Black Hawk Down is still roiled by intense fighting. Is there anything the US could do to help end the violence that continues to displace families? A recent report by Refugees International thinks so. OneWorld reports that (emphasis mine)

there is "a staggering scale of need" for the displaced people, as malnutrition rates for children under five have become "alarmingly high." UN estimates suggest that since January nearly 60,000 people have fled the Somali capital Mogadishu, most as a result of "search and sweep" operations conducted by the government of Somalia and the Ethiopian military against the Eritrea-based opposition groups.

RI says its members have spoken to some of the 200,000 civilians who have settled on the road to Afgooye, a village approximately 20 miles west of Mogadishu. That area is now the most densely populated settlement of internally displaced people in the world.

"Somalis perceive the United States as supporting the Ethiopian presence and the reprehensible behavior of Ethiopian troops in their country," said RI's Patrick Duplat. "The heavy-handed bombing of individual targets in Somalia and other military actions fuels this anti-American sentiment."
This is another conflict in a Muslim country where we are seen as the bad guys by almost everyone. If we could do more to end this war it could help our "War on Terrorism." I am not advocating sending US troops back to Somalia or even a UN Peacekeeping force. But I agree with the report authors who say
that by condemning human rights abuses and holding the Ethiopian military accountable for their actions, the United States can go a long way towards defusing tensions in the Horn of Africa. [The US is giving lots of financial and physical resources to Ethiopia for this campaign]
During a conversation with a well-esteemed Somalia elder here in Minneapolis he said something very interesting about our governments actions in Somalia. I'll paraphrase here:

Somalia had an Islamic government that was beginning to make progress. Yes, there were some members of Al-Qaeda involved in the government but their extremist (terrorist) views were marginalized and not allowed to be part of the official policy. The US then encourage Ethiopia to invade Somalia to over throw the Islamic government - this created a power vacuum allowing Al-Qaeda to step into full power and bring their extremist ideas to the forefront.

This may be a simplistic idea but it seems pretty logical. We have a problem with knocking out governments that might be good - if they aren't fitting into our policy ideals. (Look at Hamas in Palestine, a democratically elected government which we refuse to recognize)

There is not a simple action point with this post, but you can contact your legislators and share your thoughts and opinions about Somalia and the crisis.

Read the full report from Refugees International.


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