A forgotten war

Fredag, 22. Augusti 2008     1 kommentti(a)
IDPs outside Mogadishu. Photo: Abdurrahman Warsameh/ISN Security Watch's photostream. IDPs outside Mogadishu. Photo: Abdurrahman Warsameh/ISN Security Watch's photostream.

August 2008: Civilians suffer as the superior army of a neighbouring country tries to exert control against local forces who engage bloodily with them. Diplomats hurriedly gather to try and beat out a compromise based on the regional organisation for peace and cooperation, but possibly with UN peacekeepers assisting. The big power claims to have occupied its smaller neighbour to bring peace and security, but in response to attacks it uses heavy weapons that leads to large numbers of civilians being killed.

Georgia and Russia? No. Somalia. A war that few seem to care about and even fewer have ideas on how to end. The occupying regional power is Ethiopia. A bewildering array of different Somali militias face off against them. These militias are clan-based, represent business interests, or have an Islamist agenda, and many seem to be a mix of all of the above. A small contingent of embattled African Union peacekeepers - predominantly Ugandans - find there is no peace to keep and no one trusts them. The occupying Ethiopians have been accused of killing large numbers of civilians during their operations in Somalia, with many sources saying up to 8,000 have been killed since Ethiopia's move into Somalia at the end of 2006. From time to time the United States launches missiles attacks or airstrikes at "terrorist targets". These have killed prominent members of the murderously violent Islamist group Al-Shabab, but more often they have killed innocent civilians. Different Somali factions sell intelligence to the United States, denouncing their opponents as "al-Qaeda" or "Jihadis" regardless of the true state of affairs.

In the last week a deal has been signed between Somalia's internationally backed "transitional federal government" and some opposing groups who were at least willing to sit down with the TFG, and it is hoped that UN peacekeepers could be brought into to replace the Ethiopian troops. Ethiopia seems to be seen by almost all Somalis as occupiers, not peacekeepers, and hence have managed to unite the disparate opposition and become a catalyst for more fighting. But few hold out great expectations for this plan, just the newest in a long line of failed peace efforts in the region.

At the same time as this renewed fighting, with its increasingly international dimensions, the people of Somalia face even more tragedy with a long running drought and near environmental collapse causing a food emergency. Yet at the same time, numerous murders of aid workers, militia-control of the ports, and the ever-present threat of piracy to aid-delivering ships means that precious little help is arriving for the Somali people.

Why is so little attention given to this terrible tragedy by the Western media? In part it could be blamed on lack of 'news-worthiness': Somalia has been without a central government since 1991, and has suffered from civil-violence ever since. Attention spikes on certain events: the Ethiopian invasion, when the United States launches its periodic attacks, but otherwise very few news organisations seem willing to take the time to look at the huge complexity of Somalia's internal and regional situation. Secondly, Somalia is an incredibly dangerous place to be a journalist. Local stringers get killed and western journalists who are willing to try, find it is simply too expensive for them to afford the security and insurance they would need. The reporters who are there deserve our praise and admiration for risks they take. Amongst the mainstream media there are some honourable exceptions, the Economist has published many serious and in-depth pieces on the country - but normally one has to rely searching across the world's media via the internet, to follow the story in-depth. It is telling that perhaps the most eloquent expression in the West of Somalia’s agony comes not from the grizzled foreign correspondents, but rather in the lyrics of 30 year-old Somali-Canadian hip hop artist – K’naan.

Currently Georgia maybe on our minds. But let’s not forget the people of Somalia.

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Keskustelu (1 kommenttia)

26.8.2008, Charly Salonius-Pasternak

Thanks for a quick yet dense summary of the situation in Somalia. Do you think the continued non-stability will cause the AU, Ethiopia and perhaps other states to finally recognize Somaliland as an independent state? What kind of timescale do you think we're talking about?

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