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Is the US an obstacle in Somalia?

There are a number of African countries that face long walks towards a peaceful future after a history of conflict. The path for the Democratic Republic of Congo goes straight through the oft-delayed upcoming elections… the first in that nation’s tumultuous post-colonial history. Cote d’Ivoire’s future involves a North/South team playing as a united force at the upcoming World Cup… or, at least, that’s what Bono keeps reminding me in a promo that’s playing over and over on ESPN.

Of all these paths forward, Somalia’s may be the most uncertain. In part, this is because it’s so difficult to figure out what’s actually happening in Somalia. Trying to keep track of the violent street fights that have killed hundreds in Mogadishu in the past few weeks, I’ve listened closely to the bylines on Somalia reports – most were in Nairobi or farther away. One story from the BBC included a request from anyone who was an eyewitness to the incident to contact the BBC with their account, suggesting that they too could use a better picture of events in the country.

The violence appears to be exacerbated by recent rumors that a new coalition of anti-Islamist warlords is supported by the United States. The Washington Post’s story, suggesting US supported covert actions in Somalia and support for warlords, wasn’t a great surprise to anyone who’s been following the situation. Certainly, US officials are aware that an ungoverned Somalia is a potential haven for terrorists – not paying close attention to Somalia would be a terrible mistake from a strategic perspective.

But the possibility of US involvement isn’t playing real well in the streets of Mogadishu, where more than 5,000 protesters took to the streets to oppose US involvement or support for a coalition of warlords. Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi isn’t thrilled either, telling anyone who asks that the US would do better to support the fledgling transition government, instead of making bets on factions of warlords.

This is one of those many cases where the US could use the help of the international community or a strong UN. In the same way that France’s peacekeeping presence in Cote d’Ivoire is inherently inflammatory, mere rumors of the US opposing Islamists seem to be all that’s needed to bring protesters out into extremely dangerous streets. Rather than rumors of covert US forces supporting less-pious thugs over more-pious ones, perhaps the way forward for Somalia involves some actual stabilizing and peacekeeping forces, preferably from nations with an Islamic majority?

The very possibility of DRC elections has come about due to the long-term intervention by UN peacekeepers. A successful election will depend on sustained external aid. This aid’s been extremely difficult to fundraise for, despite the fact that estimates suggest well over 2 million people killed due to direct conflict, or to sickness related to the destruction of infrastructure from “Africa’s World War”. What would a similar comparative mortality study tell us in Somalia? What’s the relationship between anarchy and mortality? How many years of life expectency has the average Somali lost in the year’s since Siad Barre’s overthrow?

We just don’t know. If it’s a (pleasant) surprise to find DRC on the cover of Time Magazine, it would be an absolute shock to see a similar feature on Somalia. There’s just not much information western journalists seem to be able to get about Somalia. I can’t help think that the country may need to be covered the way Rebecca MacKinnon tried to cover North Korea – from the outside, from people who’ve travelled or have family inside. There’s an enormous Somali population, functioning cellphone networks and an airline that works – can’t this contact somehow turn into information? Is there really no story to tell, or are we just not listening?

Just in – the IHT reports that the Islamic alliance of warlords claims control of Mogadishu. Many of the warlords allegedly supported by the US are believed to have fled the city.

2 thoughts on “Is the US an obstacle in Somalia?”

  1. Pingback: The Bistro bleargh! » Blog Archive » Somalia

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