by Kabir Joshi-Vijayan – BASICS Issue #27 (Dec 2011 / Jan 2012)
A famished naked child with a swollen belly, too weak to brush the flies from his body or even lift his head. It’s a morbid symbol of Third World poverty. Images like this are ubiquitous in the corporate media’s coverage of impoverished countries. So it becomes an almost expected reality, as if such a scene is a natural feature of the African landscape. Even when we share the child’s skin tone or ethnicity we are made to feel distant from him. We are told how lucky we are to not be him, told to be thankful for our lives no matter what struggles we face, grateful for the society we live in no matter how unjust. The solution, according to whatever celebrity or reporter is making the appeal, is to donate to the charities tasked with saving the poor dying African child… because he certainly isn’t going to save himself. It’s tragic because its natural, or so it seems. But in reality, the famine in Somalia is far from natural.
There are currently over 350,000 children dying of hunger in southern Somalia, and millions more in the region are facing starvation if things don’t change. Some 80,000 people, most of them younger than 5, have already died since April 2011, with the UN declaring a famine only belatedly in late July 2011.
We are told, by the corporate media and NGOs that this catastrophe’s immediate cause was natural. Two years of failed seasonal rains in East Africa – affecting Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya as well – did cause massive crop failure and livestock death in Somalia, devastating the villagers and farmers who only grow enough to feed their families. But the region has experienced repeated droughts without causing such widespread disaster, and famine has only struck Somalia. The only other factor being blamed is the Al-Shabbab rebels, the youth-led Islamist force that ‘controls’ much of Somalia including the regions where the crisis began. The question as to where this insurgency originated is, however, almost never addressed.
There would be no famine in Somalia today if it had a functioning independent state, one that could build up local infrastructure and respond to people’s needs. In 2006 for the first time in 16 years the promise of such stability was brought by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), defeating a decade and a half of warlord anarchism. In response the US-engineered an Ethiopian invasion that overthrew the fledgling government, killing 20,000 and displacing over two million more. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) being presented as the legitimate power in the country today is in fact composed of the same hated warlords that the UIC swept away in 2006, installed and funded by the US-Ethiopia occupation forces and kept in power by African Union troops. Al-Shabbab was the youth wing of the UIC, which splintered off from those parts of the movement that joined the TFG occupation government.
Now as aid seems to be finally reaching at least a portion of those affected, the most devastated people on the planet face a new calamity: a new military occupation. Shortly after assuming office Obama has been using remote-controlled predator drones to conduct illegal surveillance operations and deadly attacks in Somalia in an attempt to wipe out Al-Shabbab. In late October 2011, 20,000 Kenyan troops swarmed southern Somalia, forcing thousands of famine victims into internal displacement. Rather than condemn the aggression, the 10,000-strong African Union military force also occupying Somalia accepted the Kenyan invaders among their ranks. In early November, France joined in on the joint assault on Somalia by attacking a number of towns in southern Somalia from its naval vessels off the coast. As of late November, Ethiopian troops have mobilized and deployed for reinvasion.
As Obama escalates his next major war in Africa, it should be clear that ultimately UNICEF, the Red Cross, or any other foreign charity will never ‘save’ Somalia. It is not drought or pirates or Islamic rebels, but US imperialism that is strangling the Somali people, a poisonous grip that only Somalis can liberate themselves from.