Horn of Africa on the horns of a dilemma


An analysis of Kenya’s invasion of Somalia: (courtesy of Whitney Tilson)

Although foreign nations are still playing mum…or dumb ( the US still insists they were taken by surprise by the Kenyan invasion), there clearly is a level of international coordination and pre-planning. This is the first time the Kenyan Army has decided to get out of bed on a Sunday and invade another country.

The minor technicality that the incursion is illegal and if parsed out could technically put the Kenyans at odds against the official “peacekeepers”, the UN Arms Embargo and a host of other agreements created to prevent African neighbors from warring. The truth is that the invasion has been a long-time coming and may ultimately result in a buffer zone similar in size to Jubaland or Azania.

The Kenyan attack appears to show a high level of planning and coordination similar to the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, but it is not known which Western nation provided the funds and the support for this incursion. Kenya has been complaining of poverty for a while but has steadily been building up its military. But it’s strategic position and constant pressure from Somali incursions have made it the most likely volunteer to be the next invader of Somalia.

Despite recent public statements to the contrary, the US has had a long-standing relationship with support for the Kenyan military and dramatically increased military and intelligence support since the embassy bombings. The Kenyans have been busy training Somalis in an effort to create a buffer state called Azania which has a population of approximately one million people and will be most likely be led by former Somalia Defense Minister Professor Mohamed Abdi Gandhi.

Strategic Hub

The lack of diplomatic posturing means that western nations are clearly involved and have been briefed. The Horn of Africa is a critical part of US and French geopolitical strategy and all nations are concerned about the presence of terrorism and piracy in the region. Despite all this it is doubtful there will be high-level intervention. France’s largest foreign military base is in Djibouti with an estimated 3,000 troops are kept here with air support. France has launched punitive and rescue missions before but on a much smaller scale. They currently have an intelligence operative being held by al-Shabaab in southern Somalia.

The US also has around 2,500 troops here and is the main African base for AFRICOM and the anti-terrorism Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. Much of the US focus is on al-Qaeda and foreign elements of al-Shabaab. Although there are no Americans held hostage, the US is concerned that Somalia is still a safe haven for terrorists planning attacks on America.

5) Eritrea is up to no good:

The Kenyan government said Tuesday that aircraft were delivering weapons to Islamist insurgents in southern Somalia, widening the international nature of a war that has already engulfed several African nations.

In a statement, the Kenyans said two planes landed Tuesday in the Somali town of Baidoa, which is under the control of the Shabab, a militant Islamist group that has claimed allegiance to Al Qaeda. The planes carried weapons destined for the group, the statement said, without specifying who had sent them.

One high-ranking East African official later said the shipments had come from Eritrea.

6) A very powerful story on the difficulty aid groups are having operating in Somalia and the resulting suffering and death:

Much of Africa, Somalia in particular, has had a tough time since independence in the 1960s, becoming synonymous with staggering levels of misery and leading many people to simply shrug and mutter “here we go again” when they hear of a new drought or a new war. But this current crisis in Somalia is on a different order of magnitude than the typical calamity, if there is such a thing. Tens of thousands of people have already died, and as many as 750,000 could soon starve to death, the United Nations says, the equivalent of the entire populations of Miami and Pittsburgh.

One reason the situation has gotten this grim is that most of the big Western aid agencies and charities, the ones with the technical expertise and so-called surge capacity to rapidly distribute aid, have been blocked from working in the famine zones. At a time when Somalia is suffering from the worst drought in 60 years, a ruthless militant group called the Shabab, which is essentially a Qaeda franchise, is on such an anti-Western tirade that it has banned Western music, Western dress, soccer, bras and even Western food aid. The Shabab are a heavily armed complication that differentiates this crisis from previous famines in Somalia, Ethiopia or Sudan and from other recent natural disasters like the tsunami in Indonesia or Haiti’s earthquake, where aid groups were able to rush in and start saving lives within a matter of hours.

That said, it is not as if American or European aid agencies are simply giving up on Somalia. It’s the opposite. They’re stepping up operations and scrambling to find ways to get around the Shabab restrictions, turning to new technologies like sending electronic money by cellphone so people in famine zones can buy food themselves from local markets.

Western charities are also teaming up with the new players on the aid scene, like Turkish groups and other Muslim organizations that are allowed into Shabab areas. It all calls for more hustle and definitely more imagination: in Somalia there are a million impediments to the aid business — the Shabab, the broken-down state, dilapidated ports and airports, American government sanctions, a legacy of corruption and the sheer dangers of working in full-fledged anarchy haunted by militias, warlords, glassy-eyed gunmen and even 21st-century pirates. But charity groups say they are beginning to turn this famine around. They just need more resources and more time.

“One thing is clear,” said Elhadj AsSy, a Unicef official. “With continued support from our donors and partners, our combined efforts to save lives, livelihoods and ways of life will make a difference.”

But support — meaning dollars — has been frustratingly scant. While many more lives are at stake in Somalia’s crisis, other recent disasters pulled in far more money. For instance, Save the Children U.S. has raised a little more than $5 million in private donations for the Horn of Africa crisis, which includes Somalia and the drought-inflicted areas of Kenya and Ethiopia. That contrasts with what Save the Children raised in 2004 for the Indonesian tsunami ($55.4 million) or the earthquake in Haiti in 2010 ($28.2 million) or even the earthquake in Japan earlier this year ($22.8 million) — and Japan is a rich country.

“Americans are incredibly generous when they understand that children are in desperate need,” said Carolyn Miles, president of Save the Children. “If they knew millions of children were facing death in East Africa, I believe they would give. But I don’t think Americans understand the scale of this disaster.”

Click for interactive slideshow

…I heard many bad stories about the Shabab in these camps. Most people here fled Shabab zones, often starting out their journey with five or six children and arriving in Mogadishu with just one or two left. There is nothing else they can do. They either buried their children along the way or left them dying under a tree.

People told me the Shabab were trying to prevent anyone from leaving and that Shabab fighters had even set up special camps where thousands of exhausted, hungry and sick people were corralled at gunpoint, an ideal breeding ground for disease, especially because the Shabab have also banned immunizations. It’s the perfect storm to kill countless children. Measles, typhoid and cholera are already beginning to sweep through the camps. Epidemiologists predict that the fatalities will shoot up and thousands of people will perish when the heavy rains come in November and December, spreading waterborne diseases.

Ken Menkhaus, a political science professor at Davidson College who has been working as a consultant on Somalia since the early 1990s, said the Shabab had pushed Somalia to a tipping point.

“The worst-case scenario is a Khmer Rouge situation where a group with a twisted ideology presides over the mass death of its own people,” he said. “The numbers are going to be horrifying.”

Mohamed Yagouv, a 21-year-old refugee from Darfur, helped build a wall for better irrigation in a camp in Goz Geida, Chad. He earned food vouchers to purchase goods at a local market through a World Concern program, Cash for Work.

…It is important to remember that however plagued Somalia is, however routine conflict, drought and disease have become, however many Somalis have already needlessly died, Somalis are not somehow wired differently from the rest of us. They are not numb to suffering. They are not grief-proof. I’ll never forget the expression on Mr. Kufow’s face as he stumbled out of Benadir Hospital into the penetrating sunshine with his lifeless little girl in his arms. He may not have been weeping openly. But he looked as if he could barely breathe.

If you feel moved by this crisis in the Horn of Africa, leave a comment.

About SquarePegDem

A former state legislator turned NY Post editorial board member, thought-leader, public affairs consultant and commentator, columnist and blogger. Michael has appeared on Al Jazeera America Tonight, NY1/Inside City Hall, FoxNews.com LIVE, YNN/Capital Tonight, The Brian Lehrer Show, The Fred Dicker Show, The Capitol Press Room, and The Daily Show. His op-eds have appeared in the NY Post, City and State, The Legislative Gazette, Bronx Times, The Troy Record, Buffalo News, and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. To schedule speaking engagements, email MBenjamin9@optimum.net.
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