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The Worst Humanitarian Crisis in Africa

The "war on terror" and the Worst Humanitarian Crisis in Africa


By Sadia Ali Aden

Approximately three months ago, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG), pressured out Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. Surprisingly, this political re-arrangement of deckchairs generated much noisy headlines.

Meanwhile the real story—the great unfolding humanitarian disaster--continued unnoticed.

For the Somali people, the Ethiopian invasion of December of 2006 could not have started at a worse time. Defeating the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) and propping up the TFG; this was Ethiopia's immediate rationale for violating Somalia. The larger goal? Forging a partnership between Washington and Addis Ababa in order to execute "war on terror"…

A year later, this mission has not been accomplished. Instead, the "war on terror" has become the terror of war being visited on the Somali people.

Admittedly a handful of Somalis have benefited from the invasion, specifically the dozens of warlords previously driven out of Mogadishu by the UIC. These warlords, the instigators of Somalia's current civil conflict, were reinstalled in their fiefdoms riding on the backs of Ethiopia's invading tanks. As a result, the reviled check points and road blocks used to bully cash out of unarmed civilians were reintroduced in Southern Somalia, particularly Mogadishu.

To keep the invasion and Africa's worst humanitarian catastrophe going, heavy and modern weapons, including airplanes were used. One was a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship that attacked and killed Somali villagers and countless livestock in the hunt for three foreign men suspected for the bombing of 1998 American embassies in Africa, who yet remain at large.

Among those caught in the chaos were visiting Somalis from the Diaspora. In the period between June and December 2006, Somali technocrats returned to their native country to partake the rebuilding in the six month period of peace and stability that was established under the rule of the UIC. The Diaspora arrived with the intention to give back to the land and the people they left behind and contribute to rebuilding their lives.

Unfortunately, an extraordinary rendition programs were the gratitude they received; in that, the TFG, Kenya, Ethiopia and US all being implicated. Young men as young as 12 years of age were taken out of their homes in the dead of the night, blindfolded and taken into unknown destinations.
Fleeing refugees of mostly women and children did meet a similar fate. Unfortunately, these refugees had no where to escape, as Kenya decided to close its borders and deny them entry. This paved the way to the current nightmare scenario: 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs,) mostly children and women, without any provision or protection from the UN or other humanitarian agencies or NGOs.

In order to create a safe haven for the displaced refugees, the international community must demand the neighboring countries to open their borders. It is all too often that the casualties of war are those that are unmentioned. The innocent men, women and children, caught in the middle, left with no way out.

The UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said border security measures should not impair the ability of deserving Somali civilians to enter Kenya to seek safety and protection as refugees. The neighboring Nations have humanitarian responsibility to safeguard these refugees.

On October 30, 2007, 40 international NGOs have released a joint statement ominously warning against a gathering cloud of humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia urging the international community to respond to this man-made calamity as the Ethiopian forces and militias loyal to the (TFG) callously prevent the delivery, and bluntly stating that "there is an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in South Central Somalia".

Meanwhile, Ethiopian forces continue their shelling of Mogadishu neighborhoods and killing, according to Elman Human Rights group, 7000 civilians mostly women, children, and elderly between January and November of 2007.

"In Shell-Shocked, Human Rights Watch's August 2007 report of our investigation of the March-April hostilities, we documented many of the most serious patterns of abuse by Ethiopian troops, such as indiscriminate attacks on civilians, summary executions and repeated targeting of hospitals," wrote Tom Malinowski, Washington Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, in an open letter to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.

However, the international media by and large remain morally selective in what they show to the world.

Somali caricaturist, Amin Amir (AminArts.com,) depicts this morally selectivity on his December 12, 2007 cartoon. The powerful imagery shows a representative of the international media zooming his camera on a severely malnourished child standing in the middle of a killing field where many bodies are on the ground and Ethiopian fighter jets are flying overhead and dropping missiles. The child retorts: I don't need your coverage; it is these atrocities – pointing to the dead-- that you need to be telling the world.

The current Somali nightmare was exacerbated by the systematic assassination of Somali independent media groups who are not pro TFG and the Ethiopian occupation. And the silence of the international community on this matter is deeply disturbing and sadly deafening.

This year alone, eight Somali journalists were killed- their crimes being to have simply dared reporting the reality on the grounds of Mogadishu. The TFG & Ethiopian forces are terrorizing Somali reporters creating an uncomfortable environment of terror and coercion.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund, one-quarter of the refugees around Afgooye are younger than age of five. Sick children and pregnant women often are turned away at checkpoints, and trucks carrying food and other humanitarian aid are routinely charged $500 each for passing through.

"Things are now getting absolutely worse," said Christian Balslev-Olesen, the UNICEF representative for Somalia. "There is a dirtiness to this war. Children are a real target."

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Sadia Ali Aden is a mother, writer, and voice for justice and equality who lives in Virginia

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