The Somali Saga: Didn’t You See It Coming? December 09, 2008 – 16:35

I do read regularly the hundreds of various blogs and articles on developing Somali issues, and I do note the trends. What I don’t have anymore is an insider’s view, so I will skip the conclusions I have come to over the forty years of following the news. And you know that a Somaliphile, given the choice between food and the news, will choose the news. It is from a distance that I see the picture. I see lots of words flying around the internet, but very little constructive advice and almost no strategy. That is understandable. There is no consensus within Somali society, nor in the institutions on the outside that have “Somali Desks” or “Somali budgets.” Somalia and its friends are spiraling into a hell made by both the international power centers and a minority of Somalis themselves.

Unfortunately, the institutions that could make a difference don’t get involved in the right ways or for the right reasons, and that is because they (UN, EU, IGAAD, AU, Arab States, donor countries, etc) are competing with each other at many levels and also within their own organizations to the detriment of Somalis. My question, Where Do You Stand? is not meant to lead to a specific conclusion or to advocate one particular position, but to illustrate the futility in the present circumstances in any Utopian strategy. My question has no practical endgame, but might lead to one. The answers to it might be enough to swing the action in the right direction. I can’t fix those institutions that need fixing on the Somalis’ behalf. But if looking in the mirror would help the overall understanding, please do look in the mirror. It is good for all of us.

First, Where do you stand, USA? As the world’s “only Superpower,” the US and its proxies are now primarily concerned with the international terrorist issue, and Somalia is only a part of the engine of fundamental Islamic terrorists. The US policy is a one trick pony. Over-simplified anti-terrorism has been the signature hallmark of US policy and its domestic politics for many years. The Somali (and other) people be damned. Somalis have suffered under British, Italian, Soviet, US or Ethiopian domination since before most of us were born. Bush’s most recent administration provides only the latest and most callous attempt to disregard Somali people for one foreigner’s or another’s higher domestic goal. In this case, anti-terrorism has been a big seller in US politics since 9/11. Collateral damage isn’t measured. You must search out and destroy “terrorists,” and specifically those terrorists that you put on the USA list of Al Qaeda associates. You have to burn the place down to save it. The US through its clandestine and overt activities has made friends with brutal leaders like President Abdullahi Yussef, mass killer General Morgan, thug warlords Mohamed Dheere, Abdi Qaibdeed, and loads of other local Hawiye and Darood warlords, too numerous to list. The US government wed with the brutal Ethiopian military two years ago, and who knows who else was involved, in order to ferret out these “terrorists” in Somalia. But how does the US strategy appear to the millions of Somali men, women and children who now live in IDP and refugee camps? And how many innocent Somalis have died in this endeavour? The neutral observer might ask, Who is the terrorist? Where do you stand, USA? Have you killed and captured a hundredth as many terrorists in Somalia as you have created? You must have the numbers somewhere in the War Room. Look it up, Mr. Jones. Have the Colonel bring the numbers. We would like to know.

Where do you stand, Italy? You always manage to take a lead in the EU committee meetings on Somali policy, and you, Italy, won’t really help bring peace to Somalia. Admit it. Thank you for the Mbagathi Model that gave us The 4.5 Political Representation and The TFG. All Somalis but the sitting Parliamentarians would agree that that was a hideous joke. If you need quotas, then why not make half the parliament women? You are living in the “good old days,” Italy, of virtual slave-driving in the Southern agricultural regions, living in the frolicsome days of huge money laundering operations (bananas for dirty money) under the various iron fisted regimes you fostered and corroborated with. Can’t wait to get those thousands of Italian businessmen back from the Kenyan coast, can you? Ah, to run the beaches of Gezira and Mogadishu again. You have since put small NGO operations on the ground, true, but how much water have you brought to the people, how much medicine to the villages, how many schools are operating. What can you do to transcend the chaos now. You took the lead at Mbagathi and gave the Somalis The TFG. Try to do better for the Somali people next time.

Where do you stand, Kenya? Somalia’s most powerful neighbor, Kenya, you are mortified that Somalis might extend the growing violence all the way to Nairobi’s Central Business District. Believe me, if things continue on the current path, the violence will spread. We all pray it won’t make it to the Kenyan cities. So, closing down the border is priority number one, two and three for the Kenyan government. Not high priorities are: bringing social and health and educational services to the Somali portions of Kenya or to the Somali citizens themselves who traditionally cross those borders in their every day livelihoods. No, that might win some hearts and minds and show true democratic tendencies in “democratic Kenya.” Real democracy is a frightening thing, but you can do it.

Kenyans in power are predominantly agricultural. Farmers and nomads always have issues with each other. Remember the range wars between free range cattlemen and the fenced-in sheep industries in the western US – Nebraska and Kansas and parts of Texas, over a hundred years ago. The battle is still going on in the Horn of Africa. Water resources are scarce and both economic sectors, the farmers and the nomads, believe that God provided the water for them. Pasturage and water. It is really pretty simple. Men and boys, tribes and clans, people of all stripes will go to war over pasturage and water. Where do you stand in the equitable distribution of those resources, Kenya? Somalis provide Kenya with much of its meat. A calmer Somalia would be good for Kenya’s food security.

Where do you stand, UK? You had a big role in establishing the Warlord Government, The TFG, back five years ago. How did it turn out from your point of view? Should you have listened to the low level advice you got from your Man in Nairobi? He was pleased with himself to be able to drink a few beers with real Warlords, and then pop into some photo ops with them. But did he listen to the civil society representatives, the women, the intellectuals who had fled to London and Cardiff and Birmingham and Toronto and Minnesota and Nairobi? Did anyone in the British High Commission or DFID involved in the government building process speak two words of Somali? Do you think it matters now? Did your people ask or take advice from anyone but the militia types, the gangsters and “clan leaders” with arms and willing boys with no schooling? Why wasn’t John Drysdale, the pre-eminent authority on Somali politics, culture, and language invited to advise the process? You knew better than the experts, didn’t you? Where do you stand now?

Where do you stand Germany? It’s all an exercise in EU rigidity, isn’t it? Stick together, try a little bit of development aid here and there, and then run for the hills when the political process caves in. Why didn’t you see it coming? Somalis honor the little bit of support you have provided in the way of infrastructure building and the medical services that you have implemented. We all know you are trying. But because of the surrounding chaos, it is not really affecting the people on the ground. They are all running to the border and living under trees. Food to refugee camps is not a curative strategy, nor is endless studies and assessments. What is your plan for the next phase? Do you really care?

Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where do you stand? You both have interests historically, but no thinking Somali would trust you very far, either.

You, Saudis, don’t want to see a new competitor in petroleum production in the area. Drives prices down, doesn’t it? And Somalis know that substantial petroleum was discovered in the North in the late 1980’s. You have frustrated both the Somali livestock and petroleum development like a mother lioness protecting her cubs. Is that really the way to treat your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or is that brotherhood only operative when you are in front of the cameras? You have shared those shipping lanes from Sinai to Socotra for centuries, but who has benefited from them. Not the Somalis, at least very much. How did you distribute the revenues? At least you are eating good Somali mutton and lamb chops, no?

You, Egypt, are best known for the “Butros Butros Ghali Plan” for Somalia. When the eventual Secretary General of the UN, BBG, was foreign minister of Egypt, he tried to concoct a strategy with then Super Dictator Siad Barre of Somalia to transplant millions of Egyptians, easing Egypt’s overpopulation, to inhabit the arable lands of Somalia’s “second rate citizens,” the Rahanweyn, the only predominant clan in Somalia that farms, that works with its hands, that lives an essentially non-nomadic existence. Good farmland it is. Between the two rivers and along their banks. Sorghum, wheat, fruits galore, chickens and pasturage. Thank God that plan never bloomed. But the Somalis, and particularly the Rahanweyn still remember. And now the Rahanweyn are much stronger than before. You must deal with them in your future strategies. Where do you stand? You and the Saudis are members of the Arab groups. Egypt, you are part of the African Union, you have influence on each other and the West. Where do you stand? I ask.

Uganda, where do you stand? The world won’t forget your courage in sending troops to Mogadishu. Thanks for being the only country to heed the call from the AU to “keep peace” in the TFG days. Those days are almost over now. Will you pull out now to use your resources at home, stabilizing your own leaky borders with South Sudan and Congo? Or will you stay in Somalia, securing your own fortification, with the hope of establishing longer range ties with the Somalis that do prevail, in order to keep some geographical pressure on your two competing geopolitical neighbors, Kenya and Ethiopia? Where do you stand?

Ethiopia, where do you stand? Or should we just ask the question again of the US? Would you have gotten involved if you were not paid well to do so? You have played out all sides of the issue. You need a route to the sea, don’t you? So you keep your options open with Somaliland, Puntland, the Central Somalia Government, and any factions that might guarantee passage from your territory to the sea, even War Lords in the Juba River Valley. Oops, the Al Shabaab just took Kismayu. Life is never easy, is it? I guess I have answered the question for you, Ethiopia. How much were you paid to invade Somalia on the grounds that the fundamentalists were coming. The fundamentalists provoked you into war with young boys and hot words. It is an old game. You got suckered in. You lost a lot of boys. You killed a lot of people. Where do you stand now?

United Nations, where do you stand? You are very good at urging peaceful resolution. You are plainly inept at implementing anything along those lines with muscle or depth. You are good at expressing dismay at the way things are and at claiming Commemoration Days. Your leader in the UN Department of Somalia has correctly pointed out that the UN cannot continue to run its programs by remote control. He is right. Your theories on children and rules of law and nation building and International AIDS Day and disease control are admirable. You keep good quantitative records for your annual reports. We all want accurate estimates of measles and rainfall. Can’t you bring together all your fighting siblings to actually bring positive change to the people on the ground? Or is the system designed with the fatal flaw that if everything is running nicely, you at the UN have no jobs. So you don’t really have a burning desire to solve the Somali Saga, do you? Is that what sustainability means these days? Sustaining the chaos in order to maintain the third largest UN center in the world in Nairobi? Please don’t tell us how many jobs you create for local Kenyans. Most of them are gardeners, night watchmen, drivers, low level bureaucrats, bartenders and comfort women.

Since you, the UN, have so many voices and your message is so well massaged by now, I wouldn’t ask each of your divisions to speak at once. But World Food Program will not be needed in Somalia if peace comes to the people. Somalia has always been a food exporting culture. World Health Organization will always have a job to do, but historically 80% of its annual budget stays in Rome. UNEP, the environmental agency within the UN, has had almost no effect over the years in Somalia. The desertification since the 1960’s is incredibly evident from the air and the ground, the pressure on grazing is horrendous. So, UNEP, you needn’t say much. You haven’t even been in the game. Food and Agriculture Organization, thank you for the data gathering over the years. You have made the best assessments and maps of any of the UN agencies. You have tried to coordinate donor efforts and NGO’s. Would that we could see results in the future on the ground. Where would you stand if you had the resources handed to you that UNDP now has? Could you do a better job? Stand up and say so, if you believe it. Oh, sorry, that would break UN protocol. Don’t blow the whistle.

So, UNDP, where do you stand? I hope you can do better than give vehicles and radios to the various police units in the future. Many of the policemen you have supported are now under your own investigation for crimes against humanity. The government people you have supported are taking cuts from the “pirates” after each ransom is paid. Most of the Somali political elite appreciate all the free room and board you have supplied them for years in exotic hotels in Nairobi, Djibouti, Naivasha, and who knows where else? The Somalilanders do appreciate the improved airport runways at Hargeisa, but the primary regular flights into and out of there are UN and EU planes bringing “Kenyan and other experts” into the safe zones for quick assessments. How many nomads need good tarmac runways? How many nomads need another assessment for that matter? Do something that helps the people. If you can’t, just say so. Go look for a job in your home countries. You are terrific in meetings, and there is always a need for excellent meetings in the developed countries. Where DO you stand?

UNICEF, where do you stand? Why do you not drill boreholes for the people more than a couple of kilometers from the paved roads? These are nomads, for God’s sake. They don’t walk along the tarmac. Why is the first thing you put up on a new site a big branding sign that says “This project is funded by UNICEF.” Why don’t you push renewable energy projects? Are you invested in diesel? Your fundraising efforts and celebrity ambassadors overshadow the projects you do. I know, you work in all those areas that would affect children. So every part of UNICEF is mirrored in the UNDP structure, too. They do HIV. You do HIV. They do education. You do education. They do school building. You do school building. Mother and Child. Mother and Child. And you both put your names in block letters, just to make sure any passers by know who did it. But please. Why is every sector of activity duplicated in the UN. Once by a UNDP sibling and once by UNICEF. You should start to talk to each other. And please don’t build any more school rooms without making arrangements for teachers’ salaries and desks and chairs for the kids. Maybe some chalk and blackboards while you are at it. A school is not a school just because it has concrete floors, walls, windows and a name. Where do you stand? How can you do a better job in the future of Somali children?

There is no conclusion. Look in the mirror. Ask yourself in this time of change what you can do to be effective. I know, it is a new concept. I hope it doesn’t make you twitch. I would feel good for the target beneficiaries and the neutral observers that have been watching. There are a lot of us. Where do you stand?


© 2008 Awdalnews Network

 

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Notes on a Sunday in Addis

Notes on a Sunday in Addis

Coffee tradition, she called it. That was yesterday in the afternoon, in the restaurant, gallery walls decorated with tight weave baskets, with high hat plate-covers, with professional photos of jeweled young women, highlanders they were, images surrounded by natural displays of local utensils, polished wooden bowls and spoons, on finished wooden walls, displays of draped gauze, loose linen sheets, caught still in looms, rivers of white cloth, imbedded with rich red jets set off by spurts of gold thread; scarves-to-be, shrouds-to-be, values and colors from the rural mountains; music comes in six eight time captured on locally made cassettes, the air is full of flutes and drums. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Waitresses dress in uniform cotton prints, flowers on white fields that might have been designed and crafted in the Carolinas or the Ukraine, matching two piece pant suits, very nice shapes, very subtle. Such beautiful faces, framed each one in styled hair, clean and tidy and black, pinned up or braided tight, slender necks and classic faces growing out from the printed cloth (are those sunflowers? African violets?). Straight white teeth contrast with cinnamon skin, such smooth cheeks and dark eyes, the mouths perfectly shaped for Amharic chatter. A band of musicians, full size in the corner, mocked up in show time dress, plaster men in handmade red and white do-rags, cotton gauze trousers, authentic guitars and flutes in their plaster hands, so still and quiet that I thought at first they were alive, just sitting calm and meditative, like a Macy’s window display on a Coptic Christmas, no manger, full sized, wisdom sculpted in the faces. My, my, the mannequins, the mirror behind them, the knowing looks.

Then a thumping heavy rain comes down on the corrugated roof above us, the busy-ness around the bar steps up, each print pant suit knows where to go, moves perishables and cardboard into shelter, squeals follow movement out to the kitchen courtyard, out of my sight, but surely directed toward adjustment, reorganization, a daily drill, moving items to dry refuge away from driving rain. Smiles and cotton prints return, relaxing. Satisfaction. The flutes, the drums continue.

I finish my lamb stew; some angera remains on the platter. The second portion of goat cheese takes the peppered heat from my mouth. She comes by again with warm water and soap, she pours from a spout over a small basin, catching the waste water from my hands. Would you like some coffee? It is our tradition. Yes, of course. The rain drums on the roof, the restaurant is filling, umbrellas rest on the front porch, the mannequin band still does not stir, their music made in rain, I am sure. The flute, the drum. The walls around me are rich, shape and color swallow me whole. She returns with coffee tradition, the parts separated into metal containers, each shiny and clean, one for the black and pressed oily essence of Ethiopian beans, maybe from Harar, one filled with steamed, frothing milk, and one with local sugar crystals, off-white chunks from the lowlands. There are several spoons, each with its own purpose, one to deliver sugar, one to stir. On the edge of the platter a small incense burner is smoking, delicate aroma, smoke rising nicely from a charcoal the shape of a thumbnail, frankincense and myrrh is stuck to the coal, melting now running. The room explodes in sweetness, she blows the smoke toward me and says, You are welcome.

copyright 2009 Jim Shanor