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



Peace Corps Rising

Arabsiyo Mother

 My years in Peace Corps Somalia were the best education I could ever have. The long term effects on the Somalis by the PC Groups are remembered by Somalis as “the best Americans” they ever met, not me, but the whole group, year after year, living with the same difficult world around us. I have returned to Somalia in numerous capacities over the past 40 years, and the simple volunteers who were living a simple life there are still having positive effect. Hard to believe if you haven’t been there, but it’s true. I, too, call on the expanded funding for the Peace Corps.

If recent returnees are reporting a broken system, then it may have something to do with the recent Top Down Bush approach even to the Peace Corps. I saw similar deterioration in the Nixon years. The problem was Peace Corps Washington, not the Volunteers in the bush. Carter and Clinton supported the Peace Corps and it rebounded. Second, review your thoughts about the Peace Corps after you have been back in the US rat race for a couple of years. It gets sweeter with age.


A Letter from Peter Yarrow to Rep. Lowey on the Importance of the Peace Corps Vote

Dearest Rep. Nita Lowey, This is a personal message to you from your buddy, your long time supporter and your friend, Puff\’s \”real\” daddy. In the vote coming up next week . . .

Berbera Waiter

jan27sheikh-0391How am I doing, How do you do?

You learn to say and respond to it in Somali, in Swahili, in Nairobi Shang, maybe in English with a local twist “I’m very OK.” Maybe you learn to say it in Mkiga or Kikuyu when you visit the villages. Jambo, Sho-sho. Ma fiantahay, walaal? Greetings Grandmother, Are you well, brother?

Now and then, even in a greeting, a moment in time stops you, or, rather, you stop the moment in time. The Greeks used a number of words relating to time; Chronos is time moving through life. Kyros is a moment in time full of meaning. Time is stopped. It relates to Seizing the Day, to the miracle of coincidence, to marvel, to vision and wonder. Time full of meaning. So the meaning of “I’m fine” ranges greatly, too. I say now I am very fine. I wait in Berbera for a meal of roasted whole fish just caught and delivered, of fruit from small farms nearby, of cold bottled water.

Is this Work or Play? I suppose Twain and Tom Sawyer were correct to illustrate that it is obligation that marks the difference between work and play. So I paint the fence for Tom and call it play. I am escorting a group of evaluators around Somaliland, to shops and schools and maternity clinics and plant sites, to remote parts of the slums, to ministry offices and to coastal towns like Berbera, long a known place on maps of Africa, but almost forgotten these days, to facilitate their evaluation of what I have done for the past twenty two months. They want to talk to the stakeholders. Maybe the ancient Greeks did not need a word for stakeholder then. It is Donor Talk, Agency Talk, part of a language of exclusion, of distance that requires the fashionable contemporary word, stakeholder. My guests talk that language. Me?

How am I doing, How do you do? Serious professional evaluation bureaucrats, plan in hand, questionnaires in mind, skeptical, distant, removed from the moment, at least from my moment. They, too, wait in Berbera. They do not notice nor understand the dark storm clouds over the Ga’an Libaax Mountains. We passed the mountain, The Lion’s Paw, this morning on the way to Berbera. And it is now the hard rain season. I noticed the cumulo-nimbus cover over The Lion’s Paw earlier. I see the rain forming now. It is surely coming later and it will be a very hard rain. I am sitting at the table with the evaluators, we wait for our meal. I can feel the water in the air and heat rising from the Gulf of Aden up to the mountains. I must move these people along, it’s my obligation, so now it becomes work. If the tugs are running in the afternoon, we will wait at the river bank. Wait and wait. There are no bridges over many of the dry river beds. When the hard rain comes, you change your plan. You wait on the river bank, caught between running tugs.

Our Berbera waiter is proud and purposeful, he dances from the kitchen to serve the customers. Pasta. Fish. Vegetables. Mixed fruit juices or straight lemonade. Watermelon juice. And bottled water. The customers shelter from the sun under fringed umbrellas, made locally by the eccentric engineer, Umbrella Man. Umbrella Man lives in a box near the docks. He is proud of his umbrellas and they are very useful in the Berbera sun. Engineered in Berbera. The Russian crows wait for their food, too, above the Somali cats, fit cats living around the primary restaurant here on the waterfront. The black billed white ibises cruise elsewhere now, sometimes returning to replace the crows, pecking in to feed when the customers finish and leave a table.

We eat fresh fish that comes in with fishermen and the tide, barracuda, from head to tail. Twenty five horse outboard fishing boats are anchored not far offshore. We can see where the fish came from, the calm Gulf, the small boats. My Evaluators grade the meal “surprisingly good.” “Now I know why you insisted on this restaurant.”

My drivers are looking at the black sky south of town, over the mountains. It would behoove us to move. The Evaluator plane, a UN Beechcraft 1900, is scheduled to fly in the morning from Hargeisa, two hours and many tugs away. Don’t want to get caught between running tugs. I am talking and thinking, explaining project objectives and silently calculating weather. I am driven by events here, not timetables and matrix analysis. Ideas and concepts born in Washington fluorescent lighting, hatched in bureaucratic studios, incubated in budget workshops don’t matter much in the field at times. They lose their shine, don’t make as much sense as they did at their birth. No dress rehearsals here. Live action only, improvised, we plan by quick consensus in a group held together by trust. Evaluators are not in the group yet. I love the Somali drivers, fellows who walked the terrain in peace and war, who know where it is appropriate to say “many snakes.” Or “water one meter deep here.”

The sea is calm, the port activity is calm. We finish our meals, apply toothpicks, wash and then spray cologne on our hands. I catch a glance from the Somali drivers. Back to work. We walk toward the Land Cruisers. My turn to speak.

“Let’s push it a little. We might have a problem with rain if we delay too much.”

That Russian crow is waiting for our leftovers. How am I doing? How do you do?

Copyright 2009 Jim Shanor