When will Somali suffering end?

20 May 2011

When will Somali suffering end?

Ewout Irrgang - Sometimes I imagine being in Mogadishu as a tourist, being able to drink a cup of coffee in a peaceful Somalia, sitting in a coffee tent where you can chat to the owner about the horrific civil war which fortunately happened long ago, while you enjoy a stunning view over the Indian Ocean. But that moment will be a long time coming. The civil war in Somalia has been going on for twenty years with no prospect of an imminent end.

Ruined by the West
For years this has been the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, as a result of the deadly and self-reinforcing combination of civil war and food shortages. It is no more than logical then to ask oneself what we can do to bring an end to this tragedy. Yet it is unfortunately also the case that there is no easy solution. Worse still is the fact that the West has to date only prolonged the civil war in Somalia.

The best chance of peace in the last twenty years was in 2006 and it was ruined by the West. In that year the rise of the Islamic courts created a more-or-less stable situation. But the West saw in these courts, quite wrongly, a new fundamentalist administration which must be got rid of as soon as was possible. That the Islamic courts were no such thing can best be illustrated by the fact that their leader, Sheik Sharif, is currently a member of the Western-supported interim government, the TFG (Transitional Federal Government).

In 2007 the US supported an invasion by Ethiopian troops which pushed Somalia once more down into the morass of civil war. On this occasion this occurred due to the rise of the Al Shabaab which transformed the Islamic courts, making them many times more radical, so that they can now justly be called ‘fundamentalist’. Ethiopia has now withdrawn, but Somalia remains the scene of endless fighting between the Al Shabaab and the TFG. The people are, as always, the victims. Ever more Somalis are now fleeing their country, most of them to Kenya.

Three generations of refugees

I recently visited the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya in the company of SP leader Emile Roemer and other party colleagues. In the camp, the third generation of Somali refugees is now being born. Their mothers were born in the camp. Many will never go home. Yet in Kenya they have no right to leave the camp and no right to work. This is a kind of head-in-the-sand policy, with the refugees themselves as its victim.

Kenya has to date adopted a reasonably neutral attitude to its neighbour Somalia. Recently, however, they tried, together with the US, and by supporting certain militias allied to the TFG, to establish a buffer zone in the border region. This will probably lead to still more war and still more refugees. The EU, too, however, is not without blame. Recently the EU has been training TFG soldiers in Uganda. The TFG is no ‘good guy’, but a dysfunctional ‘transitional government’ which exists only because it is propped up by the West and which controls only limited areas of the country. Enormous numbers of its soldiers have defected to Al Shabaab, so that Al Shabaab too is in effect being trained by the EU, which is in this way prolonging the war. The Dutch government is fortunately not participating in this EU training mission, even though we are members of the European Union.

Perhaps it’s possible in the relatively stable Somaliland (North Somalia), or in the future even Puntland (Central Somalia), to make a small contribution via development cooperation to improving the lot of the Somali population. But peace in Somalia must in the end come from the Somalis themselves. There is every reason to be sceptical about attempts from the West to bring the civil war in Somalia to an end. Not making the war still worse has so far been too much to ask. Nevertheless I hope that I do not have to wait too long for that cup of coffee in Mogadishu.

This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, on the website www.viceversaonline.nl

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