Friday, June 26, 2009

War and Famine, Peace and Milk: Avoiding Another Missed Opportunity in Somalia

The first half of the title of this post is a traditional Somali proverb, which I find particularly moving in the context of contemporary events in the eastern Horn of Africa. The longer the decades old conflict between various factions continues in Somalia, the more difficult a reversal of the tremendous human suffering, disease and hunger there becomes.

New ideas and fresh solutions are hard to come by, but it is crystal clear that endless war is not the answer to the devastating circumstances in which the Somali people now live. For advocates of peace and development, its time to let the US military know a middle-east style "war on terror" is unacceptable in east Africa.

The chain of events which led to this year's turmoil is long and can be difficult to untangle. BBC news has a fairly accurate time line of the major events in Somali history over the centuries. However, regardless as to how Somalia arrived at this point, the important thing now is turning the corner. So far, so bad.

Whatever their intentions for doing so, the US military's mobilization of new weapons armaments to send to the Somali government is a failed strategy---one that in the past has brought terrible consequences for the people. The US government's attempts to prevent a potential hot bed for future acts of extremism are doomed to fail when they involve further militarization of the conflict.

There has been a wealth of evidence that supporters of the rebel group Al-Shabaab (the youth) are motivated by a strong hatred of foreign intervention, and a desire for order and stability. Until now, the actions of the United States and other foreign actors has merely fed the flames, bringing more instability and chaos. Human Rights Watch and other international observers have accused Ethiopian, Somali and African Union forces of committing war crimes on innocent civilians since the chaos reignited in 2006.

Now, like a self-fulfilled prophecy, perhaps hundreds of foreign fighters under a proclaimed banner of Islam are entering Somalia to join Al-Shabaab. As the African Union prepares for its July summit in Libya, they should go fully aware of the long list of violent responses to Somalia's political crisis that have failed before. If by chance they decide to follow the example of the US military's recent actions, they risk any potential hope of lasting peace and development. Militarization of the conflict is not the answer.

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