By Asad Ismi
The worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world is unfolding in the Horn of Africa, which includes Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Djibouti. This region has been ravaged by the most severe drought in 60 years, affecting 13 million people, those in Somalia suffering the worst impact. According to the United Nations, Somalia is experiencing “the most severe food crisis in the world today,” with four million people (about half the population) in food crisis conditions. The U.N. has declared a famine in six regions of Somalia, including part of Mogadishu, the capital.
Up to 750,000 people in Somalia are at risk of death in the next few months, and tens of thousands have already perished, more than half of them children: 29,000 children under the age of five have died, and 640,000 others are acutely malnourished and in danger of dying. In many areas of Somalia, up to 50% of children are malnourished. Internally displaced Somalis number 1.5 million, while another 860,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries.
The Western mainstream media blame the Somali crisis on Al- Shabab, an Islamist insurgent group that controls much of southern Somalia and initially refused to let in Western aid, a decision it has since reversed. The main culprit behind the crisis, however, is the United States government, which has kept Somalia destabilized and in a perpetual state of civil war since 1991, resulting in a million deaths. The recent famine is merely the latest episode in a 20-year process of destruction to which Somalia has been subjected by the U.S.
It began in 1990 with the U.S.-sponsored overthrow of the Siad Barre regime, Somalia’s last national government. Barre was a dictator and U.S. puppet, but he still refused to give the Americans Somalia’s large oil deposits at the cheap price they demanded, so they had him removed.
I learned about this and other developments in Somalia from Farah Maalim, who is currently Deputy Speaker of the Kenyan National Assembly and one of the leaders of the Orange Democratic Movement political party. Maalim is both Kenyan and Somali and an expert on U.S. policy towards Somalia and the Horn of Africa. He is a Member of the National Assembly from Lagdera, which borders Somalia and is part of Kenya’s North-Eastern Province.
I interviewed Maalim in Nairobi a few years ago for my radio documentary The Ravaging of Africa. “You could say anything you want about Siad Barre,” he told me, “but he was a nationalist, so he would never allow an unfair deal between himself and the Americans. He would say, ‘If it takes a hundred years, we’ll let the sons and daughters of the soil come out with the right knowledge and the right technology for them to exploit their own resources instead of you [Americans] taking it cheaply from me now.’ There was a 70-30% kind of arrangement that the U.S. wanted through Conoco, an American oil company, but Barre refused and said that it had to be a fair deal, with more benefits going to the Somalis and less to the Americans.”
The U.S. then started undermining Barre by encouraging Somali warlords to attack him militarily. According to Maalim: “There is very reliable information that most of the warlords who took up arms against Barre had tacit American support.” Barre’s forces slaughtered 5,000 unarmed civilians in 1988-89, and in 1990 he was overthrown. With no central government, Somalia lapsed into anarchy and civil war. The U.S. backed one warlord after another for the next 20 years to foment war and division and prevent the emergence of a strong central authority. The conflict has killed a million Somalis out of a population of eight million, and has made famine more likely by making it difficult to cope with severe drought conditions and other natural calamities.
During 2007, when a group of moderate Islamists known as the Islamic Courts Union appeared close to forming a central government and ending the civil war, the U.S. unleashed the Ethiopian invasion on Somalia, encouraging that country (whose murderous ruler Meles Zanawi is Washington’s vassal) to further destabilize Somali society and kill 16,000 more of its embattled citizens. The invasion not only failed to defeat the Somali Islamists, but also radicalized them so that they re-emerged as the far more anti-Western Al-Shabab, controlling much of southern Somalia.
“The Americans don’t want a viable central power in Somalia,” Maalim explained. “The U.S. interest in blocking that development is that Somalia is known to sit on massive deposits of minerals, including oil and uranium. So the U.S. has been supporting the warlords and fomenting the disintegration of the state and society. The American scheme is to balkanize Somalia, break it up into five small mini-states, just like the Gulf Emirates in the Middle East. Each of the states will have a clan or tribal ruler, so that America can become the dominant power and have a separate deal with each one of them, with Ethiopia’s military power to intimidate them so that they do not have any independence. Every clan can have a small oil-field, which will be run by the Americans.”
So far, this U.S. imperial plan for Somalia has been an abject failure, with Washington unable to control the country’s oil, no matter how many incursions and invasions it has unleashed on the territory. Ethiopian troops withdrew in disgrace in 2009, leaving a weak and corrupt U.S. puppet regime which controls little in Somalia, protected by a small African Union force. Al-Shabab appears to be the strongest military force in Somalia, now controlling much of the south. Faced with this obstacle, the U.S. has once again deployed another proxy, this time the Kenyan army, to invade Somalia. This occurred on October 16 when 2,000 Kenyan troops entered Somalia with the aim of defeating Al-Shabab. Kenya is unlikely to achieve this objective, given that Al-Shabab’s men are highly experienced combatants, fighting on and for their own country, and have already defeated Ethiopia.
As Ali Mohammad Rage, an Al-Shabab spokesman, told the BBC, “Kenya doesn’t know war. We know war. We have fought against governments older and stronger than Kenya, and we have defeated them.”
Alex Perry, writing in Time, calls the Kenyan invasion “bat crazy,” and points out that “The last 20 years have… seen Somalia emerge with a particularly consistent record of chewing up anyone who arrives carrying a gun, including the U.N. and U.S. special operations troops (1992-3), Ethiopians (2006-9), and Ugandans and Burundians from an African Union peacekeeping force (2008-today).”
When the U.S. itself invaded Somalia in 1992, as Farah Maalim noted, its troops were “thoroughly devastated,” with the bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by resistance fighters, forcing the U.S. to withdraw. “Somalis are so nationalistic, passionate and aggressive about their own independence,” Maalim explained, “that you can never dominate them and steal their oil.”
What the U.S. has accomplished in Somalia is to make it an ungovernable killing ground where Somalis cannot use their own oil to develop their country or deal with famine and droughts or other environmental crises on a national level. The civil war has already killed more than a million people, and now the famine threatens to starve another 750,000 Somalis to death, most of them children.
The U.S. response to this catastrophe it has created in Somalia is to cut its economic aid to that country by 88%, increase drone attacks, and encourage its vassal Kenya to launch another invasion. Although Al-Shabab is now allowing Western aid into the areas it controls, the U.S. has forbidden this aid to be distributed in Al-Shabab’s territory, creating serious problems for agencies trying to feed starving people in Somalia. The sharp cut in U.S. economic aid also stems from Al-Shabab’s strong position in the country.
Not content with killing a million Somalis, starving 750,000 of them, and invading their country three times, the U.S. is now killing Somalis with drone missiles. On October 14, an attack by a U.S. drone killed 78 people and injured 64 others near Qooqani, a town in southern Somalia, after another such attack had killed 11 civilians in Hoosingow district. The U.S. launched five drone attacks on Somalia during September and October, indicating that this has now become a regular U.S. policy. The U.S., of course, says it is targeting militants, but the strikes are mostly killing civilians, fuelling public hatred for Washington and a widespread anti-U.S. militancy.
The U.S. is currently exercising similar military efforts in other African countries, also in pursuit of oil riches. On October 15, U.S. President Obama announced the deployment of 100 American special operations troops to Uganda to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an insurgent group. Obama stated that in coming months more U.S. troops will be sent to other African countries, including South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Uganda has no need of U.S. troops to fight the LRA, since that group is at its weakest in 15 years and can easily be handled by the national army. Uganda, however, is an oil-rich country, a fact that can better explain the dispatch of U.S. troops there. In 2009, Heritage Oil, a British multinational, announced an oil discovery in Uganda’s Lake Albert region that could constitute 400 million barrels of oil. Heritage added that that the wider field it was developing had several “billions of barrels of oil” and was “the largest onshore discovery made in sub-Saharan Africa in at least 20 years.”
A Ugandan magazine, The Independent, cites a diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, dated March 13, 2008, that contains a request by the Ugandan government of Yoweri Museveni to the U.S. government “for assistance to train and equip a lake security force which could enforce Uganda’s territorial waters, protect Uganda’s oil assets, and reduce violent incidents.” The cable, signed by Steven Browning, then U.S. ambassador to Uganda, adds that “Uganda had no effective means to provide security on Lakes Victoria, Albert, Edward, George, and Kyoga.”
Also in Uganda, the province where the LRA operates, borders South Sudan, which has lots of oil. According to the Voice of Russia Radio (Russia’s equivalent of the BBC), “there is information that the U.S. wants to take control over all these oil riches and extend a pipeline from South Sudan to the Atlantic Ocean,” but the LRA is “the main obstacle to that.” The U.S. intends to send troops to South Sudan, as well as to the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is another oil-rich African country.
The U.S. policy of attempting to control oil through military measures is obvious from the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Somalia. In Africa, there is also the pressure of competition from China and India, both of which have been displacing U.S. and Western influence through substantial trade and investment deals. Unable to compete economically with these Asian giants in Africa because of its huge financial deficit, the U.S. is instead relying on its military might, but, as one observer put it, “sending in 100 troops is hardly an adequate answer to billions of dollars worth of Chinese and Indian investments.” Militarization, of course, foments war, and the U.S. has been as much a loser in the wars it wages as it has been in the economic arena.
Published in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Monitor, November 2011
Asad Ismi is the CCPA Monitor’s international affairs correspondent. He is author of the radio documentary The Ravaging of Africa which has been aired on 28 radio stations in the U.S. and Canada reaching about 30 million people. The documentary can be heard on this website under the category “audio”.