“What aide workers fear is that in trying to win one war, the Americans are prepared to let the humanitarian crisis in Somalia get worse,” wrote British journalist Jonathan Rugman. What prompted the aide workers to say something so unflattering about the U.S. government?
To be fair, the famine in the region has two sources. One is the same source that caused the recent tsunamis in Asia, the earthquakes in Haiti and China, and the floods in India: climate change. But this natural disaster has been exacerbated by the lack of a stable government in Somalia.
And that’s where the U.S. government comes in.
The U.S. and the U.N. have to some extent been playing games with the food aid. In fact, the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) dumped food on the Somali market in 2008 and 2009 at the same time that Somali farmers were bringing their foodstuffs to market.
The free food undermined the ability of the farmers to sell their food and thus allow the Somalis to feed themselves. And it discouraged farmers and farming in general.
During the latest crisis, WFP has limited their delivery to the worst-hit part of the country, southern Somalia, which ironically is in the hands of the al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab, which literally means “the youth,” is the fundamentalist Islamic group that controls much of southern Somalia. It is engaged in a civil war with the U.S.-backed Transitional Federal Government (TGF) in Mogadishu.
The WFP and other aid groups suspended aid to this region at the beginning of the famine, saying that they were afraid of being prosecuted by the U.S. In 2008, the U.S. imposed sanctions that made it a crime to aid al-Shabaab in any way.
Al-Shabaab also bears some responsibility for exacerbating conditions by initially harassing some aid groups and accusing others of being spies. Previous Somali administrations had accused aid agencies of spying and working for Western imperialists.
The U.S. only earlier this month lifted or eased this ban, as it became apparent that this policy in the midst of so much starvation appeared incredibly callous.
The State Department eased the ban against al-Shabaab, which incidentally has been declared a terrorist organization and affiliated with Al Qaeda, only on the word of the U.S. government. According to the National Terrorism Center, there is no proof of any kind of organizational connection.
And while the U.S. government shed crocodile tears upon making its announcement that it would no longer restrict the flow of aid to southern Somalia, it still has not fully funded its commitment to the World Food Programme. According to the WFP, holding back U.S. funds has resulted in it being 42 percent short of its goal of $303 million. And the U.S. is not alone; the British have not funded the WFP since 2009.
These callous actions are consistent with the history of U.S.-Somalia relations over the last two decades. U.S. policy during that time has been concentrated on undermining the ability of the Somalis to govern themselves, and they have succeeded in doing just that.
For example, the last somewhat stable government in Somalia was undermined in 2006 when the U.S. encouraged and backed the Ethiopians’ invasion and temporary occupation of parts of Somalia.
Not only have they undermined the Somalis politically, but economically as well. Twin Citians were made familiar with U.S. plans because in 2001 it shut down the entire homemade Somali Western Union-type operations that allowed expatriates to wire money back home.
Practically all immigrants practice this as a way of helping their families back home. It was estimated at the time that about 80 percent of Somalis depended on this help from relatives abroad.
Thereafter, the U.S. shut down all overseas branches of the Somali-owned al-Barakaat banking and telecommunication systems. The U.S. shut down all Somali Internet and telephone companies and enacted other policies that drove up the price of everything in Somalia. The price of food tripled.
Somalia is located at the crossroads of world trade both by sea and air. Nearly 90 commercial flights cross its air space daily. Key shipping lanes lay right off its coasts, as the pirates have exposed. These sea lanes carry oil from the Gulf and North Africa. The U.S. imperialists have to have Somalia to maintain hegemony over their up-and-coming competitors in China and Russia.
It seems that the U.S. is trying to win Somalia as a base by any means necessary. This sentiment was voiced by an aid worker in the Horn of Africa who was quoted in the British press saying, “U.S. policy in Somalia is to let Somalis starve so that the people kick the [al-]Shabaab out.”