Somalia Still Suffers

An analyst at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Roger Middleton, found that “[t]he only period during which piracy virtually vanished around Somalia was during the six months of rule by the Islamic Courts Union in the second half of 2006. This indicates that a functioning government in Somalia is capable of controlling piracy.” Given the furor over piracy, what happened to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC)? Unfortunately, something far worse than piracy. Despite UN Security Council Resolution 1725, Britain and the U.S. refused to recognize the UIC, allegedly because they practiced Sharia Law—something overlooked when it comes to Saudi Arabia.

Despite mass starvation and violence, the Western public continues to receive reports that the worst thing about Somalia is piracy. Piracy is important to the Western rulers, as Lord Jay admitted to Parliament, because “Somalia is in chaos and threatens our trade routes.” He did not say, “Somalia is starving so we should stop our criminal activities.”

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) stated that, “[a]cross the country, as fighting cuts off the delivery of essential services and a prolonged drought causes widespread crop failure, an estimated 3.76 million people—close to 40 percent of the population—are thought to require emergency help. In no other country in the world is so large a proportion of the population in need of relief assistance.” DFID boasts of its millions of pounds in aid donations, but omits the fact that Britain has helped to plunge Somalia into disaster by supporting the warlords of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) which Ethiopia, under U.S. auspices, sought to establish in Somalia in December 2006.

Somali refugees in fishing dowel in Indian Ocean—photo by Robert R. McRill

Somali families in refugee camp in northern Kenya—photo by Amanda Rose, DFID Kenya

A woman and her children in an "internally displaced persons" settlement in South Galkayo, Somalia, with armed police standing by—photo by Kate Holt/IRIN

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported: “Since January 2007 at least 870,000 civilians have fled the chaos in Mogadishu alone—two-thirds of the city’s population. Across south-central Somalia, 1.1 million Somalis are displaced from their homes. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are living in squalid camps along the Mogadishu-Afgooye road that have themselves become theaters of brutal fighting.” Although Human Rights Watch’s Africa director, Georgette Gagnon, stated that Britain’s silence amounts to “complicity in crimes against humanity,” the deeper reality is much more abhorrent.

The UK and the U.S. are actively supporting the Transitional Federal Government, which is responsible for cutting off Somalia’s funds and, consequently, for the fact that tens of thousands of Somalis every year risk life and limb, often dying, in the hope of fleeing the terror by crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen in order to seek asylum—a country now condemned as a terrorist haven. The UNHCR says that, “There are horrific reports of deaths at sea, people being thrown overboard far from shore and told to swim. Those who make it remember the journey with horror.  

By 2009, the situation had not improved. HRW reported that “[m]ore than 100,000 people—almost all of them from Somalia and Ethiopia—have arrived by boat along Yemen’s coast during the past two years. Most are fleeing war or persecution at home or are in search of work.” HRW also reported that many Somalis seek asylum in Kenya—80,000 since 2007. “Kenyan authorities have seriously aggravated the humanitarian assistance needs among Somalis arriving in three refugee camps near the Kenyan town of Dadaab, which shelter almost 260,000 refugees, making them the world’s largest refugee settlement.” 

Many Somalis and foreigners have been kidnapped while trying to flee and remain lost within the torture system of the CIA’s rendition program. Amnesty International reported, “At least 140 people were arrested by Kenyan authorities between December 30, 2006 and February 2007 as they tried to enter Kenya from Somalia. They were held without charge in several police stations in Nairobi and in Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. They were allowed no contact with their relatives. If they wanted to claim asylum they could not, as they were denied access to UNHCR or any asylum procedure.” One of the few journalists to venture into Somalia, Kenyan Aiden Hartley, reports that under the rule of the TFG’s Abdullahi Yusuf, who governed Mogadishu from late 2006 to late 2008, “up to a million civilians have fled the bombardments in Mogadishu; they now live in tents made of plastic and twigs…. This is a famine caused by men, not global warming.”

Western Intervention

Most Westerners know Somalia from the UN intervention in 1992, which led to a U.S. invasion under humanitarian pretexts. If the U.S. wanted to feed the starving, journalist and Africa scholar Richard Dowden observed, “they would have come six months earlier” when the famine was at its worst. Africa specialist Alex de Waal wrote, “The humanitarian garb of Operation Restore Hope was superficial from the start. Launched in December 1992 just as the famine was waning, the dispatch of troops had more to do with testing the newly-emerging doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ than saving Somalis. An independent review by the U.S. Refugee Policy Group concluded that the operation saved between 10,000 and 25,000 lives rather than the 2 million initially advertised.” This is a generous estimate considering the CIA estimated that the U.S. killed 7,000 to 10,000 Somalis, many of whom were women and children. Commanding Gen. Anthony Zinni…said, “I’m not counting bodies…I’m not interested.”

Somalia’s civil war claimed over 500,000 lives. A new phase of Somalia’s torture came after 9/11 when the Bush administration, with British backing, froze Somalia’s bank accounts. Writing in Middle East Report, Khalid Medani explained how, “George W. Bush’s sweeping campaign against Somali money transfer companies—on the grounds that they ‘finance terror’—is so broad as to defy justification. Millions of Somalis dependent on remittances from relatives abroad are now going without…. Armed with a wide range of new legislative powers, in the months following September 11 the Bush administration stepped up action on the ‘second front’ of its war on terrorism. The USA PATRIOT Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act provide Federal officials with the authority to freeze assets of entities and individuals identified as financing terrorist operations. Launched on October 25, 2001, Operation Green Quest has frozen more than $34 million in global assets linked to alleged terrorist organizations and individuals.” British Telecom is one such company complicit in the freezing of funds.

The 9/11 Commission Report confirmed that federal agents had been scrupulously analyzing the al-Barakaat charity and bank in Somalia and concluded that, “their attempt to make a criminal case simply had no traction. Ultimately, prosecutors were unable to file charges against any of the al-Barakaat participants, with the exception of one of the customers in Minneapolis who was charged with low-level welfare fraud.” Despite exoneration, Somalia’s bank accounts remain frozen while Somalia starves.

The United States recognized the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006 under UN Resolution 1725, which also stated that all States should refrain from damaging the fragile peace. Nevertheless, in 2006, Ethiopia, under U.S./UK auspices, invaded Somalia in order to impose the Transitional Federal Government, led by Abdullahi Yusuf. Despite being found guilty by Britain’s High Court of murdering a political opponent, which also found him guilty of “carr[ying] out retaliations, including executions,” Abdullahi Yusuf was given a liver transplant on Britain’s National Health Service and supported by the New Labour Party under Blair and Brown. Hartley reported that, “British taxpayers’ money is helping to bankroll one side of this vicious conflict and several Somali leaders who have been linked to allegations of war crimes against countless civilians are living double lives in Britain…[having] been given British citizenship, state benefits, and a subsidized home in this country.” One such warlord is Mohamed Darwiish, the head of Somalia’s NSA, who used to work at Tesco in England. According to Hartley, the British police are paying his salary through a UN program. The former Somali Interior Minister and later ephemeral prime minister, Guled Ga’amadheere, regularly held up aid deliveries, many of which are pirated.

Warlords, UK, and Piracy

Most of the food aid comes by sea because the airspace is hazardous, with militia firing RPGs at helicopters and a land rife with gunmen. The high level of sea piracy has given the British Foreign Office a pretext not to supply aid in armored vessels—a minimal contribution given Britain’s military power. In 2007, there were 31 civilian and refugee ships attacked by pirates. No World Food Program vessels up to November 2008, which were provided solely by Holland, had been targeted. Despite this, the UK claimed it was too dangerous. Furthermore, Demark stopped providing ships; France provided ships for three months; Sweden refused to help; South Africa refused to help. As “food aid pile[d] up in South Africa, Somalia starve[d].” The British Ministry of Defense denies ever receiving a request by the World Food Program to provide Royal Navy ships, which it now seems to have done solely to protect oil interests, following the hijacking of the tanker Sirius Star.

Even more amazingly, Chatham House’s Roger Middleton reported that, “Puntland, the semi-autonomous region in the northeast of the country, appears to be the base for most pirates in Somalia…. The fact that the pirates originate from Puntland is significant as this is also the home region of President Abdullahi Yusuf,” a favorite of the West. “As one expert said, ‘money will go to Yusuf as a gesture of goodwill to a regional leader’—so even if the higher echelons of Somali government and clan structure are not directly involved in organizing piracy, they probably do benefit.… Puntland is one of the poorest areas of Somalia, so the financial attraction of piracy is strong. Somalia’s fishing industry has collapsed in the last 15 years and its waters are being heavily fished by European, Asian and African ships”—another example of the West’s benevolence.

Officially, Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia in 2009, hoping that their ruinous impact on the country would allow a proxy government to thrive. Sheikh Sharif, of the UIC, now of the Reliberation of Somalia, which has become part of the TFG, “defeated at least 14 other candidates, including current Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, commonly known as Nur Adde, who has been the driving force behind bringing the Transitional Federal Government and Sharif’s Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS) together,” the BBC reported. This was despite Britain and America’s efforts to smash indigenous democracy. Today, the links between Somalia and al-Qaeda—a ticket on which the U.S. is riding—are thin enough to merit embarrassment. For instance, BBC Africa reported recently that the TFG “confirmed to the BBC that an al-Qaeda fighter had been killed, but did not name him and said the government ‘would provide evidence later’.” 

Even the BBC News, broadcast in the UK over the weekend of May 1, 2010, reported that a Mogadishu Mosque bombing could have been committed by any group, with many Somalis blaming the TFG, “which they feel is a puppet of the West,” for the simple reason that it is. The non-covert, but largely unreported, horrors are likely to continue as long as everyone is silent on Somalia.


Tim Coles is a Phd research student at the University of Plymouth (UK) and a filmmaker. His film, The Collapse of the Two State Solution? was released by Concord Media. He writes for Redress and his latest article is “Coalition: another example of Britain’s sham democracy.”