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Whither somalia and her refugees?

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* By Iqbal Jassat

Somalia’s instability as a result of the Ethiopian invasion has had a devastating effect on Somali refugees victimized by xenophobic violence in South Africa. Boxed in as they are within makeshift tents and other forms of temporary shelters, having been driven out of their war-torn country initially, these refugees have experienced a fresh blow to their meager struggle for survival.

While much is being made about the Somali refugee issue in South Africa alongside the unfortunate evictions suffered by many of the continents other asylum seekers, not enough is relayed through the media regarding the tragedy unfolding in their motherland, in the horn of Africa.

This disconnection adds to further xenophobic and criminal attacks, for Somalis are viewed as having voluntarily chosen to seek refuge away from home. Indeed, calls to have them repatriated are symptomatic of this form of ignorance.

Abdi Samatar, professor of Global Studies at the University of Minnesota summed up the situation in Somalia as follows in a recent interview with Democracy Now:

“The Ethiopian invasion, which was sanctioned by the US government, has destroyed virtually all the life-sustaining economic systems which the population have built without the government for the last fifteen years. And the militia that are supposed to protect the population have been looting shops. For instance, the Bakara market, which is the largest market in Mogadishu, has been looted repeatedly by the militias of the so-called Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, supported by Ethiopian troops. And the new prime minister of Somalia, Mr. Hassan Nur Hussein, has himself announced in the BBC that it was his militias that – who have looted this place. So what you have is a population that’s hit from both sides – on one side, by the militias of the so-called Transitional Federal Government, which is recognized by the United States, and on the other side, by the Ethiopian invaders who seem to be bent on ensuring that they break the will of the people to resist as free people in their own country……………………………..


What you have is really terror in the worst sense of the word, a million people have been displaced that the Ethiopians have been denying humanitarian aid, and the United States which seems to just watch and let it happen. It’s like there has been a calculated decision made somewhere in the world, maybe in Washington, maybe in Addis Ababa, maybe in Mogadishu itself, to starve these people until they submit themselves to the whims of the American military and the Ethiopians, who are acting on their behalf.” 

So while Somalis are suffering a horrendous ordeal back home, life in South Africa has tragically also, been far from ideal. Having their spaza shops looted and gutted and forced to flee from the ghettos of informal settlements, Somalis are being victimized twice over.

In an interesting observation made by Salim Lone, a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya and a former spokesperson for the UN mission in Iraq, he explains that the lawlessness of the Somali war is astounding. He claims that there have been very concrete violations by the United States of two Security Council resolutions in pursuit of this illegal war.

“The first one was the arms embargo imposed on Somalia, which the US has been routinely flaunting for many years now. But then the US decided that that resolution was no longer useful, and they pushed through an appalling resolution in December [2007], which basically gave the green light to Ethiopia to invade.”

The resolution said that the situation in Somalia was a threat to “international peace and security”, which according to Lome was at a time when every independent report indicated that the Islamic Courts Union had brought a high level of peace and stability not enjoyed in the past sixteen years of the country’s life.

Not much different in text and intent to the current failed attempt by the Bush administration to bulldoze a Security Council resolution on Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately for Somalia, neither Russia nor China intervened then, resulting in a blatantly false resolution setting up the country for an American-backed invasion leading to inevitable losses, including displacement of millions.

As Somalis huddle around bonfires to protect themselves from South Africa’s harsh winter in an environment which stereotypes them equally harshly as makwerekwere or aliens, they are all too aware that the Ethiopian invasion has destroyed all the life-sustaining systems.

And as Mike Whitney explains in a damning article titled “Bush’s Blood-Orgy in Somalia”, the real motives behind the invasion were oil and geopolitics. “Bush’s new war-lord friends in the Transitional Federal Government [TFG] have already indicated a willingness to pass a new oil law that will encourage foreign oil companies to return to Somalia.”

War and invasion back home. Xenophobia, crime and stigma of being aliens in South Africa. How will this nightmare end?

* Iqbal Jassat; Chair: Media Review Network