Two U.N. experts warned earlier this month that malnutrition in Somalia has reached "emergency levels" – an especially grim assessment when you consider that the word "Somalia" has itself been a global synonym for "emergency" for nearly two decades. The emergency is having an emergency.
The experts urged international intervention to expedite the delivery of food aid to those most at risk of starvation.
If international donors do decide to increase their food aid to desperate Somalis, I request that they air-drop more than crates of food from their cargo planes. Somali needs to be air-dropped some publicists.
No, that's not the sadistic fantasy of a journalist who wants to see PR people tossed out of airplanes into a war zone.
Somalia is in desperate need of someone savvy enough to engage the short, fickle attention spans of Americans. Americans need to be awoken to the fact that Somalia's seemingly perpetual humanitarian crisis is experiencing a record growth spurt thanks to the Bush administration's foreign policy.
What policy? In December, a joint U.S.-Ethiopian force invaded Somalia.
The invasion of Somalia was prompted by the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts, a Muslim fundamentalist group that, last year, imposed a semblance of order in the southern half of Somalia for the first time in roughly 16 years.
The UIC has indeed engaged in some of the lousy, violent, ignorant behavior Westerners associate with fundamentalism, but compared with the brutal warlordism it replaced, the UIC was pleasant and orderly. Not quite "German train station" orderly, but a marked improvement.
The United States and Ethiopia invaded Somalia for two main reasons:
The United States fears a UIC-ruled Somalia would be even more of a breeding ground for al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-like actors than it was before. The UIC denies links to al-Qaeda. I'm not sure who to believe – fundamentalists who have an obvious interest in denying their al-Qaeda ties, or a White House that would blame al-Qaeda if the president sprained his ankle on a jog. I do know, however, that al-Qaeda used Somalia to stage four attacks on the United States and Israel before the UIC took over anything. Somalia's anarchy was already a plenty fertile breeding ground for al-Qaeda.
Ethiopia shared the United States' concerns about militant Islam in the Horn of Africa. It also worried that a UIC takeover would bolster separatists in Ogaden, the predominantly Muslim part of Ethiopia that borders Somalia. Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian nation. Also, like many an incompetent leader before him, Ethiopia's dictatorial "Prime Minister" Meles Zenawi invaded hoping that a foreign war would distract from what a lousy job he was doing domestically.
The Ethiopian invasion has eerily mimicked the Iraq invasion's trajectory.
The military advance was planned fantastically, but there was no plan for securing the peace. The UIC was removed from power within days. But instead of routing the UIC and replacing it with stable government, the invasion merely transformed the UIC into an Islamist, nationalist, guerilla insurgency. UIC fighters attack. Ethiopia responds with overwhelming force that kills civilians.
The chaos has left thousands dead and sent around 400,000 Somalis fleeing. Promised African Union peacekeepers haven't arrived. Peace talks were attempted last week, but gunman loyal to the UIC threatened to kill anyone on their side who dared take part. It all sounds vaguely familiar.
Tragically, Americans seem oblivious to the mess they've created.
I've received several e-mails over the past week asking me to sign a petition demanding that the Atlanta Falcons bench quarterback Michael Vick for his alleged dogfighting activities. No one, acquaintance or stranger, has ever e-mailed me about Somalia. The New York Times reported on Sunday that Ethiopia, our invasion ally and recipient of hundreds of millions in military aid, is withholding food from Ogaden province. I don't expect any petitions about that, either.
So a word of advice for the air-dropped publicists: Take sacks full of adorable puppies with you. Kick the puppies. Stab the puppies. Electrocute the puppies. Throw them under Ethiopian tanks. Then, maybe, you'll get someone's attention.
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