The eastern African nation of Somalia is the site of an unfolding humanitarian nightmare ― a massive famine that has cost tens of thousands of Somali lives in the past few months, the United Nations says.
More than 3 million people are affected right now and more than 10 million at risk across the Horn of Africa.
The BBC said on August 6 that roughly 640,000 children are acutely malnourished in Somalia, and 3.2 million people need immediate life-saving assistance.
Antonio Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency, said in July that Somalia was the "worst humanitarian disaster'' on the globe.
The UN officially designated the crisis a famine, the first time it has adopted that designation since 1984.
Thousands of Somalis have poured into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The population of the largest refugee camp in Kenya, Dadaab, is growing by more than 1300 a day. It could reach as high as half a million, Oxfam said.
The BBC said: "Parts of the capital, where there are camps for displaced people, were last week among three areas newly declared by the United Nations to be suffering famine."
The BBC reported on August 4 that the UN said more than 4 million Kenyans are threatened by starvation.
On August 4, the UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit said famine was "likely to persist until at least December".
United States officials have blamed the mass starvation on al-Shabab rebels who control southern Somalia.
Al-Shabab ― which has been battling Somalia's US-backed Transitional Federal Government for the past four years ― has been labelled a terrorist organisation and a wing of al-Qaeda by the US.
Washington claims the group is responsible for worsening drought conditions by blocking aid routes into the most affected areas.
The rebels reversed an earlier decision to lift a ban on some international agencies. This prompted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to claim on August 4 that al-Shabab was "preventing assistance to the most vulnerable populations in Somalia".
But there is much more to this story. Blame for the crisis in Somalia lies squarely with the US.
Decades of Western intervention lie at the heart of this crisis.
Aid officials have cited a lack of resources ― not al-Shabab ― as the chief obstacle to reaching famine victims.
The August 4 Guardian reported that Anna Schaaf, spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said: "The limits on our action are more on the side of logistics than access."
UNICEF and the Red Cross have listed problems of food purchases and flight scheduling as their main concerns.
"The lack of food stockpiling in Somalia reflects badly on the international humanitarian community," Tony Burns, director of operations for Saacid, the oldest NGO in Somalia, told the Guardian.
Al-Shabab may be blocking some escape routes for refugees in the south, but, Burns continued, the rebels "are not monolithic" and could be negotiated with.
"They are hard core in some places, and very moderate in others. In areas where they are not so strong, it is more than clans that make the rules," Burns said.
The New York Times said on July 20: "Also hampering the emergency efforts, aid officials contend, are American government rules that prohibit material support to the militants, who often demand 'taxes' for allowing aid deliveries to pass through."
Finally, global food prices ― fuelled by speculation and the drive for profit ― began to soar again in 2010 after a decline from their 2008 peak.
Cereal prices in Somalia were 240% higher in May over the previous year, further worsening the dangers posed by drought.
The UN has requested US$1.6 billion to address the crisis, but has received only about half that.
The US has pledged a pitiful $28 million in response to the UN request.
Clinton claimed the US has already given over $431 million in food and nonfood emergency assistance to Somalia this year alone.
But a hefty portion of what the US allocates for Somalia comes in the form of military assistance, both for the Somali government and the 9000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) force, composed mainly of troops from Uganda and Burundi.
AMISOM's presence has fueled a civil war that has terrorised millions of ordinary Somalis.
Direct military involvement in counter-terrorism is also a major element of US foreign policy in the region. This role is intensifying with a widening drone war and other activities.
In a recent visit to Somalia, journalist Jeremy Scahill reported in a July 12 Nation article that he had uncovered a CIA base near Mogadishu airport where victims of renditions from Kenya and Ethiopia are interrogated.
The base is also involved in clandestine military strikes.
Black Agenda Report said on July 13 that the US escalation of the military conflict was directly tied to the famine: "The U.S. has armed an array of militias operating near the Ethiopian and Kenyan borders, making normal agricultural pursuits all but impossible, and the current world-class catastrophe inevitable."
AFRICOM was created in 2007. Its budget for the coming year is close to $300 million, an increase of about $20 million over last year.
Somalia is a critical component of AFRICOM's presence.
The Obama administration announced in July that it was sending marines to train African "peacekeepers" there. It earmarked more than $75 million for Somalia counterterrorism assistance alone.
Western responsibility for the crisis reaches back decades into the past.
Global austerity and privatisation ― driven by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) ― wreaked havoc across the Third World in the era of "structural adjustment" that begun in the 1970s.
An August 3 Pambuka News article pointed out Somalia was food self-sufficient until the late 1970s, despite drought conditions. But global financial policy forced down wages and hiked costs for farmers, helping to pave the way for the civil war the broke out in 1988.
The US has long viewed the Horn of Africa as a strategic location, with its proximity to major trade routes through the Suez Canal, and access to the Middle East and South Asia.
Militarisation, structural adjustment and the late 1980s civil war produced a horrible famine that by 1991 had taken 300,000 lives.
The US claimed the famine as justification for military intervention and sent in troops in 1992, under the auspices of the UN. This was despite the fact the most severe period of the famine had passed several months before, and the death rate had fallen by 90%.
US officials estimated that its forces inflicted 6000 to 10,000 casualties ― two-thirds of them women and children ― in the middle of 1993 alone.
Since the intervention, Somalia has consistently ranked near or at the bottom of nearly all human development measurements, from life expectancy to infant mortality.
Since 1991, it has been wracked by civil wars, fuelled by US support for various sides in the conflicts.
In 2006, neighbouring Ethiopia invaded Somalia to unseat the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which had held power for barely a few months, but managed to bring some small degree of stability to the country.
US backing, training and funding for Ethiopia's overthrow of the ICU was a barely concealed secret ― as well as Washington's support for installing the Transitional Federal Government in place of the ICU.
When Ethiopia pulled out in early 2009, it left behind an escalated civil war and refugee crisis. About 10,000 people were killed and 1.1 million Somalis were turned into refugees.
Human Rights Watch published a report in December 2008 that said more than 40% of the population of south-central Somalia were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
Alex Thurston said in a July 14 Africaisacountry.com post: "The fall and fragmentation of the ICU, combined with the brutality of the Ethiopian occupation, facilitated the rise of al-shabab, the ICU's military wing."
The danger of US intervention in Somalia has returned for the near future. The famine ― just as in 1992 ― potentially provides cover for escalating involvement.
On August 6, al-Shabab pulled out of the rebel-controlled sections of the capital of Mogadishu. At its height, the organisation controlled about a third of the city.
But whether the government can continue to hold onto the city is an open question.
Scahill described the situation: “In the battle against the Shabab, the United States does not, in fact, appear to have cast its lot with the Somali government.
“The emerging U.S. strategy on Somalia ― borne out in stated policy, expanded covert presence and funding plans ― is two-pronged: On the one hand, the CIA is training, paying and at times directing Somali intelligence agents who are not firmly under the control of the Somali government, while JSOC [Joint Special Operations Command] conducts unilateral strikes without the prior knowledge of the government; on the other, the Pentagon is increasing its support for and arming of the counterterrorism operations of non-Somali African military forces.”
Meanwhile, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, a firm US ally, has called for a no-fly zone to be established over southern Somalia.
And in Washington, NewsDay.com said on July 27 that Republican Representative Peter King is helping fuel the push for intervention by raising the specter of terrorism in the US ― through al-Shabaab recruiting Somali-Americans.
For those who want to see an end to war and hunger in Somalia, UN peacekeepers are no solution. UN troops follow the dictates of US priorities, just as they did during the "humanitarian intervention" of 1993.
The US is concerned, above all, with ensuring its dominance over a strategically critical region. A devastating famine and thousands of deaths is no small price for them to pay to secure this goal.
Ending the country's misery means US hands off of Somalia now.
[Abridged from www.socialistworker.org .]
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