Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Silence over Somali humanitarian crisis persists

And still the silence over the Somali humanitarian crisis persists in the UK corporate media. Most of the focus remains on the pirates and their threats to global financial interests. Calls for military action to rid them from the seas around the Horn of Africa are growing while little attention is given to the political origins of Somalia's current crisis: the disastrous Ethiopian invasion in December 2006 – backed by the United States.

On Saturday, 22 November, Catherine Phelp in The Times, concentrates on the pirates but reports that the Western-backed government headed by Abdullah Yusuf is also deeply involved in piracy. Phelp does mention, en passant, that the Ethiopian troops were backed by the US in 2006 – but this draws no critical comment. US military intervention in countries across the globe is unproblematic and not worthy of any outrage in The Times's worldview.

Then on Sunday, 23 November, in the Sunday Times, the narrow economic angle persists with the report concentrating on security firms spying 'new jobs on the high seas'.

No mention of the humanitarian crisis again in Colin Freeman's report, in the Daily Telegraph, of 22 November. Here the focus is on 'a lawless land where everyone wants to be a Somali pirate'. But this angle seems to be somewhat contradicted by a quote buried in the feature from a businessman: 'Most people here are disgusted by the piracy.'

James Blitz and Robert Wright, in the Financial Times of 21 November, make no mention of the humanitarian crisis and only a token, passing reference to the US support for Ethiopia's 2006 invasion. An editorial in the FT as early as 11 November had called for a UN Security Council to pass a resolution 'more explicit about the military action that can be taken by governments against the pirates' and for the international court at the Hague to bring the pirates to justice. No compassion for the millions facing starvation in Somalia.

The best coverage comes in Peter Beaumont's feature in the Observer of 23 November. He rightly comments: 'If what is happening is a disaster, it is a disaster hardly noticed by the world.' He continues: 'While the world has focused on the rampant piracy problem afflicting the Gulf of Aden, which saw yet another tanker held for ransom last week, the seizing of ships is only a symptom of a much more terrifying malaise. What it points to is the wholesale failure of a state and the international community's abandonment of the Somalia problem except where it affects its interests in terms of shipping trade and the "war on terror" for the West and on a more local scale for the regional interests of Ethiopia and Eritrea.'

There is also a reference to Somalia's appalling humanitarian crisis – though it comes buried in par 12: 'Forty-three per cent of the country is in dire need of humanitarian assistance, about 3.2 million people at the last count. There are 1.3 million internally displaced, 100,000 of them fleeing the fighting in Mogadishu alone since the beginning of September. Inflation is running at 1,600 per cent. One in six children in southern and central Somalia is acutely malnourished.'

But in a separate timeline on Somalia's recent history, the representation of America's imperial aggression in the country, is strangely softened. The US is said to have merely 'encouraged' Ethiopia's invasion of 2006. It did, in fact, do far more. For instance, the CIA had earlier backed with weapons and intelligence the grouping of warlords, known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter Terrorism. This was determined to oust the Islamic Courts Union which, most commentators accept, had managed to bring some desperately needed stability to the country. And then during the actual invasion and for months afterwards, US jets and gunships pounded targets in support of the Ethiopian invaders. How many civilians died in these attacks we will never know.

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