Domination over the rest of the country is comprised of self-claimed autonomous regions to the north, the ever-growing terrorist organization al-Shabaab to the south and west, pirates on the east coast, and a patchwork of clan warlords and Islamist militias throughout remnants of a bloody era that has yet to see any recognizable stability.
Globally, only five countries are poorer than Somalia in per capita income. Almost half of the population is under the age of 14, with the average woman giving birth to over 6 children. Only one-third of adults can read and write (CIA Factbook).
As if glaring poverty and endless civil strife were not enough for the Somali people, the country has recently been hit by a massive famine, threatening the lives of some 12 million people in the Horn of Africa. The images (what few we have been exposed to by Western news agencies) are reminiscent of the famine that swept across Somalia in 1990 which prompted the world to respond with both financial and military intervention.
The current crisis has been exacerbated by the presence of al-Shabaab, a group with proven links to al-Qaeda, which for several months has prevented aid from getting to the people. A 9,000-strong peacekeeping force from the African Union has managed to push the organization out of the capital, but its influence is still prominent. While drought and famine are largely the result of a lack of rainfall, there is a proven correlation between famine and civil conflict, suggesting that the situation would probably be must less severe were there political stability in Somalia.
The response to this famine has been markedly different to that of the early 1990s. While financial aid has trickled in from around the world, there has been no talk of military intervention outside of Africa. The U.S. in particular has bad memories of the area after the failed intervention during the 1991 civil war. In fact, there has been little coverage of the famine by U.S. news agencies perhaps fearful that showing such images would have a negative effect on viewer numbers, or maybe more worryingly, be a reflection of our misplaced priorities.
Responsibility, however, also falls on the African Union. While desiring to have more control over African affairs, removing the need for Western interference, the AU has so far failed to fulfill its duty. A recent article in the Economist told of a meeting calling all AU members to come together to form a solution to the famine. Of the 54 member nations, only 20 sent representatives. Those countries together pledged just $50 million, a fourth of what the people of Turkey alone have raised through donations, and $1.1 billion short of what the U.N. says is needed.
As the world looks on in a mixture of concern and disinterest, some 12 million people in the Horn of Africa remain at risk. Tens of thousands have already died and millions more are fleeing to surrounding countries to seek food and refuge.
Although the famine will not last forever and the rain will eventually come, this will only create further problems as the already malnourished people suffering in Somalia will become susceptible to diseases such as cholera and typhoid. All this while terrorists, gangs and pirates exist relatively unhindered in the country.
If Edmund Burke was right in his suggestion that, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing,” the veil of evil looks likely to cover the land of Somalia for some time to come.