The recent hijacking of a Ukrainian arms ship off the coast of Somalia has thrust the world's most notorious "failed state" into the spotlight of mainstream Western media. While what appears to be a major weapons shipment to South Sudan is certainly noteworthy, it's unfortunate that it takes such a dramatic, sensational incident to get Somalia in the news. At today's critical political and humanitarian moment, the people of Somalia deserve attention for more than just this "pirate ship."
Here are some other less high profile Somalia stories to take your understanding of Somalia deeper than the pirate drama:
1) October 6: Fifty-two aid agencies working in Somalia released a damning statement urging a stronger international response to the deteriorating humanitarian crisis: "The international community has completely failed Somali civilians. We call on the international community to make the protection of Somali civilians a top priority now." 37,000 people have fled Mogadishu in the past few weeks. 870,000 have been displaced so far in 2008. The city is emptier than it was during the 1994 botched international intervention.
2) May 5: Somalis protest the deaths of civilians after the U.S. launches airstrikes into Somalia, targeting al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. Since January 2007, the U.S. has intervened with cruise missile assaults and air attacks multiple times in Somalia, with little success in eliminating key terrorist targets.
3) October 1: Human Rights Watch exposes the 2007 Rendition Program in the Horn of Africa where illegal renditions occurred, and continue to occur under the guise of anti-terrorism policy. Working with U.S. counterterrorism officials the Kenyan government detained 150 people from 18 different countries (including America, Canada, and the UK) without charge for weeks, before sending dozens of them to Somalia where they were handed over to the Ethiopian military. No notice was given to family, lawyers, or embassies and many were held for over a year being tortured and interrogated before they were released.
An unknown number were interrogated by the CIA and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Addis Ababa, and some were never released. "From February to May 2007, Ethiopian security officers daily transported detainees – including several pregnant women – to a villa where US officials interrogated them about suspected terrorist links. At night the Ethiopian officers returned the detainees to their cells." After the U.S. interrogations ceased, most were released, without so much as an official apology.
4) Throughout 2008: Somalis bear a huge burden of xenophobic violence in South Africa. While there has been some Western attention to the rise of violence against foreign African in South Africa,, few realize that Somalis have taken the brunt of it. The most recent incident is the brutal killing of Somali family in the Eastern Cape, the very providence in which Nelson Mandela was born. Mostly shop owners have been targeted, seen as taking away economic capital from more deserving South Africans. Some perpetrators have reportedly rationalized the violence by claiming that since the situation back home for Somalis is so bad, there must be something inherently flawed in their culture, and for that reason they should not be allowed to profit in South Africa.
For more on Africa Action's take on recent US policy in Somalia, see our 2008 Africa Policy Outlook. Also worth checking out is the excellent recent report on international engagement with Somalia by Ken Menkhaus for the Enough Project.