Rich countries, led by the US, spend millions of dollars in the Horn of Africa to pre-empt what they call "al-Qa'ida's designs" to turn the region – particularly Somalia – into a "safe haven". But they have clearly chosen to ignore urgent appeals by international aid and food agencies to save the lives of millions of the region's population that are at risk of imminent death from famine caused by a combination of conflict and drought. The number of people who require urgent food aid in the Horn and East Africa is put at about 11.5 million, most of whom live inDjibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Tanzania. According to UN envoys the starvation they face is due to protracted conflicts and the region's worst drought in years, and must therefore be confronted promptly and effectively. But, sadly, only a third of the requested food aid has materialised, as Oxfam has warned.
The fact that France, Britain and Italy, the former colonial rulers of the region responsible for the artificial borders that are still at the centre of today's conflicts, are reluctant to come to the rescue of their former subjects is not surprising. None of the former rulers of the region accept any responsibility for the current plight of its people, despite having abandoned them to the rule of despots that were maintained in government because they were pro-Western rather than ruling in the interests of their own people. Under the rule of such leaders, the capacity of societies in the region to deal with their own problems has been systematically undermined, leaving many people, despite their best efforts, with little alternative but to wait for relief assistance to alleviate their plight. This makes the failure of Western countries to fulfill their pledges all the more criminal.
That the issue of race is not irrelevant to the failure to act is indicated by the fact that some racist academics and politicians are publicly campaigning to halt any assistance to HIV victims inAfrica – arguing that the West is not morally bound to act. A notable example of the type of academic involved is a British lecturer, Frank Ellis of Leeds University, who says that "the Bellcurve theory has demonstrated to me beyond any reasonable doubt that there is a gap in black and white average IQ." More relevantly, he says on the issue of aid to Africans suffering from HIV that the West has no responsibility to do so and urges those who call for action, such as Bob Geldof, to vanish.
"The West has no responsibility whatsoever to assist Africa in dealing with AIDS... If Bob Geldof and the hordes of emotional parasites who follow him want to get weepy about Africa's self-inflicted pain, making a display of their virtue, fine, go and live there and do not come back when you need medical treatment which is only available in the West," he said.
But unfortunately racism is not the only factor driving their inaction in the region. While racism might have caused them to decide not to address the issue of famine-relief, religion is also clearly behind their decision to take the US-led "war on terrorism" (a misnomer for war on Islam) into a region already in the grip of clan, border and political conflicts which are bound to be made even worse, as has already happened in Somalia, the main target of the war. According to General Mark Kimmett of US central command, al-Qa'ida is trying to re-establish a presence in Somalia, and the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia, whose population is almost entirely Somali and Muslim. Western and UN officials are helping the US's propaganda by confirming that there are "suspected" al-Qa'ida links to "Islamist groups" in Mogadishu that are bent on introducing Islamic rule and al-Qa'ida training-camps in the southeast.
US officials admit anonymously that Somalia "is traditionally not a strongly Islamic country", but say that "there is a growing body of people in favour of political Islam who are getting help from outside." According to an unnamed official quoted in a newspaper report on March 3, the US "is getting much more interested" in Somalia because of "terrorism among other reasons". One of the other reasons this official mentioned is the need to introduce "stability". US efforts to implement its self-appointed regional assistance programme of intervention are directed from Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, a former French Legion base that is home to 1,500 troops of the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. Its commander, Marine major-general Timothy Gormley, has not been as discreetly anonymous in his explanation of what the camp's task is.
He told the American Forces Press Service that its work was aimed at winning "hearts and minds" through aid programmes, although the prevention of terrorism was paramount. "We go into the ungoverned space... If we are not there they [al-Qa'ida] will be."
But the hypocrisy of the US's position has been widely criticised– not only by Muslims but even by non-Muslim organisations and writers, most of whom point out that while Somalia needs assistance the focus on al-Qa'ida is a serious distraction from more urgent problems. According to the International Crisis Group, "Islamic activists are a diverse community, making a broad based conspiracy impossible." The group has no doubt that "Islamic terrorism has failed to take hold in Somalia because of Somali resistance – not foreign counter-terrorism." Alex de Waal, one of the directors of Justice Africa, likewise has no doubt that the US position lacks any justification. He said that ‘jihad' in the Horn of Africa was tried and failed in the 1990s, and that the Pentagon is "chasing ghosts".
It came as no surprise in late March that the US anti-Islamic war in Somalia led to clashes in Mogadishu between Islamic groups and warlords openly declaring themselves opponents of extremism. Initial figures indicate a death-toll of 60. But that is a small figure compared with the casualties that will result from US intervention, unless it is stopped forthwith. The scene of the expected horrors will not be only Mogadishu or Somalia, as the new conflict is bound to spread to the rest of the region. Some of those countries, like Ethiopia and Kenya, have a mixed population of Christians and Muslims. If the Americans are keen to set Muslim against Muslim in wholly Muslim Somalia, they will not flinch from encouraging Christians to expel Muslim minorities.
One of the tragedies of the situation is that the US's Muslim allies, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are making no effort to intercede with the US change its priorities in Somalia and the rest of the African Horn. The immediate future is bleak indeed for all the countries of this region.