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TALKING POINT :THE SOMALIA/IRAQ COMPARISON
TAKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

18, April 2003

THE SOMALIA/IRAQ COMPARISON
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
M. M. Afrah

It has been one depressing month, has it not? The war in Iraq, the deadly disease SARS outbreak, the unusual freezing April weather here in North America and on top of it all the lack of progress at the Nairobi Talks.

You wake up in the morning and scan the international media and you discover that all other major world events, except the war in Iraq, are relegated to the back burner as if they are not newsworthy.

"Go away. Call me when this is over," I murmured to my computer and switched it off.

The Iraqi situation is like Somalia repeating itself over and over. Even our Website here recently made the comparison in a commentary and the way I understand the comparison is indeed striking. Good news and bonanza for the looters. But lousy news for the decent Iraqi people, who, like the masses in Somalia, long to see their country return to a semblance of normalcy after the "smart" bombs.

It is Mogadishu shade, the Washington Post newspaper said.

Just as in Mogadishu, thieves armed with AK-47 assault rifles are breaking into homes, stores and ministries, walking away with everything, from furniture, brand new passports (from the ministry of foreign affairs) to clothes, cash, jewelry and shoes.

You will read this comparison so many times in the coming weeks it would make you think you are in Mogadishu. You will see television footages of the toppling the statues of Saddam Hussein and cheering Iraqi crowds replayed endlessly, reminding the American people of their President's strategic leadership.

Maybe the looters would give up their looting spree. Maybe there's nothing worth stealing anymore. But, unlike the Somali Mooryaan, the Iraqi looters may or may not help themselves with the electric and telephone wires or the underground water pipes. Not yet, but the recipe for more disaster is still there, unless the US Marines and the Special Forces, with the help of the disintegrated Iraqi Police Force, to do de facto police work, just as they tried in Mogadishu in 1993 but woefully failed, because of a change of heart in the Pentagon.

The reason was that there were more weapons than the population of Somalia, a country the size of Texas, the honchos in the Pentagon said.

THE BRITS

There was a mountain of relief food at Mogadishu Airport because it was too dangerous to distribute. The same image was apparent at Basra, Iraq's second largest city after Baghdad, and we have seen pictures of starving and thirsty Iraqis fighting over water and food. But the British army who occupied the city refused to be tolerant of looting and lawlessness, and we could clearly hear British soldiers uttering the four letter words, "Get the fuck out, or I'll shoot!" And they meant it.

So the Brits, unlike the Americans in Baghdad have been trying to stabilize the situation in Basra after nasty shootouts. Some say the British are expert in Iraq because it was their colony in the 18th Century or was it the 19th?

Typically, the British army had appointed a tribal chief, "determined to be credible" and provides civilian leadership. Another faction/clan leader, Somalia-style? Just wondering.

Adding punch to their stiff upper lip promise of self-rule the British Army created a cordon sanitaire around Basra and Najaf, because as far as they were concerned, almost every Iraqi was a potential Saddam Hussein sympathizer at heart.

They were probably right. Sporadic gunfire by snipers on rooftops continued in the shantytowns, unabated.

In Somalia there is no worse comparison.

BANKNOTES AS CONFETTI

If you haven't stomped on crispy banknotes and shiny coins you missed the train. I had the thrill of walking on them in front of the gutted Somali National Bank in 1991, and the feeling was surreal, so perfect, I had to step on millions of brand new 100 shilling banknotes to feel them myself, to convince myself it is not carpet. The feeling makes your head spin… weep and laugh at the same time.

You bitterly recall how you had slaved a whole month just to earn some of these pieces of papers, and now they are as worthless as toilet papers. The Iraqis must have watched on their TV screens in 1991 Somali looters throwing these banknote in the air like confetti. And now they are replicating them.

Paradoxically, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair will have an encounter with Homer Simpson in London. The Prime Minister will star as an animated version of himself in an episode of The Simpsons to read a few lines for the hit American cartoon TV series. So much for a stiff upper lip!

THE BRIGHT STAR IN BAGHGDAD

Of course opinions and views vary in a war, depending on what media you are getting your information from, or who is reporting them, but I will say kudos to Raage Omaar, our boy in Baghdad. He beat off the so-called veteran war correspondents with his first class scoops. He certainly deserves a Pulitzer Prize for his unwavering live dispatches from a very dangerous environment. Undaunted by the bunk bursting missiles exploding around him, Raage continues to report the war day in and day out and we wish him a safe return to his family and friends.

Profiling Raage Omaar, the highly respected British daily The Observer said: "Confronted by daily news broadcast that details the killing each other -the British public can be relied upon to focus on some bright star. In this war that bright star is the Somali born Raage Omaar. Little wonder his fan clubs is growing, here and in the US."

Now to the Somali Peace Talks that have been baffling many of us since October last year, but now it seems that the only piece of news coming from the warthog infested Mbagathi is the transition of Farah Sindaco from the sports ground to the political arena as another faction leader.

Nothing new about that: remember there is already full house of warlords/faction leaders with only standing room left, and that one more faction leader would make no difference, only to prolong the shouting match.
Welcome aboard, Farah Sindaco!


M.M. Afrah 2003
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com

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Mr. Afrah is an outspoken Author/Journalist and a member of the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) and the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). He contributes hard-hitting articles to Canadian and international newspapers and magazines on the Somalia situation "through the eyes of a man who covered the country for more than two decades".

Many of us remember his critical articles in his weekly English language HEEGAN newspaper, despite a mandatory self-censorship introduced by Guddiga Baarista Hisbiga Xisbiga Hantiwadaagga Somaaliyeed in 1984 and the dreaded NSS. I am very proud to know that Mr. Afrah openly defied the draconian censorship laws and went ahead to write what he thought was wrong in the country. He received several death threats from the warlords and was briefly held hostage by gunmen in 1993. But he remained defiant and continued to send his stories of carnage and destruction to Reuters news agency. He still is!
info@banadir.com

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