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TALKING POINT : WHAT IS THE DEATH TOLL IN SOMALIA'S CIVIL/CLAN WARS 1991-2004?

TALKING POINT BY
M.M. AFRAH
Toronto (Canada)

29, Jan. 2004

WHAT IS THE DEATH TOLL IN SOMALIA'S CIVIL/CLAN WARS 1991-2004?

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

"How can a beret coloured blue erase, just like that the prejudices of conservative officers from Sweden, Canada or Britain?
How does a blue armband vaccinate against the racism and paternalism of people whose only vision of Africa is lion hunting, slave markets and colonial conquest; people for whom the history of civilization is built on the possession of colonies?
Naturally they would understand the Belgians. They have the same past, the same history, the same lust for our wealth."

Patrice Lumumba
The first Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, 1961.

**************

REMINICENSES - AN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS - PART 8

Some armchair "do-gooders" in Western Europe (Amnesty International and the United Nations in New York, for example) now raise the question: "What is the death toll in Somalia since 1991?"

It is not easy to find an answer. To begin with, no record was ever kept of people who died as a result of the mass murder in the civil/clan wars compounded with man-made famine, starvation and disease, such as cholera and malaria, to mention only few.

Somalia offers a striking example of the international politics of inertia and forgetting. Somalia is not unique. In Rwanda, for example, over a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus have been massacred by Hutu extremists. The difference between the two countries, however, is that in Rwanda, some brave European NGO officials who risked their own lives painstakingly kept record of the death toll and the names of those who were responsible for this heinous crime.

These horrible and gruesome stories never made the Headline News or the front pages of the Western media until it was too late. Farcically, a man who had killed another man's pet dog was conspicuously splashed on the front pages of most newspapers here in Canada!

In Somalia the warlords went to extraordinary lengths to prevent independent outsiders to enter the country and the movements of those few NGO officials, who remained in the smoking carcass of the capital, such as Oxfam, the Red Cross and Save the Children, have been severely curtailed, or reduced to certain areas. Some are killed and their vehicles commandeered by the deadly Mooryaan. A journalist from the French news agency (AFP) said that he was threatened with death for describing the atrocities to one of the main Mogadishu warlords. "You will be the next victim if you are not careful about what you say or write," he was told.

Another journalists from the Arab News (the first from the Arab World to visit Somalia) said: "The Somali warlords are like the Israeli military-they never see or now about the sufferings they cause."

To sum it up, the killing was/is of strictly genocidal proportion as one warlord or another is deliberately trying to eliminate one particular clan from the face of the Earth in a bid to rule what little was left of the country. The image of innocent women, children and elderly lying in a pool of blood is burned into my memory.

The killings still continue to this day with no end in sight.

I have often said in this column that the warlords who are primarily responsible for this ongoing genocide are often not the bold, bluff, hardy men of legend, but restless, unhappy, driven many the flight from something in their past as many of them were lackeys of the former military dictator and had committed serious human rights violations in the name of the Revolution and Scientific Socialism, with blessing from Moscow in the 1970s/1980s. There are plenty of people who remember what the warlords used to do during Siyad Barre's heydays-how they earned their living.

As these warlords lumber about like the Hunch Back of Notre Dam, they are aware that their days are coming to an end. Hence their desperate attempt to keep the status quo, come what may.

It is a well-known fact that the killing fields started long before the military regime was toppled in 1990/91. A case in point is the mass graves at the Jesira Beach where hundreds of Northerners (specifically the Isaaq clan) were buried after murdering them in cold blood by the dreaded Presidential bodyguards, the Red Berets, and the NSS death squads.

This grisly mass killing was followed by the destruction of Hargeisa by hired white Rhodesian mercenary pilots, after the Hawiye pilots of the Somali Air Force mutinied against their commanding officer. One of the pilot bombers, Lt. Colonel Ahmed, (called the Hero of Hargeisa) ditched his bombs on the mouth of the Red Sea and landed his Soviet-era Mig at Djibouti airport and sought asylum there (WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF HARGEISA? (Talking Point).
"The original mission of the Somali National Army was to protect the nation from external aggression. I was trained to fight against an enemy force not my own people; my decision was firm to risk dying rather than bombarding civilians and their property," Lieutenant Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Hassan of the Abgal clan told the British newspaper Guardian on Friday, July 15,1988.

Throughout history, people with blood on their hands use a lot of excuses when cornered, such as: "I was obeying orders." One wonders whose orders the warlords were obeying after the demise of the military regime more than a decade ago? But Colonel Ahmed Mohamed Hassan of the defunct Somali Air Force heroically defied such orders. The Colonel currently lives in the Netherlands with spotless conscience

And so estimating the number of casualties in Somalia, (both South and North), and who was responsible today requires considerable historical detective work, not endless debates by people who never set foot on the country during the genocide.

Cities, towns and villages in the country were awash in corpses, sometimes literally. The Red Cross, in collaboration with the surviving officials of the Somali Red Crescent Society (bless them), recorded some of the death toll, but not all, as many people hastily buried their loved ones in shallow graves with the words "It is the will of God," their teeth chattering like castanets. The unlucky ones were left where they died, unburied.

In Somalia nobody had the time to bury the dead or attend the wounded in one of the worst carnages in living memory. The clan gunmen, who proved to be horrifying monsters that send shivers down the spine stole and expropriated everything from homes whose owners fled the inferno to farms, livestock and national asset. They massacred villagers and put their homes to the torch and kidnapped young women and girls as young as 12 in the process. In this carnage thousands of unwarlike Somali Bantus or Gosha people perished from famine and extermination by different militia gunmen from other provinces.
"They are like locusts", said an old man who lost everything. He said they left him for dead after wiping out his family.

To the warlords and their militia gunmen power is particularly tempting, and in a sense no power is greater than the ability to take someone's life. Once underway, mass killing is hard to stop, it becomes a kind of sport, like hunting. Ironically, the same warlords often preach peace and reconciliation at never-ending fruitless conferences. A palpable example is the current gathering at Mbagathi, which some foreign media dubbed as the "Circus of the Century."

Evidently, these talks hold less promise than did previous ones. Far from providing basis for reconciliation and return to the rule of law, the situation in many parts of the country is deteriorating as the recent fighting in Merca, Shalambod and the Central Province for, example, illustrates the warlords' antics.

Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Africa Watch did not lift a finger to condemn the more than a decade of upheaval described by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the world's greatest human tragedy since World War Two. The same inertia applies to the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) (now AU), the Arab League, the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO) and other regional and international organizations until it was too late. Even then it was too little and too late. The 1993 ill-fated humanitarian intervention by the United Nations and the Americans (Operation Restore Hope and UNOSOM I and II) put more fuel to the raging inferno, as we recall, forcing them to eventually pull out prematurely, leaving the vulnerable people to the vultures. .

Now read carefully recent news stories in some of the Western media. The same "humanitarian interventionists" of yesteryears are more concerned now about the appearance of what they call "Muslim terrorists" (read: Osama bin Ladin's Al-Qaeda network) in Somalia than the disappearance of the Somali people into a dark abyss.

It would take several generations to heal these wounds. But one thing is also clear; the ghosts of the warlords would not vanish so easily. These robber barons a.k.a. warlords/war criminals would remain a chapter in Somalia's dark history for generations to come.


My fellow journalists/authors, Aidan Hartley (The Zanzibar Chest), James Schofield (Silent Over Africa, Stories of War and Genocide) and Scott Peterson (Me Against My Brother), who visited Somalia at the height of the carnage found that death and destruction did not break the spirit of the Somali people: "They are one of the most informed society on earth and could break the world record in endurance. They are wrestling with tremendous trauma," wrote James Schofield.

These are books stamped with memories of death but restorative of faith in life, and the authors, an American, a Briton and an Australian has written these books for all of us to read.

In Mogadishu one often hears the word Bililiqeysi repeatedly, a slang meaning to get something illegally. It meant to steal or loot other peoples' properties. Most of the properties acquired in this way are openly sold in open-air makeshift markets. In some cases you are bound to buy your looted properties from the same armed sellers who looted them in the first place, or else…

Scott Peterson, the American Journalist/Author, mentioned above, said Mogadishu is not alone. "It is reminiscent to postwar Berlin-minus the heavily armed street vendors," he said

Of course we have only ourselves to blame for the prevailing chaos and lawlessness, but I believe that there are still decent human beings in the World who would come to rescue the long-suffering people of Somalia from the jaws of starvation and premature death perpetrated by few gun-toting demons, and help the surviving Somalis put the pieces together.

The question that kept bugging me for quite sometime is Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). In Somalia hunger, disease, trauma and grief are Weapons of Mass Destruction.

One day, as bullets whistled over our heads in North Mogadishu, Mohamed Ali Kaariye, the renowned Somali playwright and song composer, showed me the lyrics of a song he has written to the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the Arab League and Amnesty International. The song was full of despair and anger:

It burns, brothers, it burns.
Our little house (Somalia) is on fire,
And you are standing with folded arms,
While it burns.

His face hard, the dark eyes flashed angry sparks. I shall never forget that face.
"Mahadsanid Walaal for the song. I'll keep it with me and never forget it," I told him, and we parted ways silently. That was 1992, also known as the year the killing field started in earnest.

It was clear Kaariye's patience was wearing thin and his hopes for peace were dwindling. Apparently he hated the rotten bunch that destroyed a country once known as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, the land of Myrrh and Frankincense.

By M. M. Afrah©2004
Email: afrah95@hotmail.com
END OF SERIES
NEXT WEEK "ESCAPE FROM MOGADISHU". Don't miss it!

A Note from the Webmaster:
Reuter's long time correspondent M. M. Afrah was there when military dictator, Major-General Mohamed Siad Barre came to power in a military and police coup in October 1969. He was there when General Barre was ousted from power by poorly armed youths in beach sandals, calling themselves the militia of the United Somali Congress (USC). He was there when US Marines and Army Rangers stormed the beaches of Mogadishu in December 1992 to spearhead an international task force code named "Operation Restore Hope." And he was there to see them leave. He watched as their initial goodwill turn into impotent rage, and saw their efforts to impose Western-style democracy end in fiasco.

It cost the UN and the United States billions of Dollars and the lives of several UN and US soldiers end up in body bags. The cost to Afrah was one of his sons and the loss of his home, which, received a direct, hit from a T55 Soviet-era tank as a signal to desist reporting the carnage in his native country to the world.

In an article in the British edition of Esquire magazine of April 1995 Aidan Hartley, who worked with Afrah in Africa, described his frontline reporting as Bravery under Fire.

Mr. Afrah told colleagues at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Nairobi: "There's a total anarchy in Somalia. You can't tell who is shooting at whom and why. It is like driving around a Mad Max movie set."

James Schofield in his book "Silent Over Africa, Stories of War and Genocide," wrote: "I found congenial colleague in M. M. Afrah, Reuters long time correspondent in the city, who had survived both the destruction of his own home and the personal tragedy of his son's death, and continues to file stories to his bureau throughout the civil war.

Mogadishu was a place of war. Foreign correspondents who went there encountered dangers and witnessed horror and were glad to get away. It takes much longer to understand what that suffering means. To Somali journalist, like Afrah, this was their life, their people."
-The Webmaster bandir.com


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