05, July 2003
SOMALIA'S EXODUS - "IT'S TOO MUCH FOR US. LET'S MOVE!"
M. M. Afrah
YES, I DO REMEMBER
1990/91 hundreds of thousands of Somalis began streaming into
the potholed and bomb-scared streets of Mogadishu en mass,
ducking bullets, mortars and artillery shells.
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said more than
500,000 people left their burning homes to the looters, cram
few personal belongings into rickety trucks, (Land Cruisers
for the well-to-do and donkey carts for the underdogs,) and
hit the road.
Hargeisa, as in Mogadishu and other major cities and towns,
the scenario was too familiar, death doom and destruction
caused by people without a shred of human feeling.
Mogadishu many are seen trudging on the Afgoi Road under
sweltering sun, with everything they owned strapped to their
backs. And like everything else, the expectant mothers, the
infirm, the sick and mentally retarded people at Lazaretto
Hospital were left behind to fend for themselves.
Red Cross and the other few NGOs still in the city were caught
up with their pants down; they had no time or resources to
build temporary shelters for the river of people. The United
Nations evacuated its personnel when the first short was fired
during the popular uprising against General Barre’s military
regime. The General himself fled his seat of power when the
insurgency gathered momentum in Mogadishu.
refugee crisis in Africa! The BBC’s Focus on Africa said.
of militia gunmen changed their lean-to abodes to the luxury
villas owned by the fleeing government officials and business
people. As if that was not enough they looted everything that
was not nailed down. And when that was done with the gunmen
pulled down the national monuments to sell them as scrape
metals to the new riches (the war profiteers), dug up water
pipes, pulled down electrical and telephone wires. It was free
for all with no holds barred.
brave souls who remained in the smoldering city had to face
the anguish and the music of death, as the Somalis called the
sound of the bullets.
wrath and radiation of the warlords only made unwilling
victims of the Somali population. The wailing babies, denied
their milk by the gunmen and those crazed by the falling
mortars and artillery shells have stories to tell.
the people who got hurt are the poor, the old and families
with children, signs of hardship are already evident. Food and
drinking water become so scare that people are resorted to
slaughter their last remaining livestock and reopened long
sealed water wells.
became endemic throughout the city.
Red Cross and the Somali Red Crescent Society set up makeshift
emergency feeding centers, but the problem was far beyond
their abilities, as the city resembled the frenzy of an
anti-hill that has been kicked.
flared and shouting match, and sometimes fist fights, between
the food distributors and the hungry thousands ensued.
make matters worse, young gunmen disrupted the food
distributions at gunpoint and commandeered the trucks as they
were being unloaded. Some of the drivers who tried to protest
were shot in cold blood.
irony is how the rest of the world ignored the inferno that
was Somalia. In short, the world ignored everything unless
sanctioned by the United States or unless it is an oil rich
country. Even the BBC, which flaunts on negative coverage in
the Third World, remained mum.
ethnic killings and human suffering which the International
Committee of the Red Cross in its report described the
situation in Somalia as the world’s greatest human tragedy
since World War Two, should have convinced any bureaucrat in
the UN Headquarters that mass killings was underway in
Somalia. The UN Chief of peacekeeping was Kofi Annan, the
current Secretary-General. But for some unknown reason, Mr.
Annan and members of the Security Council shied away from
sending to Somalia robust UN peacekeepers with a mandate to
use force, if necessary, as provided by Rules of Engagements
under Article 7 of the United Nations.
death toll leapt from thousands to tens of thousands to
hundreds of thousands as the perpetrators moved from the
denuded capital to Somalia’s breadbasket driving their
ubiquitous Technicals (customized battle wagons) like
roller coaster, massacring farmers and pastoralists with
was genocide as spelled out in the Genocide Convention.
Article 1 of the Convention could not be clearer: all
signatories “express that genocide, whether committed in
time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under
international law which they undertake to prevent and
are fine words, indeed.
another world event more crucial to the Western oil interest
was unfolding thousands of miles away which probably
overshadowed the crisis in Somalia, the “Operation Desert
Storm” against Iraq, the mightiest of the Arab nations in
firepower invading oil-rich Kuwait next door and chasing both
its Emirs and citizens away barefooted and bewildered.
Hussein told the world he has done nothing but took back a
piece of land that always belonged to him. The rest is
that very moment every Somali in a makeshift bomb shelter
would have told you how it feels to be displaced and
dispossessed, of how maddening and unfair it is to be caught
in a cross fire, to be shot at, shelled, beaten and looted by
fellow Somali, just because he happened to belong to the wrong
clan and was at the wrong place; of how inadequate and
impotent a whole nation feels when slighted or totally exposed
to a news blackout; of how one sleeps to the chatter of
machine guns overhead and awakens to a cold fire.
all boils down that the international community under one
excuse or another wrote off Somalia and its long tormented
late October 1992, James Schofield, the first foreign TV
Cameraman/Reporter joined me in what he called “Hell’s
Gate” and he rolled and rolled and rolled his camera until
he was blue in the face. James said many of his countrymen and
women never heard names like Baidoa (The City of Death),
Belet-weyne, Kismayu or even Mogadishu.
people in the West and the rest of the world watched on their
TV screens emaciated and naked babies dying by the hundreds
daily of malnutrition. They watched dogs and rats feed on
decomposed bodies littered the streets of Mogadishu and Baidoa.
James deserved a Pulitzer Prize, but
the world attention was focused on Iraq and Kuwait for obvious
Schofield wrote in his book Silent Over
“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 in
London throughout the civil war. Mogadishu was a place of war.
Foreign journalists who went there encountered dangers and
witnessed horror and were glad to get away. It takes much
longer to understand what suffering means. To a Somali
journalist, like Afrah, this was their life, their people.”
by the gruesome images of Somalia on television throughout the
world, the United Nations finally reacted to resolve the
crisis. But it was too late and too little. By then the
streets were strewn with bodies of those too weak to walk, who
laid down to die, while clan gunmen hijacked whole food
convoys on the open roads.
An estimated 2.5 million people joined
the mass exodus, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries and
for the lucky ones as far as Western Europe, Australia, New
Zealand, Canada and the United States. Mass exodus means mass
starvation and death. Many died of disease, exhaustion,
thirsty and hunger during the long trek to refugee camps
hastily put up by refugee officials in a No Man’s Land in
the arid Northeastern Province of Kenya.
There was nothing there, but at least there was peace,
rock-solid bread and brackish water.
“We know they’re gone. We know
they’re dead. But we still don’t have any charge. You
journalists must name names,” Omar
Noor Elmi, the surviving father of a family of five, including
a nine months old baby, hit by a mortar shell as they slept in
their flimsy dwelling in 1993, lamented on camera.
was responsible for this unprecedented human tragedy in the
be continued ...