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Toronto (Canada)

April, 30. 2004


M. M. Afrah

Warlords are reputed to be greedy, twisted souls who enjoy living in luxury five star hotels in Nairobi, Addis and Rome, among other capitals, while the people at home live in poverty and die young. They struggle for survival; few relish life and make it to adulthood. Only remittances from relatives abroad stand between them and starvation, but they share what little they receive to members of the extended family, friends and neighbours. That's progress. But what about the overwhelming majority who do not receive remittances from the Somalis in the Diaspora, and who live from hand to mouth?

They are treated as squatters and beggars in their own country. As for the warlords, they never had it so good. No wonder they are striving to keep the status quo with the entire arsenal at their disposal.

Periodically, we each hear a story that makes our stomachs churn. Last week gunmen loyal to one of the warlords broke into the home of an 80-year-old grandmother, murdered her and her two teenage grandchildren in cold blood and got away with the 50 dollars her son sent that same day from the U.S., according to one of the local radio stations. Another man was kidnapped presumably by the same young gunmen for ransom, and was later released after his clan paid the ransom, according to the radio station. It said the man was the sole witness of the macabre murder and was mad at the young gunmen. Kidnapping, the radio commentator said, is the young gunmen's idea of good life these days, and getting mad at their godfathers (the warlords) is not a good idea if you ever wanted to survive in Mogadishu.

Emma Goldman, an up-front peace activist, felt that "all wars are among thieves who are too cowardly to fight and induce young men to fight for them." I guess Ms. Emma had the Somali warlords in mind.

The hardest hit, however, is the more than the one million internally displaced persons (IDP) who are living in squalid lean-tos in Mogadishu, where poor sanitary conditions encouraged epidemic such as the current outbreak, and the thousands of war orphans who were previously sheltered, fed and schooled by Al-Haramein, a charity organization based in Saudi Arabia, before it was closed down by order of the world's only superpower for having links with terrorist organizations. But that's another story.

These internally displaced persons, mostly the Rahan-weyn and the Jareer, otherwise known as the Somali Bantus were caught in clan feuds during the civil/clan wars. Then these warring clans, mainly from Gedo and the central province, took the farming area from each other in a running bloody battle. The area had changed hands each time there is renewed clan warfare, and as a result the supplies of food dramatically dwindled. It was a man-made disaster in the making.

Now feeding these internally displaced persons from the hinterland (formerly Somalia's breadbasket) had become a logistical nightmare for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Somali Red Crescent Society and other local NGOs. International NGOs withdrew from the country because of security concerns.


Kenyan Foreign Minister Steven Kalonzo has been turning the Somali peace talks on its head to show how upset is the international community over the feet dragging of some warlords and faction leaders and those who boycotted the talks.

In a press statement this week in the naïve hope of proceeding phase III of the talks, Mr. Kalonzo candidly said the peace talks would proceed, come what may. But if that fails mediators from IGAD will decide May 6 whether to continue with the talks or hand the process over to the United Nations Security Council, "because mediators and international donors are fed up with twists and turns of the talks," adding that the Security Council has the power to impose sanctions on the warlords and factional leaders if the talks do not continue.

Now, the question is: who is preventing the UN Security Council from imposing sanctions on the warlords and factional leaders who have been obstructing the smooth running of the peace talks right from the start? If I remember correctly the same UN Security Council had already threatened the warlords with sanctions couple of months ago, but failed to make any dent so far. Instead it produced a sullen wait-and-see attitude in the Somalia situation. You could call it an international conspiracy of silence.

The problem with the talks from day one is lousy management systems; lousy financial information systems, kickbacks, animosity among IGAD member states and the Somali factional leaders. As a result many people couldn't keep track of what's going on in that circus. The outmaneuvered members of the civil society did not hide their suspicion that a stakeholder, hand-in-glove with some powerful warlords, is pulling the string behind the scene.

Then there's the clan acrimony and mistrust "The problem is, who becomes president, who becomes prime minister, who will have an advantage from the sub sub-clan level," Mr. Kalonzo lamented.

We Somalis have been doing the clan sub, sub clan thing for centuries, and it never occurs to us to change our way of life. But like many Africans, including Mr. Kalonzo's own Wakamba tribe, it is our idea of good life. Or better still life insurance coverage.

One day our children and grandchildren would outgrow it and laugh at us, hopefully.

By M. M. Afrah©2004

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