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Experts say poverty alone can’t account for troubles Byline: Ed Timms Credit: Staff Writer of The Dallas Morning News Section: NEWS Edition: HOME FINAL Page Number: 1A Word Count: 1917 Dateline: SHAABO, Somalia First of two parts SHAABO, Somalia -- The faces of famine haunt the Horn of Africa. U.N. officials have estimated that hunger and disease threaten almost 23 million, or at least one in five, people in the region. In spite of massive relief efforts, death claims several hundred people daily. Seven-year-old Ali Mukhtar Issack is one of those faces, pained and cadaverous. He recently walked more than 75 miles with his mother and five siblings to the village of Shaabo, a jumble of mud and thatch huts beside a dirt road in southern Somalia. His family’s home had been burned and its crops looted by the soldiers of ousted Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. His father died of starvation. In Shaabo, dry rations provided by CARE International meant that his family could survive for at least a few more days. In other villages and towns across the Horn, survival is a day-to-day struggle, and one that is often lost. Somalia’s famine is only one on a tragic list. In the mid-1980s, world attention focused on a famine in Ethiopia. Then, a brutal civil war and famine in Sudan was in the spotlight. Why so often the Horn? Its troubles are many, biblical in proportion and seemingly without end. The five countries in the region -- Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Djibouti and Kenya -- have suffered repeated droughts. In some areas,
an expanding desert is consuming land that once sustained crops, a problem exacerbated by over-population, over-grazing, over-planting and de-forestation. Interminable civil war, sparked by ethnic and religious differences, has disrupted trading routes and ravaged food-producing areas. Even those countries that have escaped the full brunt of civil war and famine, such as Kenya and Djibouti, nonetheless are affected. “Problems slosh across the borders,” said Terrence Lyons, a senior research analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Refugees, gun supplies, instability in the form of political or religious ideology.” The Horn’s countries rank among the poorest in the world. But that alone, analysts say, does not explain the pattern of drought, famine and death. “Famines are all ultimately man-made, whether it’s Sudan, Ethiopia or Somalia,” said Jeffrey Clark, an independent consultant to the U.S. Committee for Refugees. “If you look at other countries, in Africa or elsewhere, they’re able to survive droughts if they don’t have political complications.” Colonial legacies Parts of those political complications are a legacy from former colonial powers in Africa, who defined many of the national borders still in existence. The Horn, like many areas of Africa, is home to scores of ethnicities. In many cases, the borders reflected a colonial power’s sphere of influence rather than any commonality in language, culture or religion. Before World War II, at least three foreign flags flew over land inhabited by modern-day Somalis. The French controlled what is now Djibouti, and the British and the Italians split the rest, north and south. Somalia in its current borders was born only after the war. The Ogaden region of Ethiopia is heavily populated by ethnic
Somalis, and pockets of ethnic Somalis are found in Kenya. Under British rule, Sudan’s Muslim north and Christian and animist south were administered differently. Ethiopia’s history is one primarily of turbulent self-rule. But especially in this century, foreign influence has been substantial. Italy invaded Ethiopia during the 1930s. The West and the East bought friendship, with weaponry and other forms of aid, from the 1950s until recently. Ethnic diversity By some estimates, Ethiopia is home to about 100 ethnicities speaking more than 70 languages. It is also divided by religion, with large numbers of Muslims, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and animists. Eritrea, to the north, was denied autonomy by an Italian occupation until World War II. Ethiopia’s annexation of Eritrea led to a protracted war that ended when the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front defeated government forces. With a number of other opposition groups, it formed the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and overthrew the Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. Those groups included the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, representing a northern Ethiopian ethnic group also targeted by Mr. Mengistu. Land use, drought and government policy were catalysts for the downfall of the Mengistu regime and that of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. Historians say Emperor Selassie rewarded loyalty with large tracts of land, while the plight of poor farm families worsened until his government fell amid a massive famine. John Prendergast, a research associate with the Center of Concern, a human-rights organization in Washington, noted in a report this year that beginning in 1983, the Mengistu government “implemented an immense and brutal scheme of social engineering,” forcibly re-settling “close to 1 million people from the rebellious northern highlands to areas in the south and west of the country.” In the process, relief organizations have estimated, at least 100,000 people died. In the mid-1980s, 12 million Ethiopians were forced into planned communities to work communal lands that provided food for Ethiopia’s
army, at the expense of their own crops. Under Mr. Mengistu’s version of Marxism, Mr. Prender-gast wrote, farmers were required to sell 75 percent of their produce to the state at fixed prices. One of the first steps of the transitional government that succeeded Mr. Mengistu was to take Ethiopia toward a more market-oriented economy and to grant farmers the use of individual plots of land. But researchers predict that Ethiopia will still be threatened with famine through 2000. Sudan’s plight Famine continues to curse Sudan as well, a country bitterly divided along ethnic and religious lines. To the north, Sudan is mostly Arab in ethnicity. The southern population is sub-Saharan African. The north is overwhelmingly Muslim, and the southern Sudanese are mostly animist, with some Christians and Muslims. When Britain governed Sudan, the teaching of Arabic was prohibited in the south, and Christian missionaries were discouraged from proselytizing in the north. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), dominated by Dinka tribesmen, controls large areas in southern Sudan in a conflict that is rooted in 19th-century slave trading, when Arab Sudanese worked with European and Egyptian slaving expeditions to the south. The SPLA also has been accused of being intolerant of other ethnicities within areas that it controls. The ethnic differences have been exacerbated by Gen. Omer el-Bashir’s dictatorial enforcement of a fundamentalist version of Islamic law that includes flogging, amputation and stoning as punishments. Conflict between Arab and African Sudanese also has occurred in portions of western Sudan. Drought has compelled the Arab nomads to move their livestock into areas that are home to African farmers before their crops have been harvested, and the animals are destroying the crops. Somalia’s clans
In spite of the fact that most Somalis are homogeneous in religion and culture, loyalty to familial clans, especially in the south, has fragmented the country and crippled relief efforts to end its famine. Relief supplies repeatedly have been looted by gunmen. Transport of food overland is deemed too dangerous by relief workers, and airlifts cannot supply enough food to stop the starvation. Relief organizations typically employ Somalis to staff food kitchens. “A lot of these kitchens are run by different clans, and they won’t let some people in,” said Mary Jane Hammond, a CARE International worker in Baidoa. Last week, the United Nations evacuated 20 relief workers from the southern port of Kismayu after disputes with a local militia. The Associated Press reported that the militia demanded that the United Nations and two private relief organizations hire only members of its clan as employees. John Drysdale, who spent two decades in Somalia in the British diplomatic service and as an adviser to three Somali prime ministers, noted in a 1991 report, “It is not for nothing that every child of eight years is expected to be able to recite his or her genealogy through the male line some 20 or even 30 generations back to a common ancestor.” Shortly after World War II, Somali political groups sought to diminish clan loyalties, viewing them as divisive. But former Somali dictator Siad Barre, who ruled for 21 years, reportedly fomented distrust and division among the clans to reduce the likelihood of unified opposition. Opposition to his government ultimately overcame many clan differences, and rebel forces overthrew the Siad Barre regime in January 1991. Country split Soon afterward, however, the country fragmented, with familial clans vying for power. Members of the Isaak clan in the north, frequently the targets of government oppression, had begun rebelling against Gen. Siad Barre’s
rule long before his overthow. The Somali National Movement, formed from the Isaak clan, declared an independent “Somaliland” -- still unrecognized as a legitimate government by Somalis in the south and by other countries -- within months of his ouster. In the south, two subclans of the Hawiye clan that once shared a common enemy in Gen. Siad Barre now oppose each other: one headed by Ali Mahdi Mohamed, self-proclaimed interim president of Somalia, the other by his former military chief of staff, Gen. Mohamed Farah Aidid. Fighting has displaced the rural families that grew Somalia’s crops and raised livestock, which also were the targets of looting. Destitute, the rural families began migrating to the cities in search of work and food. Relief workers want the rural families to return to their land and plant crops so the cycle of famine can be broken. Even if the factionalism ends and the famine is brought under control, Somalia faces a bleak future. A quarter of its children are dead, and many of the survivors face death or crippling after-effects from starvation and disease. Schools have not operated for more than a year. Government institutions, such as a system of justice, are in ruins. Utility poles are stripped of electrical cables, and water pipes have been looted and sold abroad. “It’s like they’ve been knocked into the Middle Ages,” said Mr. Clark, who worked with the late U.S. Rep. Mickey Leland, D-Houston, on the staff of the House Select Committee on Hunger. Mr. Clark said the undermining of traditional societal structures and leaders “has left people, particularly in Somalia, rather rudderless.” One result is that women and children, once largely excluded from Somalia’s violence, increasingly have become targets. Relief workers report that a growing number of Somali women who are raped are shunned by their families. “The various warlords and clan chiefs, and subclan chiefs, are really losing control over their own militia as more and more of these uneducated, untrained, high on qat (a narcotic widely used in Somalia) young men with automatic weapons roam at will and do as they please,” Mr. Clark said.
Political pawn In addition to the regional differences, the Horn served as a chessboard for geo-politics. The Cold War superpowers coveted military bases in the region because of its proximity to Red Sea shipping lanes and for decades courted the Horn’s dictators. The United States and the Soviet Union, among others, helped escalate the lethality of regional conflicts by supplying automatic rifles and cannon that replaced spears and arrows. Even after the Cold War thawed, private enterprise provided an uninterrupted supply of weapons. “There are villages in southern Sudan where the only modern thing you see is a gun -- everything else is traditional,” said Abdul Mohamed, a relief worker based in Kenya. “None of us manufactured these guns. We are a victim of the Cold War. “And in Somalia, everybody is a hostage of the gun.”