Famine in Somalia Ought to Lead Us to Rethink War on Terror

In the US, most of the news on Somalia in recent days has focused on the war on terror. First, there was the arrest of alleged al-Shabaab figure Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame. Then there was Jeremy Scahill’s important piece on the CIA’s black site in Somalia. And then the push to conflate al-Shabaab with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with al Qaeda.

Somalia, you see, is all about the war on terror.

Except that it’s also the focal point of what the UN has now declared is a growing famine in the Horn of Africa.

Which really ought to make us question our priorities globally.

Check out the list of factors behind the famine.

The current crisis in southern Somalia is driven by a combination of factors:-

  • The total failure of the October‐December Deyr rains (secondary season) and the poor performance of the April‐June Gu rains (primary season) have resulted in crop failure, reduced labor demand, poor livestock body conditions, and excess animal mortality
  • Local cereal prices across the south are far above average, more than 2 to 3 times 2010 prices in some areas, and continue to rise. As a result, both livestock to cereal and wage to cereal terms of trade have deteriorated substantially. Across all livelihoods, poor households (~30 percent of the population) are unable to meet basic food needs and have limited ability to cope with these food deficits
  • During July, FSNAU conducted 17 representative nutrition and mortality surveys across southern Somalia; results are available for 11 surveys. The prevalence of acute malnutrition exceeds 20 percent in all areas and is higher than 38 percent (with severe acute malnutrition higher than 14 percent) in 9 of the 11 survey areas. The highest recorded levels of acute malnutrition are in Bay, Bakool, and Gedo (agropastoral) where the GAM prevalence exceeds 50 percent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has verified these findings
  • Population‐wide death rates are above the famine threshold (2/10,000/day) in two areas (Bakool agropastoral, and all areas of Lower Shabelle) and are elevated across the south. Under‐5 death rates are higher than 4/10,000/day in all areas of the south where data is available, peaking at 13‐20/10,000/day in riverine and agropastoral areas of Lower Shabelle. Tens of thousands of people have died in the past three months.l


One of these issues–the 2-300% increase in cereal prices–can be tied at least partly to commodity speculation, the gambling over foodstuffs that helps companies like Goldman Sachs get richer.

And the part of that price increase that doesn’t come from commodity speculation–that is, the part of that price increase tied to real market issues–derives largely from catastrophic weather. The failed rains in East Africa are just one part of that. More important to the world market are the drought and fires in Russia and the floods in Australia. And while we can’t prove that the last year’s freakish weather is a very tangible sign that climate change has started to affect our day-to-day life, there’s little doubt that climate change is a big part of it.

Now, you can’t actually separate al-Shabaab’s presence in Somalia from its famine; the absence of a functioning government, after all, is what leads to famine. And al-Shabaab’s presence makes it more difficult for aid organizations to work.

But it’s unclear that launching drone strikes on Somalia is the best way we can help them. It’s probably not even within the top 10. And whatever our counterterrorism presence in Somalia, focusing on that–but not on the financial and behavioral things the developed world does that exacerbates this crisis–ignores some of the most important underlying causes.

16 replies
  1. mzchief says:

    Gosh, I wonder how long US tax payers have been footing the bill for that nasty little black site in and the US’ war on Somalia?

    Pearls” by Sade (Live)

  2. Goldpearl says:

    hi ew/marcy

    just found out about ew.net, had a look around & wanted to drop you & bmaz a note of congrats on your new digs.

    not a frequent poster (i lurk), been reading you/watching you (as in the daily videos posted on the lake after court), since 2003? 2004? & bmaz since he started posting his legal sanity on the lake.

    i like it here. seems quieter, more serene.

    i’ll be back.

    all the best to you both ~ g.p.

    back to radio silence

  3. BoxTurtle says:

    We’re not trying to help the Somali population. We’re trying to kill anybody we can connect to AQ, maintain our black sites, and keep the WoT going.

    Any “help” they receive from us is likely a two edged sword.

    Boxturtle (You want food. We want scary stories about AQ. They don’t have to be true. Deal?)

  4. Garrett says:

    The push about al-Shabaab is a major once. I’m hearing it in the background on NPR at the moment.

    It’s the illegitimacy problem again. They are feeding us stuff they don’t themselves believe:

    But the administration does not consider the United States to be at war with every member of the Shabab, officials said. Rather, the government decided that Mr. Warsame and a handful of other individual Shabab leaders could be made targets or detained because they were integrated with Al Qaeda or its Yemen branch and were said to be looking beyond the internal Somali conflict.

    “Certain elements of Al Shabab, including its senior leaders, adhere to Al Qaeda’s ideology and could conduct attacks outside of Somalia in East Africa, as it did in Uganda in 2010, or even outside the region to further Al Qaeda’s agenda,” said a senior administration official. “For its leadership and those other Al Qaeda-aligned elements of Al Shabab, our approach is quite clear: They are not beyond the reach of our counterterrorism tools.”

    U.S. Tests New Approach to Terrorism Cases on Somali Suspect

  5. harpie says:

    wrt: the supposed connection between al-Shabaab and AQAP, here’s the link to a comment I made at GG’s site.
    The comment includes the link to Gregory Johnsen’s blog.

  6. lysias says:

    Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, the new prime minister of the puppet Somali government in Mogadishu, is a Harvard-educated economist with dual Somali and U.S. citizenship who has worked for, among other institutions, the World Bank and George Mason University. Upon taking office, he swore to combat terrorism.

  7. PeasantParty says:

    Everything that we have our tentacles in across the world is not helping anybody. In fact, the US is not helping itself! Why would this country allow the disentigration that we are having economically, educationally, and news to the public unless the PTB are actively trying to destroy the country?

  8. Seedee Vee says:

    “Now, you can’t actually separate al-Shabaab’s presence in Somalia from its famine; the absence of a functioning government, after all, is what leads to famine. And al-Shabaab’s presence makes it more difficult for aid organizations to work.”

    You are not quite coming out and making a concise point here.

    Are you saying that if al-Shabaab was the functioning government there would be less of a chance of famine?

    Please comment on — (see http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2010/03/2010324103733512123.html –“Group claims credit for crop yield UN says will be best in seven years.”)

    Are you saying al-Shabaab could never be the functioning government? Due to constant foreign intervention? Or?

    It is well known that massive dumps of foreign aid, whether cash or in kind, will massively disrupt local economies and any local attempt at planning. Why should any local government, whether al-Shabaab or the Grand Rapids City Commission, be forced to accept the whims of an unregulated foreign aid orginization?

    I understand that you are not fond of “launching drone strikes on Somalia”, disaster capitalism or terrorists, but the para that I have quoted just seemed a little . . . off.

    Do you think that any “Islamist” group could ever effectively govern?

  9. emptywheel says:

    I’m not making a comment on whether Islamists–a term I wouldn’t use–can effectively govern.

    I’m making a comment on the US policies that tend to destabilize countries, without first fixing our own actions that exacerbate things including but not limited to conditions that encourage terrorism.

  10. EoH says:

    It seems fairly obvious that the USG’s definition of “stability” – as it applies to foreign states and territories in which we claim an interest – is an invented one. As is true of domestic US politics, the objectives no longer include what’s good or beneficial for the locals or even in the long term interests of the country, its neighbors or the United States.

    The motivating forces are more immediate and short term and boil down to this: “We do whatever the fuck we want when we want and how we want. We don’t have objectives, we have orders.”

    To the extent there is a plan, it’s closer to the “plan” the Gang of Six is pursuing over orchestrating the ugly thing that will pass for this year’s debt ceiling “compromise”. The plan is to keep “doing”, to keep driving tax dollars toward private sector intel-defense networks and to keep employing them to do more. As with other merry-go-rounds, this one substitutes speed for progression. This one, too, seems likely to end the way its counterpart did in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

  11. Seedee Vee says:

    Thanks for your response.

    I agree that the US Gov’t, much like many in the private business sector, puts too much emphasis on short term “fixes” and not enough on long term planning.

    If you have the time can you explain the reluctance to use the term “islamist”?

    The term does have a generally accepted dictionary definition and it does not include any negative references.

  12. PeasantParty says:

    Seedee Vee,

    I won’t answer for Emptywheel on this one, but I will give you my reason for not using that word. It is because our government, in particular the war mongers and NeoCons have used the word in such a way to degrade it and the Islamic peoples. Anything with an “ist” coming out of Washington denotes the enemy.

  13. Seedee Vee says:


    I accept you explanation.

    I expect you have a “Zionist” exception for the neocons.

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