"OPERATION RESTORE HOPE," far from being a humanitarian mission to end starvation, was a calculating attempt to reassert U.S. dominance and funding for its military. The Operation benefitted from the moral veneer, painted by the media, which an examination of the timing, method and background to the Operation enables us to strip away.
In the first place, Washington's record on the whole African continent is clear and brutal enough that it should have fostered much more inquiry, public exposure and activism on this invasion. What the left has learned about the nature of imperialism—and Washington's role in Africa in particular, such as the funding of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands in Angola through its allies in UNITA and its complacent lack of concern over the South African-sponsored slaughter by RENAMO in Mozambique—should have provoked many more progressives to question Bush's intervention. Alexander Cockburn, as usual, hit the right note of skepticism when he quoted W.H. Auden's "Epitaph on a Tyrant" to describe Bush's crocodile tears over Somalia: 'And when he cried the little children died in the streets." ("Beat the Devil," The Nation, December 21, 1992)
In 1991 the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Save the Children in Britain warned that up to one quarter of Somali children would die from famine. In March 1992, the ICRC, the major relief agency in the country, found "horrifying levels of 90% moderate and severe malnutrition" in the area surrounding Belet Huen in central Somalia and in the camps of displaced people around Merca, south of Mogadishu.
One and a half million people in and around Mogadishu were expected to be affected by famine, and 4.5 million throughout the country as a whole. In July 1992 the ICRC found malnutrition rates in the central and southern region as high as 75% for severe malnutrition, and 95% for overall malnutrition).(1)
Peter J. Davies, President and CEO of InterAction, a coalition of 135 private agencies, explained to a September 1, 1992 press conference how the world was turning its back From October 1984 to March 1985, during the Ethiopian famine, InterAction and its affiliates received over $110 million in donations. In what he considered to be the equivalent period for Somalia, from January to July 1992, less than one percent of that amount was raised.
Note that this period is six months before "Operation Restore Hope." Yet already Raldya 0mw of Africa Watch, as well as groups such as Doctors Without Borders, were urging that Somalia be flooded with food to decrease the incentive for gunmen to turn it into a commodity to be fought over.
These warnings were ignored not only by private donors, but also by the U.S. government Washington had similarly ignored warnings of famine in 1984-85 in Ethiopia, despite the fact that, unlike in Somalia, there was an extant government actively warning the entire world of famine.(2)
The United Nations had waited three years before taking action during the 1980s Sudan famine; it repeated its inept performance in Somalia.. Its UNICEF program closed down as starvation in Somalia approached its height; the United Nations insisted on a ceasefire before providing aid. Critics such as Africa Watch's Rakiya Omaar said the equation should be reversed, that adequate aid alone could bring a ceasefire.
Throughout 1991-1992 international agencies warned of coming famine caused by drought and/or civil war throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with Sudan in the most immediate danger after Somalia. Only in August did the mass media begin to report on this broader crisis. Joel Washington, in a report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's Racism Desk, noted that in January, 1991 although 20 million were reported by relief agencies to be facing starvation, mainly in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan only three minutes of network news time was devoted to this story.(3)
Similarly Africa Report in its May/June 1992 issue predicted the possibility of widespread starvation on the continent Although calling the drought in Africa "a natural disaster of biblical proportions," the journal went on to explain that in fact this "natural" disaster has social roots, tracing the disruption of Africa's agricultural system to the colonial period.
This disruption featured the introduction of new crops by colonialists which were less drought-resistant than traditional subsistence crops, the forced shift from production for consumption to growth on plantations of crops for export, and the breaking down of traditional systems of organizing reserves to carry the community through periods of drought.
In its May 27, 1991 issue International Viewpoint explained why the famine in Somalia was likely to be ignored by Western powers: "It is very unlikely that there will be an influx of material and financial support" since "aid is usually linked to some sort of political and economic interests." But with the collapse of the Cold War, Somalia's strategic value to Washington had declined; in fact the U.S. base at Berbera was evacuated in November of 1990 "despite its proximity to the operational theater of U.S. forces in the Gulf."
Having ignored for so long famine-related deaths, Washington chose to intervene in December 1992. Many commentators noted that by this point the death rate had long been declining. In fact by then most deaths were occurring not from starvation itself but from associated diseases: tuberculosis, malaria, typhoid, cholera, and measles.
The results of months of famine, however, were plainly apparent On December 8 the New York Thnes reported that the "absence of babies and children ... are leading some Somalis to say the Americans are coming too late." One quarter of the country's children were estimated to be dead, the other three-quarters still at risk of dying. (Interaction's Davies considered the one-quarter figure too low.) Most adults were also judged to be at risk.
In September the death rates had been as high as 300 a day. In some parts of Somalia the totals had been even higher. the State Department's Foreign Disaster Agency reported on September 1 that "some relief workers estimate that as many as 1000 people per day could be dying in central and southern Somalia, and in the refugee camps in neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia? By November the death rates had fallen to fifty a day. (On the other hand, soon after the U.S. invasion they were creeping back to 100 in Baidoa as looters went on a last splurge before the arrival of U.S. troops, who had just landed in Mogadishu.)
The best-run program throughout the famine was that of the ICRC. According to Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal, respectively executive and associate director of Africa Watch until December 1992, "no ICRC truck moves without prior agreement from the elders of all the concerned clans; no store is opened until all have consented to a distribution plan. This may require extraordinary patience." Such patience sometimes meant accepting short-term deaths, as the ICRC sometimes waited to hire the right balance of guards; nonetheless lives were saved this way, since otherwise clans disagreeing with the plan would loot the relief convoys.
ICRC losses to looters, according to Africa Watch, were "remarkably small—in some programs, on the order of 5-10%. This is as low as would be expected in a normal peacetime operation. Most of the other looting incidents reported in the media have arisen when other relief organizations have used heavy-handed tactics.
The United Nations, in contrast, was inept at negotiations with looters and guards, often losing entire trucks of food when in the same situation workers for ICRC and other agencies could secure continued delivery for less money or a token number of bags of foods. In contrast to the low losses for ICRC—and matched by Save the Children—the United Nations claimed 80% of its relief was stolen.(4)
More importantly ICRC polices sought to vest control of food in "the one remaining accountable section of society": the traditional clan elders. "Their authority will be thereby increased relative to the armed gangs and self-appointed politicians." Structures of consultation and negotiation with the elders were crafted.
"By contrast, a public relations-oriented scramble," which Africa Watch saw coming with threatened U.S. intervention, "will merely give another twist to the spiral of violence and hunger." Ironically, said Omaar, "it has mainly been U.S. groups with relatively low levels of performance that most vociferously urge U.S. intervention."
"The country's best hope," according to Omaai "is to return to its past and rely on the collective experience of its elders. Elders are regarded as the only social group in Somalia with the authority to promote the search for peaceful dialogue." Siad Barre, the U.S.-backed dictator toppled from power in 1989, had tried to erase this experience; those elders he couldn't co-opt were killed, jailed or forced into exile. Yet after his fall, where they survived, "the community's respect for them remains intact."
Ironically, considering the United States' eternal touting of the free market, Washington's invasion ignored the way Somali markets, coupled with sufficient aid, could have provided an opening for a nonmilitary resolution to the famine. Listen again to Omaai commenting on food price rises: "That's typically what happens in most famines. There is always food available. It's just that the price is so high people die because they can't afford to pay for it.... Food has become the principal source of wealth and currency for exchange. If sufficient food enters the markets at a sufficiently low price," people can buy food, "and thieves will find little profit in stealing food from relief agencies."
Months later the U.S. military stumbled upon the logic of this argument The December 20, 1992 Washington Post lead story's headline was "Food Glut Seen as Way to Thwart Somalia's Bandits." The story quoted Marine Col. Fred Peck as saying "the task force now plans to disseminate so much food that scarcity no longer gives looters a reason to steal. Our idea is to accept some losses ... but to get so much food out into Somalia that people are no longer fighting over it and people are no longer using it as a weapon." For Omaar and the relief agencies, however, this strategy was seen as a way of making military intervention unnecessary.
Omaar admitted, however, the elders alone couldn't do the job now, given the social, political and economic destruction wrought by Barre and his Western patrons. "Although relief agencies have left the distribution of aid to the elders and have drawn the elders into discussions about the country's security," additional help should be sought, she believed, from the Organization of African Unity, the Islamic Conference, the Arab League, neighboring countries, "and above all, the UN." Note that she does not include the United States.
By the time of the U.S. intervention, Omaar told the Nation's Alexander Cockburn, Mogadishu was "totally flooded with food ... anybody can buy rice; it's very cheap." The mortality rate had dropped and the overall situation was improving. "It cannot be overstressed, she added, "that the contribution of Somalis to relieving the famine, healing the sick and resolving the conflict is greater than the entire international relief effort?
She further predicted that the type of relief aid being proposed by Washington could hinder self-help efforts, making the job of Somali clan leaders, doctors and humanitarian workers harder ... The famine in Somalia is a tragedy demand-mg immediate action. But that is not a reason for panic." Latecomers "should learn from relief agencies that build upon the strengths of Somali society." (The Nation, December 21, 1992)
All Mogadishu hospitals, reported Omaar and de Waal, were being run by Somalis; during the worst fighting, care in northern Mogadishu was by the Health Emergency Committee, who came into town on the second day of fighting. The United Nations and U.S. military in contrast, had turned tail and ran the moment shooting began.(5)
At forums in New York Omaar's views were echoed by Elizabeth Enloe of the American Friends Service Committee, and Margarita Samad of the Somali Association for Relief and Development (SAFRAD). Enloe confirmed the importance of Somali workers, noting that while the ICRC had eighty expatriate workers, 1,500 volunteers came from its Somali affiliate, the Somali Red Crescent Society. (The staff of the AFSC itself in Somalia is drawn from that country) Samad reported that relief agencies only wanted Somalis as “informers, translators, and low-paid help. They get one-tenth the pay and no housing allowance, and do the dangerous work.”
Somali professionals and workers employed by the relief agencies, who did the vast bulk of the work, barely existed in the Western press, which focused solely on non-Somalis who hold senior positions in relief agencies. But there were the rare exceptions when Western media acknowledged the role of Somalis in their own country's salvation. Newsday in its December 16, 1992 issue featured the village of Wajid, guarded by several hundred armed men from the surrounding area. This story confirms that by this point starvation was no longer the major killer the death rate the previous week of 400 was due mostly to as dysentery, diarrhea and measles. "Mass starvation is no longer the chief killer here," said Sharif Safi Roble, head of the twenty-two-member civic committee in Wajid.
Self-help was made possible because, despite the absence of central government authority, "the clans and sub-clans of Wajid and the surrounding thirty-five villages, with a total population of 33,000, banded together to form the council, making sure each group was represented." (Roble also described how the country's former dictator, Siad Barre, had stolen the town's livestock.)
In the same vein CNN on December 27 reported on a refugee camp run by a female Somali doctor, who said there had been no looting for a year, and that rival clans were cooperating. This was also confirmed by Sharon Pauling and John Prendergast (New York Times, December 9,1992), coordinators of the Coalition for Peace in the Horn of Africa, who lauded the ICRC, "which make[s] dialogue and agreement a priority between competing factions," and thus was "beginning to help clan elders reassert their authority in some areas. Community structures still exist throughout Somalia."(6)
Aside from such rare occasions the Western media throughout the crisis had portrayed Somalis as either drug-crazed gunwielders or passive victims. This media also overlooked one instance in which the Somali people had temporarily put a halt to fighting in Mogadishu itself. Omaar and de Waal reported that although "neutral clans" generally didn't want to get involved in the fighting, in September 1991 they stepped in-between fighting clans. This precedent, they urged, should receive international endorsement and be backed by pressure from the United Nations, thus strengthening the hand of neutral clans, and encouraging them to play a more active role in ceasefire monitoring.
This advice fell on deaf ears; what's more, no neutral clan representatives were brought to the talks held this February in New York. Likewise the urgings of those working for patient, careful relief in cooperation with the remaining social networks in the country were ignored. AFSC's Enloe reminded her New York audience that we're "a quick-fix nation." and there's no junkie quicker for a fix than a government seeking to boost its sagging confidence in its own world hegemony. Of course quick-fix approaches usually entail bungling: In the first stage of the invasion, relief workers criticized the U.S. for moving too slowly; gunmen were using the time between the landing in Mogadishu and arrival in interior towns to make last efforts at looting.
Because of her criticisms of johnny-come-lately Western relief agencies, and especially because of her opposition to U.S. military intervention, Omaar was fired by Aryeh Neiei, the director of Africa Watch's parent body, Human Rights Watch. De Waal resigned a day later in sympathy.
Another danger ironicallyis that the country could go from having too little food to too much Michael Maren, who served as a relief worker in Somalia in the early 1980s, described how he and his colleagues learned firsthand how Western relief efforts were designed to make Third World countries permanently dependent on relief food in order to boost exports of Western agriculture. Somalia too used to be self-sufficient in food production, but depends now on food imports not only because of the current civil war-provoked crisis, but because of policies of Barre and his Western backers. So after waiting too long to provide aid for this specific crisis, the West can now be expected to use the media attention to famine to use aid to reinforce the long-term dependence of the country.(7)
The ease with which the United States could lose interest in Somalia's strategic value is on a par with the latter's extreme economic marginalization. Just as Africa as a whole has been the most underdeveloped continent in the imperialist epoch, so Somalia, despite its location on crucial trade routes, has always been on the periphery of the periphery of the world capitalist system.
Around 85% of Somalia's export earnings, and half of its Gross Domestic Product, come from the sale of livestock (camels, cattle and goats)—most of which are sold to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. The only other economic activity of any importance is banana production. The economy flowing from this lack of diversity is typical for Third World countries; but unlike many other Third World producers, Somalia is dependent not on trade with the imperialist countries, but with the client regimes of the imperialists such as Saudi Arabia. In that sense Somalia is on the periphery of the periphery of the world capitalist system.
The consequences of this economic marginalization—and the failure of post-independence regimes to overcome it—are as might be expected. Education's share of the country's budget, already a low 9% in 1980, fell to 1.5% by 1988. Uteracy rates are 18% for men, 6% for women. Health standards are among the worst in Africa; even before Siad Barre fell 72% of the population had no access to health care and the infant mortality rate was 128 per thousand live births.(8)
In addition to a handful of diversification attempts, Barre (whose political trajectory will be discussed in the second part of this essay) also attempted to move the basis of the economy away from nomadic herding toward settled agriculture. The shores off the coast are rich in fish; Barre, with Soviet aid, tried to overcome the traditional Somalia abhorrence of catching and eating fish. But when the Soviets switched their backing to Ethiopia, they took their boats with them. The annual catch of fish and lobsters had reached into the thousands of tons, but by 1980 it was less than 500 tons.
Furthermore, the amount spent by the Barre regime on diversification paled in comparison to his spending on arms and patronage jobs. Development funds for livestock production were only 8.6% in 1971-73 and 5.3% in 1974-1978, even though livestock was responsible in this period for almost two-thirds of foreign exchange earnings and engaged a similar proportion of the population. This is partly explained by the attempt to move away from livestock toward settled agriculture, but until such a move had gone far enough to be a solid foundation for the economy, the importance of livestock for export earnings, and the dire conditions faced by pastoralists, should have meant more aid to them.
Despite initial reform and diversification measures, the fruits of Barre's economic program, according to Laitin and Samatar were stagnation and even backward movement recent trends, they wrote, suggested that "Somalia's economy is regressing back to the role it played in the 19th century world economy."(9) Whereas in the late 1960s live animal exports were less than 50% of export earnings, by 1978, they had risen to nearly 90%. In the mid-1970s manufacturing had reached 20% of total exports, by the mid-1980s they were almost nonexistent.
This regression bolstered Somalia's Fourth World status. The failure of development, according to Laitin and Samatar "has considerable consequences for political relations. Most important is the fact that Somalia is increasingly tied to the economy of the Arab world." Development aid from OPEC states outpaced funds from industrial countries: by 1979, OPEC aid was twice as high as OECD aid. I've already noted the monopoly of Gulf countries on Somali exports In addition the percentage of Somali university students studying in OECD states declined while the number in Arab states more than quadrupled.
Somalia joined the Arab League in 1974. The government knew the oil boom "would mean hefty pay-offs for those who called themselves Arabs." Laitin and Samatar predict more of the same in the future; aid, trade, and education ties will increase this dependence, and such links "raise the spectre of sub-imperialism."
But however important trade with these subimperialist powers in the Gulf was, it was the Western imperialist agencies—the IMF and World Bank—that exercised supervision over the country's economy throughout the Barre years.
Until 1971 Somalia's foreign debt increased at a rate commensurate with its growth in export earnings. Then a dramatic increase occurred: the debt went from roughly 100 million Somali shillings in 1966 to four billion in 1979. One-third of this debt was owed respectively to the Soviet bloc, OECD and OPEC countries.
After the early 1970s oil boom Somalia's terms of trade remained for a while positive because of increased demand from Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Prices for livestock were increasing too. The bulk of the profits, however, went to the state, not the producers. Another important chunk of the profits was siphoned off into various black market activities.
"By 1981," says a World Bank report, "the situation [in Somalia] became untenable"—untenable for Western lenders, that is "With prodding from donors," says the report, "including the World Bank, the IMF, and other bilateral donors, the government realized that a change in course was essential and reluctantly embarked on a series of economic reforms. Foremost among these were price and trade liberalization and foreign exchange reform under stabilization programs supported by the IME."
Nothing was said, of course, about democratization, of human rights observance, and certainly nothing about aid to development. The sole prescription is the free market: slash government spending, privatize state-owned companies and banks, eliminate price controls and wage subsidies, free up exchange rates, and open your doors to Western capital.(10)
In that year the government agreed to a major IMF-supported stabilization program. The reaction from the people to the new hardships caused by the IMF's austerity program was too great for the regime, which partially backed off, lowering the exchange rate and reim posing price controls. But the IMF pressed on, and as a result, there was "substantial ... expenditure reduction." For instance Barre "abandoned the policy of guaranteed employment for school leavers."
Still Siad Barre hedged on meeting IMF demands In the view of the World Bank the government "compounded the problem" by refusing Western demands for further stabilization measures: devaluation, price control, financial restraint. The consequence was budget deficits, higher borrowing, inflation, foreign debt arrears.
Due to renewed drought and to a ban on livestock imports by Saudi Arabia, "thus cutting off by far the largest source of export earnings," a new financial crisis hit in 1984. There were allegations of rinderpest (a disease affecting cattle) in East Africa. Cattle exports dropped from 157,000 head in 1982 to 7,000 in 1984; sheep and goat exports were also affected. Somalia secured certification from the FAO and International Epizootics Organization that there were no cases of rinderpest, yet the Saudis refused to resume imports. Egypt became a partial alternative, and large numbers were smuggled into Saudi Arabia through Yemen and Djibouti.
In 1985 the government was forced into another major adjustment program with IMF. It was designed to reduce domestic and external financial imbalances, and to stimulate the economy by controlling the demand and allocation of resources. The devaluations demanded by the West raised the price of imported goods and food, a trend accelerated by the drought in 1984 and the removal of government price controls under pressure from the IMF.
The government broke with the IMF again in 1987, only three months into a new agreement Barre suspended foreign exchange auctions, which the government thought had fueled inflation; he restored price controls, and planned to cut back foreign borrowing. These measures were demeaningly labelled the actions of an "autarkic economic regime" by the British business journal The Economist.
These exchange and price controls, however, didn't curb inflation, which reached 82% in 1988; furthermore there was a "sharp drop in official transfers as donors followed the IMF's lead, precipitaqing] a foreign exchange crisis." The reduction in foreign aid led to panic, as shopkeepers cleared their shelves in Mogadishu, and industrial output tailed off due to raw materials and spare parts shortages.
The government was forced by the deteriorating situation back to the negotiating table. In November 1988 the World Bank "exacted a wide range of reforms including the liberalization of the trade regime, removal of price controls and the reform of land tenure as a precondition for renewed assistance through an Agricultural Sector Adjustment Progamme." These reforms did not lead, however, to renewed IMF funding, nor did they encourage donors to revive projects shelved in 1988. "Indeed, donors and investors have kept their distance as Somalia has disintegrated politically."
Meanwhile, in the face of popular reaction to the crisis the government intervened, reimposing price controls on essential foodstuffs in February 1988. But this made prices too low for the producers, who withdrew their produce, selling them instead on the black market. In June of that year price controls were again suspended due to Western pressure; prices began to soar again, and inflation reached 200% in 1990.
Foreign aid to Somalia from OECD countries, multilateral agencies, and OPEC, averaged $459 million per year from 1984 to 1989. OPEC aid tailed off in the late '80s, but has increased since the end of the Gulf War Since September 1987 Somalia's undrawn balances of credits with the IMF have been frozen, and the country was declared ineligible for further borrowing in May 1988 for non-payment of arrears.
The civil war not only drove food producers off the land, it led to a dramatic drop in livestock production: livestock exports were 400,000 head in 1988 compared to 1.2 million a year before; with a consequent drop in earnings from $59 million to $22 million. The livestock population, by the way, is concentrated in the Somaliland Republic in the north—which declared its independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991.
Compounding these economic difficulties was the loss of remittances from wage workers in the Gulf There are varying estimates on how many Somalis had emigrated to find work, ranging from one to three hundred thousand Somalis. It is estimated that Somalia lost $300 million a year after these workers were forced to leave Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iraq during the 1990-91 crisis.
Interestingly, the Bank report on Somalia itself admits the responsibility of the West in creating the dire economic straits not only of Somalia but in the Third World in general. "Despite decades of official development assistance and inflow of private capital," it admits, "today there is a net transfer of resources to the North from the developing world. This anomaly is embedded in the structure of the international economic system and the pattern of development presently pursued" (a pattern in the shaping of which the Bank plays a crucial role!). The report further admits that development through private enterprise has some built-in inequalities," yet nonetheless recommends for Somalia, as it does throughout the Third World, that the country give "broader scope to the private sector."
In its coverage of Somalia The Economist, mouthpiece of British finance capital, also feels compelled to partially admit Western responsibility. It gave partial credence to reports by the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa and UNICEF which "blamed some of Africa's misery on the budget-cutting policies of the IMP and the World Bank" The journal, after describing Somalia's minimal export capacity, goes on to cite a U.N. report criticizing the World Bank for fostering this kind of lack of diversification: more than half of African countries, it reports, depend on one or two commodities for 70% or more of their export earnings.
The Economist, not an organ preferring to admit Western blame for Third World ills, further acknowledges that the Group of Seven meeting in 1991 ignored a British proposal to reduce Africa's debt "partly because the assembled leaders were preoccupied with Mikhail Gorbachev." This Eurocentric fixation on white peoples' problems was replicated throughout 1991 and 1992 (until November) in the far greater ink spilled over the (admittedly real and horrific) tragedy in Bosnia compared to the minimal to coverage of Somalia.
As analyzed long ago by Walter Rodney, today's World Bank and IMP policies are only the latest stage in Western domination of the African economy, a domination that is at the root of the continent's hideous levels of illiteracy, inequity, illness, malnutrition and famine. Even in times of adequate rainfall Africa's food production capability is distorted by the orienting of its resources and labor toward the needs of transnational corporations. "The long-term decline in Africa's food production, with roots traceable back to the colonial era, has now reduced the continent to dependence on food imports and advanced technology supplied in many areas by the transnational agribusiness corporations." (Agribusiness in Africa, Barbara Dinham & Cohn Hines, Africa World Press, 1984.)
In the last years of Barre's regime the disbursement of aid and investment organized by the World Bank was delayed by the government's arguments with the IMP and by civil war Negotiations for the release of $70 million in aid concluded successfully in 1989 due to the government's agreement to implement World Bank-proposed reforms—but by then Barre was headed for his ouster.
The fruits of these years are that "any future government" will be "compelled to answer for the debts incurred" by Barre. "Any leader who comes to power in Somalia will be watched carefully by Somalia's creditors, and this fact will constrain Somalia's freedom for at least a generation.' El IThe second part will discuss the background to the Somali famine, the politics of Siad Barre and the prospects facing Somalia following U.S. intervention.]
March-April 1993, ATC 43
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