Monday, September 26

Famine in Somalia: How US destroyed a nation by Dr Edo McGowan

"The average person in the U.S. is probably an innocent-ignorant when it comes to U.S. foreign policy."
Last April I wrote a post about the famine in Somalia and left the link to a great comment that Dr. Edo McGowan left at Foreign Policy Association's blog. I searched for his name and found another great article "Some historical perspectives on Somalia and the horn" he wrote at OpeDnews.
He went to Somalia in the seventies and witnessed what happened to once a paradise that was turned into what we see now. This comment, written on a blog, can be considered as an article that has valuable information from a gifted writer with a deep knowledge of what happened. It is not only the historical facts but an analysis of US foreign policy.
I was lucky to find it and I just added paragraphs to make the reading easier.

Somalia history

by Edo McGowan
Monday - 08 / 08 / 2011

"What drives al Qaeda, that's the question that warrants discussion. On Somalia, a different
perspective. I first saw Somalia in the 1970s as the new Mission Environmental Officer as we opened up the diplomatic mission for USAID. We initially took over the old Sinclair Oil Company offices. Later, I also became the defacto Health Officer. Those of us who first arrived in Mogadishu soon after the Russian withdrawal, saw a city that many commented was the most orderly and clean in all of Africa and these were old Africa hands. Donkeys pulling delivery carts wore diapers.
Traffic, although sparse, was orderly---nothing like the chaos of Nairobi. Cans and bottles from our trash were carefully salvaged and recycled---they were valuable containers. At 2:00 in the morning it was completely safe to walk the dark, narrow, and twisting streets and alley ways of the ancient city. The Somali shilling traded at 5 to the US dollar.
To get some idea of the country, you can pull up the Country Environmental Profile (CEP) at the following. It would be better in color, but in these versions that no longer exists: Previously, I had been on a World Bank/USAID project as co-team leader for a review in Ethiopia dealing with rural roads and ag extension. I also wrote the USAID CEP for Ethiopia.
What happened in the Horn related to the two Cold War rivals, Russia and the U.S. They traded listening posts. Russia came into Ethiopia and left Somalia and we left Ethiopia and sat down on the chair called Somalia just as one pundit noted, kids might in musical chairs. Russia had been in Somalia for a decade or so. As we were leaving Ethiopia when the Russians and Cubans took over, the SAC bombers were sitting elsewhere idling on nearby runways and the American press was having a field day discussing all the dangers and horrors that we were facing.
Where all this came from is beyond me as the exit was orderly and the only tears were shed by nannies as they said goodbye to the little ones they had raised. That will give you some idea of the disconnect between the field and Washington. The fact is that at that time Ethiopia was a very violent place. But a reporter sitting in Washington trying to visualize a story that needed also to induce readers to buy that particular rag, thus leading to enhanced circulation, could go into hyperbole and no one would know the difference. This in turn affected what was believed in and reinforced within the halls of Washington, it often had nothing to do with reality in the field, but it fitted the needs to keep Americans focused on non-issues.
What we are now seeing in Somalia is, in part, the result of failed interventions and environmental degradation. That degradation, however, stems from processes entirely beyond the control of the impacted Somali people. Thus, these people are environmental refugees in their own lands. How could this all have happened?
The average person in the U.S. is probably an innocent-ignorant when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Some, if not much of what is going on in Somalia can be traced back to our foreign policy and the interactions brought on during the Cold War, but much predates that period and goes back to U.S. foreign policy during the early parts of the 20th Century as colonial powers who lost in WW1 were required to give up those lands and boundaries were redrawn and then impacts of WW2 and development for resources following WW2.
The thesis of John Perkins is well reflected in all this. If one looks at the western border of Somalia on an accurate map, it will be noted that the line is not solid. It is a long debated line. If we go back yet further into history we see long-standing conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia, various agreements to not war and then failure of these agreements.
The Somali historically based their existence on nomadic pastoralization and they and their herds, for millennium, trekked through what is now northern Kenya, around the base of the Ethiopian highlands as far north as the Sudan and then back into home pasturage as seasons shifted and the range changed. The Ogaden, which is between Somalia and the base of the Ethiopian highlands had been historically the main Somali home range but was disputed and wars broke out between our proxies, which were variously, depending on listening post, Ethiopia or Somalia and supported variously by Russia or the U.S.
While those proxy wars were boiling away, the Somali and their animals were impacted. The more degraded the range, the fewer animals it will support. Additionally, as other Cold War proxy battles and conflicts of convenience were waged and supported in other range areas of Africa, the pastoralists were driven out of these areas also, hence crowding other areas. As this intensified, more animals were added to a shrinking range and the range was rapidly over grazed.
There are not many watering points in all this vast area of Africa and over time the Somali have learned manners and cooperation in the ancient watering rituals. The herds come into the wells, and everyone pitches in to get the animals watered. This is a highly disciplined, ordered, coordinated, and cooperative effort. The Somali are superb ecologists who once thrived in their rangelands. These were once a very wealthy people, not in money but in animals. They are, as a whole, a highly intelligent peoples and directly selected by true Darwinian rigors for sturdiness and the quick brain power needed to craft a life in the conditions where they live.
Thus, unlike the hot house flowers we here in the U.S have become, riddled with various genetic imperfections, such as diabetes, insulin resistance and over weight, heart disease, stress, etc, the Somali represent a pure tough genetic line. That has incredible value to the future of the human race.
To support a family on an all milk diet which is typical of the Somali, about 20 to 30 camels are needed, depending on the herd's other livestock makeup. If we also add in the small stock we might see, in addition to the camels, something like 25 to 150 goats, 30 to 50 sheep, up to 20 cattle. Torry who studied the Gabra of northern Kenya noted that the average family owned 25 camels, 9 cattle, and 125 goats and sheep and this was considered as unimpressive by Somali standards. That Gabra herd, when summing up the animals, represents 57 livestock units (LU).
Using an average range fed grazing area of 10 hectares (25 acres) needed to support a single livestock unit, and then taking the number of animals or LU in the typical Somali herd needed to minimally maintain a family on milk production, one can estimate 36 livestock units. A camel = 1.2 LU, cattle = 1 LU, sheep = 0.08 LU and goats = 0.08 LU). Thus for the minimum 36 LU there is a need for 360 hectares or 900 acres, somewhat less that 1.5 square miles.
Once the range starts to degrade, the area needed to survive goes up an an increasingly advancing rate and soon there is not enough range. Then drop a proxy war into the area, chase the pastoralists out, and then crowd them back yet farther into a smaller range and soon the system starts to crack. Add in a drought and the whole process implodes.
Actually the animals don't die so much from lack of water, although that occurs, they just starve to death. Animals can trek out only so far from a well for forage and return to water. If the food is beyond that radius or takes too long to gather, the animals start to die and they tend to die around the wells. But as seen from satellite photos of the the droughts of the later part of the 20th Century, vast areas around the wells were eaten bare and the soil so disturbed that in this fragile part of Africa, range regeneration did not occur.
Remember, there were several proxy wars in the Horn of Africa during the latter half of the 20th Century, especially during the Cold War. Some of those making comments noted that the Somali could farm and this was part of the early U.S effort and had been encouraged by the Russians. But the Somali are not, by nature, a farming people and in fact, farming as a way of life, is looked down upon. Nor are they fishermen, yet they live next to the Indian Ocean.
Nonetheless, we developed plans to settle a large portion of the nation in newly developed cities and we designed housing for a people who never had or used houses or lived in communities. We assisted in farming and fishing operations. There is a group of peoples in Somalia who are farmers, the Sab. But they and their ways of life (farming) have always been looked down upon by the herding Somali as an inferior peoples.
Part of the program in settling the Somali was to make it easy for government to impress the young into service. Living with a herd, one never known where one will be the next day or week, but an address on a city street tells government where one is likely to be today, tomorrow, and next week and one can be successfully taxed with an address.
I returned to Somalia a decade later, this time as Regional Environmental Officer now with 22 nations under my purview. Mogadishu was a shambles. The streets that has once been spotless were littered with blue plastic shopping bags and empty cans. The on-shore winds had carried masses of these blue bags into the interior and they were caught on the bush, which in Somalia grows in a crescent shape along the arc-shaped sand ridges of the fixed barchan sand dunes, thus giving the effect from the air of an inland blue crashing surf.
On this second trip, one was required, uponentry at the airport, to exchange $50 into Somali money and for this got you a Trader Joe's size shopping bag full of Somali cash. This hyperinflation has also devastated the nation, again bringing to mind John Perkin's thesis. It was not worth the trouble to try and count it. I recently heard that just $4 American will now fill that same bag. So, is it fair to blame the Somali for their current plight?
I think we need to look elsewhere for that answer. I'm glad to see so many Americans reaching out and sending help in various ways." (emphasis added)

Dr Edo McGowan PhD, Medical Geo-hydrology
Environmental and public policy analyst, environmental scientist, medical geo-hydrologist working with environmental contaminants.

Images: Top: Mogadishu, 1980s
Left: Somalian worker collecting myrrh resin in the traditional fashion, 1970s

Right Mogadishu, 1970s
Images and more about Somalia here.

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