Thursday, November 01, 2007

Somalia in the News

I have a routine in the mornings - I get up, check my email, check a couple of photo competition sites, and read the news on My Yahoo. One of the top headlines today was:"Mogadishu violence displaces 88,000 people". To put that in perspective, the city of Round Rock Texas has roughly 61,000 people. So imagine the entire city of Round Rock displaced and homeless. Natural disasters like floods, tornadoes and even hurricanes only displace a few people in comparison.

When we went to Africa, we realized how out of date and ignorant we are about African geography, news and politics. We live in a very big world and it is hard to know and understand what goes on in places so very far away. It is unlikely that I will ever be an "expert" on Africa. And sometimes, the news is tragic with seemingly unresolvable problems. But now, I have more incentive to read and understand the news about African countries.

One of the people we met at one of our safari camps was a lady who had just travelled through Zimbabwe on a special train (perhaps the Shongololo tour. ) She asked why people were not sending more aid to help the desperate people there. I don't have a great answer to that question, but the story of our attempts to help Somalia back in the 1990's is certainly part of that answer.

As I read the news story above and followed links about Somalia from Google, I was amazed that Somalia has been in turmoil since 1991 - that is 16 years! It sounds as though the northern part of Somalia (the former British colony area) is trying to form its own country and is relatively stable. It also sounds like it would be safe to visit there. But the area around the capitol in the southern part of Somalia is filled with violence. Since the early 1990's a large number of Somalis left their homeland creating one of the largest diasporas in Africa. While some fled to neighboring countries, most are now living in Northern Europe, the Middle East and North America. But what makes this a major problem is that the ones that left were the most educated and had more resources to be able to leave. Poverty and ignorance leave people with feelings of hopelessness. The climate in Somalia has periodic droughts that lead to starvation that has to be made worse by the political instablities.

The saddest thing about the news article I read this morning was that the situation in Mogadishu is so unstable and unsafe that the world's major relief organizations are unable to provide aid for the suffering people there.

Living in the United States, it is hard to understand or comprehend the situation in Somalia. We live in a country that while we have differences in ethnicity and political opinion, we are also united by being Americans. We have learned to live in a diverse society where tolerance is a necessary skill. (Yes, sometimes we are too tolerant, but that's another blog.) In many African countries, there are many tribes or clans. Loyalty is more to the tribe or clan than to the country. Ancient rivalries are still very real. Religious differences divide people. While at one time, Somalia had a Christian presence, the Christian schools were closed and the missionaries sent home in the early 1970's.

Back to the question why don't we do more to help these people, it is very hard for the average American to visualize the magnitude of the problems in countries so far away. Under the Clinton Administration we sent the Army to provide food and supplies and to help the people of Somalia. (US Army's humanitarian efforts 1992-1994 ) Americans don't understand why people would hurt and humiliate people who are trying to help them. Many Christian organizations would be willing to help, but because Somalia is primarily Muslim, they are not welcome. My reply to that lady was that even when we are trying to be helpful, people hate Americans. Our motives are always considered suspect. We are often seen as "busy bodies" even when we are trying to help. Most Americans do not want us to be the world's policemen. We do not have the resources to do that.

How can the peoples of the world bring peace to the suffering people in Somalia? What will it take to bring a stable government to this struggling country? I certainly don't have any answers. But when people are suffering to that extent somewhere in the world, it diminishes all of us. I believe it will take a lot of people doing "little things" to eventually make a difference in this war torn place.

For today, all I can do is to create this blog in hopes of bringing this situation into people's hearts and minds. But more importantly, I can pray that God will bring about the change in heart so these people can learn to live in peace with one another.

For more background information about Somalia:

The BBC Somalia page

The CIA Somalia Information Page


heart4somalia said...

I am a Christian and just returned from Somalia. It is possible to help these people if you are determined enough!!!

Mary Ann Melton said...

I am so glad that you were able to go to Somalia and provide help. My heart goes out to the people in the African countries that are so torn with political problems right now. I admire the people who are able to go over there and provide relief and other assistance.

I'll be checking out your blog and links.

Thanks for your comment.