U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa

Is America hurting more than helping, and can we change that?

Is U.S. policy really helping these young Ethiopian women? (Photo: Robert Caputo/Getty)

Oct 5, 2011· 2 MIN READ

Somalia is in shambles. Transparency International’s corruption index rates it at as the most corrupt country in the world. Foreign Policy’s failed state index has rated Somalia the world’s number-one failed state four years in a row. What does this have to do with the United States?

The Horn of Africa Crisis—a heartwrenching mix of famine, drought, disease and insurgency—has received only 0.2 percent of this year’s U.S. media coverage. The U.N. warns 750,000 people are facing imminent starvation, nearly 500,000 of them are children.

Somalis, who already suffer from atrocity, famine, drought and disease, are being drone bombed too.

Reacting to the influence of Islamist militant group Al-Shabab, American lawmakers have cut back on humanitarian aid, but tax dollars are continuously funneled into Somalia—often for all the wrong reasons. Turning disaster into catastrophe.

The best antidote to terrorism in Somalia is stability. The last time the country saw something like normalcy was when the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a moderate national militia, established a semblance of order out of the chaos that had reigned since the mutiny against dictator Siad Barre in 1991. The ICU was dismantled during a 2006 invasion of 50,000 Ethiopian troops fully trained, funded and backed by the U.S.

When the invasion soured, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, who had spearheaded the invasion, told Time, “We urged the Ethiopian military not to go into Somalia.” Former U.S. Ambassodor to the U.N. John Bolton blames Frazer’s final and binding decision for the wrongful invasion, completely contradicting her statement to Time.

By 2009 Ethiopian troops withdrew, leaving Somalia more lawless than when they had arrived. Knocking out the ICU claimed thousands of civilan lives and displaced more than a million Somalis, according to Human Rights Watch.

Somalia’s current official president, Sharif Sheik Ahmed, was the former leader of the ICU. How this happened is a matter of foreign policy mystery. One factor in the mystery reported by Nation is that the 9,000-member African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) force, largely funded and armed by the U.S., is helping Ahmed keep his title as president. Despite those troops, he seems to lack much if any control over the nation.

This past summer, the U.S. government committed $45 million to arm and finance AMISOM troops. Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton secured 40 tons of military weaponry for Sheik Ahmed’s transitional federal government—assault rifles, machine gun ammunition, rocket-propelled grenades and more.

The Obama administration has increased drone attacks around the world. These unmanned killing machines have intensified anti-American hostility around the globe. Somalis, who already suffer from atrocity, famine, drought and disease, are being drone bombed too.

Shortly after being elected, President Obama signed an executive order promising to end the CIA’s black site program. The intention was to forbid the agency from running prisons overseas for suspected terrorists. But the CIA is reported to have set up a secret prison in the basement of the Somali National Security Agency (NSA), interrogating suspected Shabab members.

The millions of American taxpayer dollars earmarked for covert operations and drones may save hundreds of theoretical lives. However, using that same money for humanitarian aid has the potential to rescue millions from real present miseries and looming death.