Last weekend’s peace march in Washington was short a few bodies. A plane-load of potential marchers was held up by British Airways on our way back from the World Social Forum in Nairobi. No, we weren’t detained, just delayed, by an engine failure discovered late at night on the runway.
There we were, packed, pumped up, and eager for action after a week of talk when the pilot came on the sound system and announced that one of the jumbo jet’s four engines had failed and our departure was put off for a day.
We missed the marching, but I’ve been thinking about our engine failure as I’ve read the coverage of the demonstration. Turnout wasn’t bad. Organizers estimate the crowd at half a million. But after ten days in Kenya, the contrast in priorities between the peace agenda in DC and that in Nairobi couldn’t be starker. Dig as I might into the reporting on Saturday’s event, I can’t find any serious mention of the US intervention in Somalia. While many US activists are quoted talking about the threat of a US operation against Iran (and I think the Iran threat is serious) the US is already engaged in a military intervention in the Horn of Africa, yet it’s barely mentioned. It’s enough to make you wonder if the US peace movement is firing on all cylinders.
It is the stuff of daily concern and discussion in much of Africa, but here’s an update for US readers: American gunships stationed at the US base in Dijbouti carried out two deadly air strikes on Somalia this January. The Pentagon delayed confirming the January 8 attack for more than twenty-four hours but Oxfam claims that US bombs killed seventy nomads as they searched for water near the Kenya border. Two weeks later, a second strike claimed more lives, but still not the supposed targets–suspects wanted for their alleged role in the 1998 attacks on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Speaking to the East African newspaper January 22, Michael Ranneberger, the US Ambassador to Kenya, cast the US intervention as pro-peace, pro-democracy move. “We want to ensure security on the ground and that includes trying to interdict these foreign terrorists connected with Al-Quaeda that have been operating in Somalia,” Rannenberger told the East African. “Second, we want to promote stability in Somalia.” The Somalia operation will take a while, the ambassador admitted. “It would be a mistake to put an artificial time line and say it will take four months or six months.” All of this sounds dreadfully familiar.
Air strikes are just one face of the US intervention. The US is also backing Ethiopian forces which last month invaded in an effort to drive forces loyal to the Islamic Courts Union out of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. (The operation is said to have been in the planning since the Courts Union took control over the city the last summer.) The Somali political picture is complex–the Courts Union is the closest thing much of Somalia has had to an effective government in more than 16 years–but a few things are clear: the country is situated in a strategic region, with the continent’s longest coastline, rich mineral and oil reserves and several deep sea ports. It’s no surprise the US wants a client regime there. With US troops stretched thin, the next best way for the administration to fight its wars is with a mobile force (like the one stationed at Djibouti) and proxy ground forces that may not be popular on the ground but will do their paymaster’s bidding (like the Ethiopians’ and local warlords.)
So far, so bad. While most of us haven’t been paying much attention, the US action in the Horn has stirred up Somalia’s civil war, sent an armory of new weapons to local warlords and sparked a new refugee crisis. (Last month, the Kenyan government closed its borders those fleeing the bombing.) According to local reports, Courts Union Islamists gain favor with every assault, as they cast themselves as victims of US imperialism.
Welcome to the next war now. The US engagement in Somalia is what the new generation of US wars is likely to look like and it would behoove the US peace movement to pay attention.