Or: “A Failed Policy for A Failed State”
If anything will finally bring awareness to the flawed nature of US policy towards Somalia’s civil war, it will hopefully be the New York Times article earlier this week that detailed how our government has financially and logistically supported the arming, training, and use of child soldiers by Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government in its fight against Al-Qaida linked Islamist militias that control most of the country.
In the words of the Times:
“According to Somali human rights groups and United Nations officials, the Somali government, which relies on assistance from the West to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as 9.”
The paper also depicts an inadequate US government response:
“But when asked how the American government could guarantee that American money was not being used to arm children, one of the officials said, ‘I don’t have a good answer for that.’”
What is more alarming, though, is that the aid to Somalia was approved despite the Somali government’s classification as a recruiter of child soldiers in a 2009 State Department report. This makes provision of military assistance illegal under the Child Soldier Prevention Act, an act that prohibits the United States from supporting militaries that use child soldiers.
The United States government funding a child soldier army? It’s symbolic of a broader policy that perpetuates civil war, gross human rights violations, and humanitarian tragedy. Somalia’s conflict has internally displaced 1.5 million people, made over 3 million dependent on outside humanitarian assistance, pushed thousands of children to the point of malnutrition, caused over 21,000 civilian deaths, and has led thousands of children to become child soldiers. And as if Somalia wasn’t bad enough, refugees can become victims of rape, torture, and detention once they reach countries like Kenya.
Amongst this, our government has been systematically restricting humanitarian aid to terrorist-linked Al Shabaab controlled areas (everything but a few blocks of Mogadishu), out of fear that some of the aid was being diverted to insurgents. But this policy has also cut off the desperate civilians who need the aid most. And yet our government has simultaneously increased the amount of armaments, training, and money provided to the Somali military, despite massive corruption that leads to many of those trained and armed deserting, defecting, or selling their weapons to the very terrorist-linked groups they’re supposed to be fighting.
There was a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this past month on the Horn of Africa, which will hopefully put pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to account for a policy that is agitating a deepening civil war. If the best ideas we can come up with for fighting terrorism in a failed state like Somalia are using child soldiers, and arming terrorists but not feeding them, then perhaps its time to admit its really America that’s failing Somalia.
(Photo: Burundi peacekeepers head for Somalia. Flickr/US Army Africa)