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Somalia Plagued by 18 Years of Anarchy and Horrors

Posted February. 24, 2009 04:47,   


“No place more dangerous. Nowhere more hellish.”

The bimonthly magazine Foreign Policy described Somalia this way in its latest edition, calling the country the “deserted land of East Africa.”

“I’ve felt the incandescent fury of the Iraqi insurgency raging in Fallujah. I’ve spent freezing cold, eerily quiet nights in an Afghan cave. But nowhere was I more afraid than in today’s Somalia,” said Jeffrey Gettleman, the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. “Somalia is a state governed only by anarchy.”

Gettleman has visited Somalia more than 12 times over the past two years with 10 armed guards. The following is his story.

▽ Killing by all against all

Mogadishu is a city full of scorched, bullet-pocked buildings. The capital of Somalia, once a gem along the Indian Ocean, has been reduced to a pile of rubble. The killing goes on and on - suicide bombs, shootings and beheadings.

Even U.S. cruise missiles occasionally slam down from the sky. Violence has continued to rip Somalia apart since 1991, when the dictatorship of Siad Barre imploded.

Nobody knows when he or she will be kidnapped or shot in the head. The country spanning 637,657 square kilometers (6.5 times the size of Korea) has turned into a bloody warzone.

The transitional government that took power in 2004 now controls just part of Mogadishu. The whole country has become a breeding ground for warlords, pirates, fanatical Islamist insurgents, and mercenaries who kill people for money and rape women.

The Gulf of Aden, which 20,000 ships pass through every year, has become a breeding ground of pirates. Last year, they hijacked more than 40 vessels.

▽ The helpless global community and spreading fear

Somalia won independence in 1960 from Europe, but quickly became a Cold War pawn, prized for its strategic location in a spot Africa and Asia nearly touch. As warlords sponsored by the United States and the former Soviet Union, the Barre socialist government took power through the 1969 military coup. It was overthrown in 1991, signaling a full-blown civil war.

The United States sent 18 commandos in 1993 but all were killed. Despite several attempts at intervention, Washington failed.

Fearing that Somalia could serve as a breeding ground for Islamic radicals in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States asked warlords to confront Islamic groups but in vain.

Things can get no worse in Somalia, where radical and moderate Islamists, warlords and the transitional government fight each other. Beyond the political crisis, all the elements for a full-blown famine are lining up again, just as they did in the early 1990s when hundreds of thousands of Somalis starved to death.

“Western powers should do whatever they can,” Gettleman said. “Nearly an entire generation of Somalis has absolutely no idea what a government is or how it functions.”