A story I wrote in April last year for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings has won a Society of National Association Magazines award for feature writing in the 50,001-to-100,000 circulation category. The award comes with a $4 million cash prize. Brad Pitt hosts the ceremony in Washington, D.C., in June, which I will be attending in my solid-gold sneakers.
I’m kidding. But the award is real, and here’s the story again:
Cries in the Dark
The situation in Somalia now represents Africa’s greatest crisis — and the United States is partly to blame.
by DAVID AXE
“We have no food, no shelters. People are sick. Medicine is short,” said Dr. Hawa Abdi, director of one of Somalia’s largest refugee camps, on the Afgooye Road outside the capital of Mogadishu. It was early December 2007, during a spike in fighting in the city that forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee. Roughly 50,000 refugees settled in Abdi’s camp, where just a handful of Somali and international staff struggle to provide care. The flight represented only the latest chapter in what U.N. officials have said is Africa’s greatest crisis.
It has been 17 years since the violent overthrow of dictator Siad Barre and the first shots of the subsequent civil war, and 14 years since a U.S. and U.N. peacekeeping mission was cut short by the deaths of 18 U.S. troops and hundreds of Somalis in the brutal Battle of Mogadishu. Now, Somalia is plagued by military occupation, tribal in-fighting, criminality on a massive scale, political dysfunction, and persistent drought.
The transitional government — really just a loose alliance of clans — has little power outside its northern fortress town of Baidoa. One million people are displaced. Nearly 20 percent of the population is starving. And the crisis has created favorable conditions for Islamic extremists who, despite Pentagon claims to the contrary, previously held little sway in the country.
Somalia needs help, both for the sake of Somalis and for a stable East Africa that does not harbor extremists. But a destabilizing Ethiopian occupation, U.N. heel-dragging, a dearth of African peacekeeping resources, and seething anti-Americanism among many Somalis — resulting in part from the confused and inconsistent U.S. policy in the region — makes international assistance a dicey affair.