New Study Claims Over 250,000 Died From 2011 Somalia Famine, U.S.-Al Shabaab Savagery To Blame

Published on ZNet, by Stephen Roblin, May 11, 2013.

“Powerful people have that privilege of denying reality,” the Somali scholar, Abdi Samatar, stated when explaining the causes of Somalia’s 2011 famine as it was laying waste to the population.

The famine was one of history’s rare socio-natural calamities in that it was predicted almost a year in advance, providing sufficient time to avert it and at a minimal costs for the rich nations. Thus, it will likely go down as one of the most easily preventable calamities in modern history.

It will also go down as one of the most devastating.  

According to a mortality study released last week, close to 260,000 people may have died in southern and central Somalia as a result of the 2011 food crisis and famine, 133,000 of whom were children under the age of five.[1] And these were only the “excess deaths.”

The study claims more than 290,000 deaths “would have occurred irrespective of the emergency” given the normal state of humanitarian catastrophe in the region, bringing the overall death toll to some 595,000 from October 2010 to April 2012.

For perspective, the “excess” death toll alone is more than three times higher than the numbers killed in Syria’s civil war, according to the figure circulating in the western press. And it took much less time for the mountain of corpses to pile up in Somalia.

Given the scale of the horror and, more importantly, the cast of culprits, it’s imperative that blame be attributed in a politicized rather than truthful manner.

Commenting on the significance of the study, Philippe Lazzarini, the chief U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, called the famine a near “silent drama of tragedy.” His assessment, however, is only partially correct.

Not powerful enough to deny reality to the world, Al Shabaab has been widely condemned in the harshest terms for its barbaric and criminal acts of denying humanitarian access to areas under its control and preventing civilians from migrating to regions where relief could be accessed.

The “silent” part of the tragedy, at least in the West, has been the United State’s responsibility for a famine that resulted in a virtually genocidal outcome.[2]

Speaking to an Al Jazeera reporter in November 2011, Samatar went on to say how the United States and others “partner[ed] in a very bizarre way with Shabaab in punishing the local population” … //

… Always eager to punish its historic enemy’s civilian population, Ethiopia sent its forces in to help “ameliorate the effects.” For their part, militias affiliated with the western-backed transitional government, which controlled Mogadishu at the time, committed large-scale theft of food aid.

U.S. officials are aware of the devastating outcomes of their Somalia policies. Hence, responsibility for the human tragedy cannot be assessed honestly. Political expedients demand that reality be denied.

Menkhaus noted the political imperative of denying reality: “There are plenty of western countries, including my own government, who would like to see the conversation stop right there and say it was all Al-Shabaab’s fault.”

We might add that it’s also convenient to ignore how the terrorist group rose to power.

As Jeremy Scahill documents in his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield, Al Shabaab was catapulted to dominance as a result of the U.S.-sponsored Ethiopian invasion and occupation that began in 2006. Prior to this, the CIA triggered a “full-scale dirty war” on the streets of Mogadishu by hiring Somalia’s notorious warlords to carry out assassinations and renditions.

Though these crimes “may seem [like] unpalatable choices,” an embassy cables describes, they were “the only means . . . available,” and therefore justified. Much like dismantling the humanitarian relief system can be justified on grounds that it was “the only means” to avoid paying “a terrorism tax to al Shabaab.”

And as evidently justified, there’s no need for the American public to know when the noble pursuit of “strategic interests” demands resort to savagery.

While it is true that the powerful often have the privilege of denying reality, it’s a privilege we grant when we reduce ourselves to passive recipients of lies.

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