Somalia’s Famine or the Face of Arab Shame

By Mohamed El Mokhtar

Regardless of what has originally led to the collapse of the Somali state (nefarious tribalism, bad governance, senseless civil war, foreign interference etc) and its continuing structural failure, there is no excuse whatsoever for the current large scale humanitarian emergency crisis, unashamedly unfolding before our eyes, to take place. Although, the personal responsibility of this bitter reality lies primarily in the hands of the warring Somali political leaders, the world community, the Arab world in particular, bears also a great deal of moral responsibility.

Assuredly, this human tragedy of unparalleled proportions should shake the humanity of each one of us. It is a critical appraisal test of the depth of our moral principles and the extent of our humanism as purportedly civilized beings. The graphic images of starving babies will remain, we like or not, as indelible as everlasting moral stains in our memories.

This mostly man-made disaster truly reveals, in all of its dimensions, the absurdity of the human condition. It embodies the very face of human shame. Shame of Somali leaders; Shame of Arab political leaderships; Shame of the Arab league; Shame of the AU; Shame of the OIC; Shame of the UN; Shame of world powers; Shame of the unashamed; Shame of us all!

Today in this holy Muslim month of Ramadan, scores of physically exhausted and morally desperate Somalis civilians, mostly women and children, have to walk hundreds of miles in search for a tiny bite of expired food in the desolate refugees camps located in the poor peripheries of Kenya and Ethiopia. And yet today the neighboring Saudis and other well-to-do Gulf states are spending billions of dollars on lethal military hardware as unfit for civilian applications and reverse engineering as useless in war.

Where is at this very moment of dire need the much pampered Saudi army? Where are its overfed Generals and Admirals? Where is the expensive Saudi or Kuwaiti or UAE or Qatari Air force? Where are the oft-touted about Arab sovereign funds? Can’t they get together and do a small airlift rescue mission next door to help their fellow Arabs and Muslims in the direst need? Can’t they call now an emergency meeting to measure the ins and outs of this disastrous situation taking place in their backyard?

The moral depravity and cynical indifference of Arab ruling elites to the plight of their peoples are definitely a case study for social scientists.

In fact, the powerlessness felt by ordinary people, in urgent situations like this one, epitomizes the lowest point of helplessness imaginable; and it is that profound feeling of humiliation and powerlessness that has finally led to the popular anger at the origin of the current revolutionary turmoil! To really get a better sense of the predicament of the Arab world, at this moment of history, one need only meditate the edifying contrast between the attitude of Israel toward its Falasha and those of the monarchies of the Gulf for instance toward their starving fellow neighboring brethren in next door Somalia. There is no greater moral paradox than this one!

Where is the Arab version of Operation Moses (1984) or Operation Sheba (1985) or Operation Solomon (1991)? They certainly do have the financial means to initiate the effort; better yet: in the Arabic peninsula they don’t, even remotely, suffer from the burden of demographic promiscuity, much less overpopulation. So why are they so profoundly selfish and morally insensitive to the need of their relatives? How did they become so cynical and coward to this point? Why do they prefer, for instance, importing Nepalese and Sri-Lankan laborers to skilled Egyptians and Palestinians workers? Why do they shun well qualified Moroccan nurses for Filipino medical assistants? The idea that charity begins at home is to them so strange a concept one would think ignominy and stinginess are genetically embedded in their DNA.

In 1984, the then premier minister of Israel, Ytzakh Shamir, had to shake havens and earth for the Falasha Maru to be rescued from famine, including bribing president Numeiri of Sudan, but Arab rulers are today motionless in face of the current Somali humanitarian disaster. Worse, ordinary benevolent citizens in rich Arab countries can hardly find appropriate means anymore to channel their Zakat because of stringent anti-Terrorism laws and constant surveillance and harassment by the authorities. Can anybody imagine Croatia starving to death next door to a wealthy Germany or a Swaziland dying of hunger in South Africa’s backyard? It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Yet ignominy seems to have no limit in some corner of the Arab world, for it’s an idiosyncratic feature of local leaderships.

In fact, despite the windfall of petrodollars and a multitude of pressing regional challenges and looming threats, these Arabic monarchies remain snugly marooned in their little cocoon as though the wheels of history have stopped at their step-doors. They selfishly live in a surrealist world of their own making; a world of continuing lust and little fantasies made of bird hunting, effete parties, dull soccer games and bling-bling shopping sprees; an incredible world of total cynicism and morally degrading indifference. Purposely isolated from their immediate surroundings, their societies are condemned by virtue of a stultifying system of indoctrination to a state of permanent mediocrity. Fallaciously enlivened by the illusion of imported material comfort, they remain as amnesic as ever! How sickening is such apathy!

To get a sense of the sheer vanity and outright stupidity of these feudal sheikhdoms one only need to be reminded how they idiotically invested over a trillion dollars in toxic subprime mortgages and over-the-counter derivatives gone awry forever in the Credit Crisis of 2008 in the US alone. Yet, despite this rare predisposition to profligacy, they are still unable to intelligently invest in food self-sufficiency or water security or even patrol the strategic sea-lanes carrying their vital oil.

While the Gulf of Aden is nowadays being patrolled by foreign navies, including Chinese and Indian ones, the leaders of GCC are busy enjoying their tasteless hobbies of betting on kiddies camel riders or hawk hunting if they are not girlishly whining over the growing power and influence of Iran, their other favorite pastime!

Saudi Arabia which sends thousands of mostly semi-illiterate students unfit to learn in the West is still incapable of setting up a decent public school system at home in spite of its whopping wealth. It spends billions of dollars on the purchase of armaments but can’t even ask for a partial transfer of technology as a precondition of those costly contracts. The rottenness of its educational system is a living testimony of the backwardness of its polity and total lack of vision of its rulers. No wonder its youth is poorly educated and ill-equipped to confront modern challenges!

In face of the current Arab Spring, the KSA remains undoubtedly the biggest hurdle for change in the region. Its interference in Yemen is stifling the revolutionary momentum there; and its lobbying in Egypt has decelerated the train of change by contributing to the delay in economic reforms and the trial of Mubarak and his cronies. The ruling king Abdallah is now in his 90s, the Crown prince in his 80s, the foreign minister and many other high officials are all old and ailing; can there be any more lethargic gerontocracy?

The state makes it a compelling public duty to chop off, without pity, the hands of a poor immigrant accused, often unfairly, of petty larceny and yet its high officials find no moral qualms at all with giving a golden asylum to an infamous plunderer of public treasuries like Ben Ali. The very embodiment of hypocrisy!

Beyond the legendary Arab inconsequence, there are of course other objective factors contributing to the severity of the food crisis in the Horn of Africa. In addition to internal causes (prolonged periods of drought, civil wars, political instability and insidious tribal rivalry) there is, more important, the greed and speculation of the financial oligarchy controlling the world’s market for grains and the increasingly insidious effects of global warming. Last but not least, the ambivalent attitude of the US government is further complicating the humanitarian disaster.

Indeed by insisting that aid should not be made available to areas supposedly controlled by the extremist militia Esh-shabab, the US is basically excluded 60% of the country from humanitarian relief operations. Or some 3.7 million people are today threatened by famine in Somalia and 2.8 million of them are located precisely in the South where the Somali Transitional Government, or STG, has no control according to Donald Steinberg of USAID. Therefore, would the world simply not help and completely stay out of these hard-hit areas because of the scattered presence of some ragtag army of few hundred, mostly underage, fanatics?

– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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