Business, Finance & Economics

Is world response to Somalia famine Rwanda genocide redux?


Women displaced from southern Somalia by famine sit in a camp for internally displaced people in Mogadishu waiting for aid supplies.


Tony Karumba

Ken Menkhaus is a world-leading expert on Somalia who teaches political science at Davidson College in North Carolina.

There are plenty of people out there claiming expertise on a country that some of them have never even visited, but Menkhaus gives a consistently spot-on analysis of the shifting situation in the war-torn and now famine-struck country.

This week he issued a call-to-action, upbraiding the international community in general and Obama in particular for failing to respond adequately to the famine that now threatens 750,000 lives, according to the UN.

In a report written for the Enough Project, an advocacy organisation better known for its use of celebrities to draw attention to strife in Sudan and Congo, Menkhaus describes the famine as “a calamity that could join the ranks of the Rwanda genocide and the Darfur crisis in terms of scale and human suffering.”

According to UN figures nearly $2.5 billion is needed to fund aid for more than 12-million people suffering from the effects of a regional drought in the Horn of Africa, a drought that has triggered famine levels of malnutrition in Somalia.

Tens of thousands of Somalis, mostly children, have already died yet only $1.6 billion has so far been pledged by donors.

“Unless the international response changes, the 2011 Somali famine will be to the Obama administration what the 1994 Rwandan genocide was to the Clinton administration – a terrible stain, an unforgiveable instance of lack of political will to push policy beyond incrementalism,” Menkhaus said. “We can and must do better.”

Menkhaus says the time has come for world powers to invoke their “responsibility to protect” which would allow military intervention to save lives, although Menkhaus concedes that has not worked in the past.

Instead he calls for a “diplomatic surge” to pressure the weak and corrupt Transitional Federal Government and the Islamist al-Shabaab militia to enable aid to get into the country.

He argues that it is time to leverage the kind of full-scale diplomatic pressure that helped bring an end to the post-election violence that tore through Kenya in early 2008 with the US taking the lead in pushing the TFG and Islamic nations playing a similar role in pressuring Shabaab.