In 2001, as cinema-goers were getting one of their first 'war on terror' fixes with Black Hawk Down, the US was threatening air strikes in Somalia. Six years on, the US-imposed regime of warlords, Dyncorps and Ethiopian tanks in Somalia is waging a terroristic war on inhabitants who refuse to accept its rule. The American proxy war is killing people by the hundreds. Simon Tisdall reports:
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in recent fighting in the capital, Mogadishu, and tens of thousands have fled their homes. The UN says wounded civilians are lying untended in the streets after heavy artillery and mortars pounded residential areas. Since February, 96,000 refugees have swelled the ranks of Somalia's 400,000 internally displaced persons. And despite a temporary truce today, it seems likely that worse is to come.
Repeating war crimes perpetrated on Somalia by the US in 1993 and 1998, the US recently carried out a massacre of fleeing nomads on the Kenyan border, using "the AC-130, a behemoth designed to shred large areas instantly, in the knowledge that the killing fields would be cleared before journalists and aid workers could reach them.". Some of the others who try to flee are being secretly kidnapped and locked up - "renditioned" in parlance that is no less brutal for being familiar. Human Rights Watch says that "Kenya, Ethiopia, the United States and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia cooperated in a secret detention program for people who had fled the recent conflict in Somalia", with dozens disappearing into Ethiopia's torture chambers. One such was actually a US citizen.
Bush administration officials have spoken of the proxy invasion of Somalia as a model of how to conduct 'counterterrorism' (read 'counterinsurgency'). A new military command primarily based in Djibouti and known as Africom, has been set up to run US wars in the continent. (Check that link, by the way - the BBC's security correspondent attributes a fear of "future genocides" to the US action). Salim Lone, the former UN spokesperson, has suggested that the renewed efforts to subordinate especially the resource-rich Horn of Africa under US military command will precipitate a sustained regional crisis, throwing several nearby states into the frontline of America's various wars.
Well, why should they care? Without wishing to minimise the discontinuities in policy and history, the line of imperial violence hardly ended with the anticolonial revolutions. And most recently Western states have mounted massive wars in parts of Africa, not least in the DRC and Sierra Leone, to ensure strategic control over vital resources, taking millions of lives. The prolonged and tortured circumstances of national liberation, the counterrevolutionary wars, the bribery, the neoliberal offensives through the IMF, have ensured that most of Africa's governments have been made pliable, where they are not installed clients. Indeed, the very nature of national liberation was that it tended toward subsumption into an American global order precisely insofar as it did not proceed to socialist revolution. The nature of South Africa's transition from racist apartheid was partially determined by this overall situation: the agreement was that the rule of white racists would end if the white racist elite could keep most of the land and wealth. The ANC entered into a transitional administration with the National Party and, almost immediately, abandoned even its meliorative social democratic policies under a loan deal with the IMF which stipulated the usual privatisation, tarrif-reducing measures, cuts to public spending and so forth. The result has been that a revolution led by Marxists, leftists and trade unionists became the vanguard of neoliberalism in Africa. Having supported the apartheid regime for years, Washington finally got what it wanted - a new, less visible apartheid based on class (but which, of course, leaves most of those black South Africans who were poor before, poorer still, while the rich whites have not suffered at all from the transfer of wealth facilitated by the cuts to social spending). Given the proven failure of socialist-led regimes to move toward transcending the partition of the African continent, avoid being brought under the sway of international capital (what with the market-driven famines), and resist imprialist subventions (what with the genocidal wars), the Islamist movements are in the ascendancy. These movements are not the sole resistance to the neoliberal universe, nor are they the most dependable or preferable, but a collection of more or less conservative Islamic courts in Somalia presumably looks like more of a safe bet to its residents than perpetual war under US hegemony. Which is perfect for the whole "war on terror" narrative, with its supporting clash-of-civilisations heuristic. As long as Islamist movements are seen as the main opposition to an American-led neoliberal order, violent tyranny and repression is always-already stitched into the story of brave Spartan warriors resisting enslavement by the Asiatic hordes (that "Islamo-Confucian connection" posited by Huntington may prove useful too, at some point). A vicious wave of terror designed and prosecuted to procure American strategic interests is, that is, once more a form of defense.
And don't forget, as Bush never does, the oil. They'll kill for that stuff.