London calling … to the faraway towns of Somalia

Talk about efficiency, how’s this for a developmental scheme. First, encourage, both directly and by ‘principled non-engagement,’ a civil war in a mineral rich area. Make sure thousands are displaced, especially the rural populations. Help to build so-called refugee camps which are located a great distance from everyone’s homes and which are places in and around which women and girls become ever more vulnerable, ever more intensely vulnerable … in every way. Let that simmer for a while. Then convene a conference of experts and saviors, not to be confused with Ngugi’s feast of thieves and robbers. No, this will be a serious conference of ‘people who care’. Be sure to invite everyone who’s anyone which means exclude anyone who’s nobody which means be very selective in whom you invite. Meet for a couple days, not in the country under discussion, of course. That would cloud your objectivity. You can care from faraway. Announce that this is an opportunity, that the natives must buck up and reform. Announce that the time has come to talk of cabbages and kings — but definitely not queens or princesses of any sort. Then close the conference and declare that, this time, they got it right.

Then, not twenty-four hours later, lead the dash to ‘explore’ for mineral wealth in the country under discussion. Hey, you’ve earned it.

Sound familiar? Welcome to Somalia. And welcome, Somalia, to the world order, same as it ever was.

This past weekend, a Very Important Conference was held in London, at Lancaster House, to ‘address’ the ‘Somali situation’. Leading up to the conference, there was much talk — well, there were a few articles here and there — which argued for inclusion of the ‘people’. Mary Robinson called for a focus on ordinary Somalis, and described Somali women struggling with structures of hunger and immiseration. Nobody at the conference paid attention. Before the Conference, Mary Harper noted that Somalis actually have better ideas than so-called experts, and definitely better ideas than so-called world leaders, about how to grow the Somali economy and how to improve Somalia’s political economies. She too was largely ignored. As Harper pointed out afterwards, the Conference’s final communiqué, such as it is, is rife with, or better built on, contradictions. On one side, literally, the document speaks of Somali self-determination. On the other, again literally, it describes which areas of Somali will now be controlled by foreign governments and multinationals.

As for Somali women at this conference, forget about it.

Somali women were not ‘forgotten’, they were excluded. They were all excluded, from shopkeepers, like Faduma Aden Mohamud; Diaspora activists such as Rahma Ahmed, Amina Souleiman; Somali women community organizers of all stripes, such as Aydris Daar; prominent Somali women members of government, such as Dr. Mariam Aweis Jama and Malyun Sheik Heidar; and the list goes on and on. Women who survived the atrocities of the war and who have been crucial in both construction and reconstruction were literally not given seats at the table.

That was Friday. On Sunday, The Observer reported that “Britain leads dash to explore for oil in war-torn Somalia.” So, it’s a story with a happy ending. Ask the women of the Niger Delta. They’ll tell you. Meanwhile, Somali women continue to organize while London’s calling to the faraway towns. Now war is declared — and battle come down.

Further Reading

When is a coup a coup?

Breaking with its habit of tolerating military coups, more recently the African Union has made it a policy to challenge unconstitutional transitions of power. Why not in Zimbabwe?