Monday, September 05, 2011

Regional Ties

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The two African countries receiving press these days are Libya and Somalia. The standoff between Muammar Gadhafi and his opposition that began in Benghazi and spread westward in Libya receives a good amount of attention from the press and Western policy makers. Somalia, too, has its share of political turmoil as a central authority has been absent for the past twenty years and the only groups able to make headway in the fighting are pan-Islamist fundamentalists like Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (often shortened to Al Shabaab). Somalia also experienced a drought this year. This, in combination with its on-going civil strife, is exacerbating conditions of famine, Diaspora, and the spread of disease.

Problems such as these, however, do not remain separate from each other or uniform over space. Libya is certainly in a state of disrepair but so are its neighbours: Algeria, Mali, Niger and Chad. Algeria is silently supporting Gadhafi and suppressing any forms of dissidence as the Bouteflika administration is fearful that the ‘Arab Spring’ will reach its territory. Mali, Niger and Chad are witnessing large crowds of people coming from Libya who left because of the turmoil or because their previous relationship with the Gadhafi regime will foster acts of revenge if the rebels should succeed in ousting Gadhafi. These groups place strains on the limited infrastructure, food resources, and health services that are in place. Chad is right now trying to contain cholera and measles outbreaks in addition to their grain reserves quickly depleting.

The events in Somalia also influence the stability of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Somali groups live in the first three of these countries. While the drought was most severe in the southern central region of Somalia, kinship ties allow large movements of people around East Africa where water resources were sufficient for local populations before, but now are strained through the arrival of more consumers. Such depletion leads to the use of contaminated water and poor sanitation. Kenya and Ethiopia are fighting outbreaks of cholera and malaria at the moment.  Tanzania is an interesting case as certain regions in its territory were affected by poor rains this year but the country still produced enough food for its population. The concern, however, is in Tanzanian grain being smuggled north to Kenya and Somalia where returns will be higher. Regional ties exist, they are strong, and a crisis in one country is influential on many neighbouring countries.

This said, it should be noted there are countries, and regions, experiencing the same turmoil as Libya and Somalia at the moment that receive little or no attention from the press and Western policy makers. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zimbabwe are obvious examples that experience crises affecting the food security, health, and human rights of populations in these countries as well as those in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi in the case of the DRC and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique when talking of Zimbabwe. People, commodities and ideas move easily over all parts of Africa. So too, do crises and the escalation of problems when focus is placed on only one or two states.

                                                                     Photo by James Natchwey, 2011