City in Focus: Mogadishu, Somalia; DaDaab camp, Kenya

Written by on January 3rd, 2012

The last thing Somalia needs is military unrest. With droughts wreaking havoc on the entire southern half of Somalia, and neighboring countries willing to invade to “help” (the last time Ethiopia invaded Somalia, the casualties ranged in the millions), this is the exact wrong time for a militant Muslim faction to arise and assert tribal dominance. But arise one did: al-Shabaab.

Drought and famine alone do not cause people to flee, the Guardian points out. While Kenya has seen refugees from all of the Horn countries in decades past, recently only one population of farmers is fleeing across international borders: Somalia’s. The reason is that for the last 20 years Somalia has lacked a stable government, and al-Shabaab currently has control of much of southern Somalia.

Seeking shelter from the famine and military transcription by roaming al-Shabaab militias, refugees have gone generally to one of two places: Mogadishu, the bombed out shell-of-a-capital-city that has never really recovered from American-led war maneuvers in the mid 1990’s, and DaDaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. While DaDaab technically sits in Kenya, the border is nothing more than an imaginary line through the desert, one boldly crossed first by al-Shabaab militants when they raided DaDaab and abducted several aid workers, then crossed later by the Kenyan military in an effort to route insurgents allegedly hiding in 10 Somali towns.

To the West, DaDaab, a refugee resettlement camp that has swollen in population and, were it officially a city, would be Kenya’s third largest. Built to house 90,000 refugees, it quickly filled to five times its capacity when, at one point, 1,300 Somalis a day were streaming across the Kenya border.

Nighttime is a dangerous time to be a woman in DaDaab. With no shelter to speak of, and a scant military presence that cannot possibly patrol the farthest outskirts, rape and abuse is common.

But an even greater threat in this migration pattern, to Mogadishu or DaDaab, is the rise in human smuggling and trafficking. In the midst of the chaos, it is far too easy for criminal enterprises to deceive young women and girls into traveling to Kenya under the auspices of safety and protection, as was the case with the young women interviewed by the Guardian.

To understand the utter lack of protection, one must only look to Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu. Mogadishu is populated by the huddled masses that have streamed there (instead of Kenya) from the hinterlands to find any meager ration of food or medicine, perhaps the last in all of southern Somalia’s drought stricken regions.

Throughout the long months of the drought in the Horn of Africa that started last spring, al-Shabaab has seized what little control it can grasp, kidnapping and murdering westerners, raiding the offices of aid organizations, and even infiltrating refugee camps to “recruit” new members. Al-Shabaab has turned a natural disaster into a crisis as hundreds of thousands of people have fled from their homes in the pastoral, arid prairies. Now, there are no aid groups even in Mogadishu: last autumn, al-Shabaab scared off all of the aid groups when they abducted and killed several workers in the city.

Though al-Shabaab has largely lost its hold in Mogadishu, peace and victory seldom last long there. Somalia has lacked any unified government to speak of since conflict broke out in 1991. It would be inaccurate to say that Mogadishu is the nexus of the struggle against al-Shabaab; the terrorist group that has been tormenting aid groups and western visitors all along the border of Kenya and the coast.

But the battle for Mogadishu is the battle for a stable government, a rule of law that will extend protection to the hundreds of thousands of women and children sent fleeing from their homes and into the machination of highly sophisticated human trafficking networks.

This City in Focus comes from The Horn of Africa Region. To read an overview of this region click here.