Great Decisions 2011 Fall Updates: The Horn of Africa

The newly independent Republic of South Sudan became the world’s youngest country on July 9. After years of violent struggle between Arab Sudanese militias from the north and the largely Christian south, the U.S. backed a 2005 treaty ending the war. A referendum in January 2011 made clear the overwhelming consensus on secession.

Although the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, accepted the secession of South Sudan, the two new neighbors have yet to resolve issues concerning the export of oil from the energy-rich south. The two countries have also clashed about the issuing of a new currency in South Sudan, which would render old Sudanese banknotes worthless in the south.

Furthermore, pockets of violence in the country could still threaten the tenuous new order, and violence in the South Kordofan region of Sudan might spill across the border. On August 12, the U.S. attempted to gather support in the UN Security Council for a statement condemming the violence in South Kordofan. The UN has reported that war crimes may have been committed in the region, where international aid organizations have limited access.

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After the worst drought in over 50 years, the food crisis in the Horn of Africa threatens to engulf Somalia’s vulnerable population of refugees and displaced persons. Tens of thousands of people have already died from malnutrition and other related causes, and the UN declared on July 20 that the country was experiencing famine in the regions of Bakool and Lower Shabelle, according to the criteria that “acute malnutrition rates among children exceed 30 percent, more than 2 people per 10,000 die per day and people are not able to access food and other basic necessities.” Despite the urgent need for relief, aid has only trickled in because the situation on the ground is so dangerous for relief workers.

Al-Shahab, anti-Western Islamist militants in the southern part of the country, pushed out relief organizations last year and are now preventing starving Somalis from leaving camps in their territory. (Thousands of people have already fled across the borders of Ethiopia and Kenya, but Somalia’s neighbors are also afflicted by the drought, and the entire region is in crisis.) Although al-Shahab recently showed signs of relenting—their insurgents abruptly pulled out of Mogadishu on August 6—the government has a weak grasp on the country, and al-Shahab still remain in control of southern Somalia. As a result, the areas of the country that need food the most remain dangerous, and relief workers lack adequate access to the region. Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme is responding to news reports that unscrupulous contractors have siphoned off aid, which is being sold in Mogadishu markets rather than being distributed to the famine-stricken population.

Note: The Great Decisions fall Updates were researched as of 8/25/2011.