In late 2015, hundreds of Sudanese staged a sit-in outside the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Amman, Jordan. Their hope was to obtain recognition of their rights as refugees and asylum seekers, and to receive better treatment from the agency. A previous protest in 2014 had ended when Jordanian police persuaded (or compelled) the Sudanese to leave the site. This time, however, after the Sudanese had camped out for a month in the posh neighborhood of Khalda, the police arrived in force in the early hours of a mid-December morning. They dismantled the camp and transported some 800 protesters and others—men, women and children—to a holding facility close to Queen Alia International Airport.
In 2013, Mohamed, a 22-year old Somali, was making a living washing cars in Saudi Arabia. Late that year, due to increasing government pressure on employers of undocumented workers, he was fired. In December, after several weeks without a job, Mohamed handed himself over to the police. He spent the next 57 days detained in appalling conditions. “In the first detention center in Riyadh, there was so little food, we fought over it,” he said. “So the strongest ate the most. Guards told us to face the wall and then beat our backs with metal rods. In the second place, there were two toilets for 1,200 people, including dozens of children.” Mohamed is now in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Until the resurgence of naval predation in the late 2000s, pirates were confined to the realm of the fantastic — novels, films and stage productions. Since Western states last worried about pirates in the eighteenth century, the intrinsic, man-bites-dog interest of contemporary pirates for the popular press is easy to understand. The reemergence of piracy as a political problem, however, has in no way banished the fantastic from current understandings of the phenomenon, nor of Somalia, whence the most famous of today’s maritime bandits come. The fantasy is evident in media coverage, but in policy discourse as well. Once upon a time, begins the tale, there was a state called Somalia and now there is not. Pirates flourish where the writ of government has entirely lost its sway.
On January 24, the US launched a second round of airstrikes in Somalia against alleged al-Qaeda terrorists believed to be responsible for the bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Intended to eradicate these extremist elements from the Horn of Africa, the airstrikes instead exacerbated the chaos brought on by the fall of the Union of Islamic Courts to US-backed Ethiopian forces late last year. Continued instability renders Somalia ripe for the reemergence of the same kind of militancy the US strikes aimed to eliminate. Limited military actions cannot prevent Somalia from reverting to militant haven status, but a comprehensive, three-pronged US approach could.
Muhammad Sahnoun is a former Algerian diplomat who served as the special representative of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali in Somalia prior to the US military intervention there. He is presently a fellow at the International Development and Research Center in Ottawa. Joe Stork spoke with him in Washington, DC in August 1993.
You are from a country that went through a national liberation struggle and which has historically taken a strong position against intervention. Yet you’re a practitioner of intervention. Do you see this as a new period requiring actions of this sort, or is this something that’s long overdue?
The US decision to intervene in Somalia in December 1992 came well after the two-year-old crisis had finally hit the headlines. The power vacuum that followed the flight of Siad Barre from Mogadishu in January 1991, and the subsequent civil war in the capital, particularly the fighting between November 1991 and March 1992, attracted little attention despite the country’s collapse into anarchy. 
John Paul Lederach directs the International Conciliation Service of the Mennonite Central Committee, and has been working closely in the past five years with Somalis in North America, Europe and Somalia, in particular with a Somali forum, Ergada. He also teaches at Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Joe Stork spoke with him in early February 1993.
People working in the Horn have expressed the view that the situation had deteriorated to the point where an internally generated reconciliation had become impossible. Some sort of external intervention was necessary.
“Propaganda to Journalism” was the New York Times headline on a year-end story about mass media in former Socialist countries, without the slightest self-consciousness about how US coverage of events like the Somalia intervention exemplifies “journalism to propaganda.” Perhaps there have been equally bizarre landings in the history of the US Marines — Beirut, for instance, in July 1958, when they splashed onto a beach full of sunbathers and Coca-Cola vendors. In this latest patriotic spectacle, troops landed in camouflage uniforms and greased faces, only to find their high-tech night vision goggles rendered useless, even hazardous, by the glare of the television camera lights.
I traveled into Ogaden with the Western Somali Liberation Front (WSLF) for five days in August 1980. We drove about 230 miles across open savanna in broad daylight, crossing the main road between the Ethiopian garrisons in Degabur and Gebredarre. On the third day we reached a town of over 10,000, a trading center bombed by the Ethiopians a year earlier. The merchants who catered to the nomadic population had set up shops under bushes and trees. A village committee, instigated by the WSLF, consisted of merchants, elders and WSLF militants. The committee, I was told, regulated prices and adjudicated local disputes. The WSLF Youth League had set up a school for boys and girls.
Fred Halliday conducted this interview in London in May 1982.
Political developments in Africa have lately slipped out of the headlines, but the confrontations brewing there could dwarf earlier conflicts in both military fury and political complexity. The US-backed regimes in Somalia and Sudan each face the possibility of sudden coups d’etat or civil wars. The Soviet-supported Ethiopian government is losing another in a long sequence of campaigns to stamp out nationalist guerrillas in the former Italian colony of Eritrea. Addis Ababa also faces ongoing revolts by three minority nationalities who are increasingly linking up with one another to topple the military authorities.