By Rana F. Sweis
World AIDS Day is about raising awareness. Yet the deadly virus continues to kill mostly Africans, where three million people died this year alone. Africa remains the most impoverished, hungry and war-ravaged continent in the world. And in the US there is modest support for increased humanitarian and military intervention as well as poverty reduction strategies. By ignoring Africa, we are ignoring a volatile and vulnerable region. We are ignoring a desperate people. The horn of Africa is increasingly becoming a fertile ground for terrorism. Terrorist cells in West Africa, “take advantage of poor, disillusioned populations to recruit for their jihad.”
The 1998 bombing of the American embassy in Nairobi demonstrated the presence of terrorists groups. The core leadership of the Kenyan cell consisted primarily of citizens of the Gulf States, Somalia, Pakistan, and the Comoro Islands but gradually local Kenyans were recruited. In the current war in Iraq, statistics have shown that about twenty five percent of foreign fighters detained are from Africa, especially from the East Africa.
The United States ignored a great deal of civil war, tribal conflicts, disease and poverty. All this combined, turned Somalia into a ‘failed state.’ Somalia has no central government. Reports made public by the CIA confirm that suspected terrorists operate predominantly in so-called “failed states.” Hundreds of thousands of Somalis live as refugees in neighboring countries, and many others are internally displaced.
This is a fight for life. And it is not only African lives that are at stake. Our lives could be at stake. When we see no perfect solution, we tend to ignore the problem. We give up once when we do not understand. But recently African Union forces, soldiers from across Africa, set up a small security outpost of 50 troops in one refugee camp in Somalia. Almost immediately, refugees began returning followed by international aid groups. Whether it is one refugee camp, one village or one tribe. Little things in Africa can make big differences.
Helping people help themselves is priceless. Empowering, rebuilding and improving the quality of life whether in Iraq or Darfur may be our best hope towards fostering democracy. Some may argue that we do not have enough troops or expertise on the ground to be effective. Peacekeeping and peace building is essential to protect our nation and others. When we decide to build the peace in Africa, we must look towards the local people who have inside knowledge of every alley, every cultural norm and every little thing that adds up to mean everything in places we seem to understand little about.
The quick U.S. disengagement from Somalia and failure to respond to the Rwanda genocide in 1994 has left us vulnerable to attacks. An effective U.S. response to terrorist threats in the Horn of Africa must include increased and targeted foreign aid and improved intelligence capabilities.
This year, World AIDS Day was about wearing the red ribbon, as a sign of support for people living with HIV. Let us help people help themselves as a sign of our long due support to people in Africa. We would also help ourselves by decreasing the chances of turning a vulnerable region into a volatile breeding ground for terrorists, who may end up striking us on our shores–again