Africa Update: Ethiopia, Somalia

NPR East Africa Correspondent Gwen Thompkins has an update on the anti-terrorism efforts in East Africa, increasing calls for food and other aid to Ethiopia and Somalia, and reports of more violence in Mogadishu.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

It's time now for our Africa Update. This week, increasing calls for food and other aid to Ethiopia and Somalia, reports of more violence in Mogadishu plus the U.S. comments on anti-terrorism efforts in East Africa.

For more, I'm joined by Gwen Thompkins - NPR's East Africa correspondent.

Hi, Gwen.

GWEN THOMPKINS: Hi there, Farai. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So let's talk about Ethiopia and Somalia. There have been increasing calls for food aid. What's going on?

THOMPKINS: Yes. This has been going on for the past few weeks, actually. And it only seems to be getting worse. Humanitarian aid organizations are saying that there were regions of Ethiopia and Somalia that are experiencing real food insecurity, particularly in Eastern Ethiopia. This is where there are an awful lot of people of Somali origin who were living where there's been also a lot of rebel activity.

Earlier this year, Ethiopia sort of closed off this area. And a lot of the markets that the pastoralists usually go to to sell their livestock, those markets have been off-limits to them. And there's not been a whole lot of food that's been raised in the region. This has created quite a lot of insecurity. And the food that the government is actually bringing into this area of Eastern Ethiopia is just not enough to feed the people.

CHIDEYA: So that's one aspect of what's going on in the region. I want to ask you about something else that is also destabilizing the area. There's violence in Mogadishu, Somalia. Three soldiers killed over the weekend, reportedly. What's going on there? Is the situation deteriorating?

THOMPKINS: Yes. The situation appears to be deteriorating. Not only is there food insecurity, apparently, in Mogadishu but ongoing tensions between the transitional government forces as well as Ethiopian forces - they're working together - against those insurgents who are challenging their authority. This is ongoing. There are an awful lot of casualties. And an issue that seems to be coming to the fore of late is the dearth of medical facilities in Mogadishu to deal with those who've been injured. The Ugandan peacekeepers who were there have offered medical services from their sort of temporary medical facilities that they've put together for themselves. Now, they're offering some medical services to Somalis on the ground who need them. But that's just not enough for population of a major city like Mogadishu.

This fighting comes in the wake of two major conferences. One, a reconciliation congress that took place in Somalia. This went of for more than 40 days and the whole thrust of the conference was to create conditions of peace in the area. And then there was an alternate conference. This is a conference of the transitional government's enemies. These are former members of the Islamic Courts Union who used to run Somalia. Now, they all met, about 300 delegates of them, hoping to coordinate their efforts against the transitional government and the Ethiopian forces.

CHIDEYA: So, Gwen, there are also reports of al-Qaida members being spotted in Somalia's breakaway republics. What can you tell us about the anti-terrorism efforts there?

THOMPKINS: Well, yes, there have been some reports talking about al-Qaida suspects being detained or fought in the Somali land region. And then also last week, there were reports that one of the top al-Qaida suspects that the U.S. has been pursuing was actually killed last week. Now, none of these reports appeared to have been substantiated, but this would be Saleh Ali Saleh Naban(ph). Here in Nairobi, U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, who is also responsible for U.S. relations to Somalia - he had some comments about that. Let's listen.

Ambassador MICHAEL RANNEBERGER (U.S. Ambassador to Kenya): Well, on the three so-called high-value targets. We can't confirm anything about Saleh Naban. Whether he was killed or not, we don't know. I mean - so we're obviously looking into that, but we don't know. We're still in pursuit of the other two. We - obviously, I can't go into details to that. But I would say that, again, that's a very, very active, ongoing effort to apprehend those folks.

THOMPKINS: Ranneberger also went on to reiterate what he's been saying for months now, which is that there are no U.S. combat forces on the ground in Somalia at this point.

CHIDEYA: So, did Ambassador Ranneberger elaborate on U.S. collaboration with other East African states on anti-terrorism?

THOMPKINS: Well, yes, he did, actually. The United States, of course, has made partners of Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya - many countries in this East African region - to combat terror in the region. Now, the flipside of this cooperation has been sort of a growing perception among people here that in return for the cooperation of these governments - Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, the transitional government in Somalia - that the U.S. is willing to look the other way on certain domestic human rights issues and other sort of issues that government leaders in these countries would like to sweep under the carpet.

Someone asked Ambassador Ranneberger, specifically, about how the U.S. is viewing Kenya's efforts at anti-corruption. Now, corruption has been a very ugly mark on Kenya's reputation for years now. There have been money laundering scandals, the Anglo Leasing scandal, as well as the Goldenberg scandal, which have - the investigations have shown that some political leaders have been involved in these scandals and yet no one or no big ticket person has ever come to justice. So Ranneberger was very interested in responding to the perception, at least, that the U.S. is in some way abetting efforts to derail anti-corruption efforts in Kenya. Here's what he had to say.

Ambassador RANNEBERGER: There is a perception, and it's a misperception. So let me correct it. Again, there hasn't been any tradeoff at all. I've never had a discussion with anybody in the government, with the president or anybody else. Let me be clear on that, categorical, saying that if you help out - because you're helping us in Somalia, you know, we will tilt towards you. We will be more quiet on corruption or whatever. Absolutely not, in any way, shape, performed directly or indirectly. I don't think I can be clearer than that.

THOMPKINS: Now, he went on to congratulate or applaud Kenya for the anti-corruption efforts it's made so far. He went on to say that Kenya has won an award from the U.N. in some of its efforts for governmental reform, for instance. But he had to acknowledge that on the big ticket items - the Goldenberg money laundering scandal, the Anglo Leasing scandal - that Kenya has yet to bring anyone, really, to justice. This is what he said.

Ambassador RANNEBERGER: The country is making substantial progress in efforts to improve governments and fight corruption. Now, the high level cases - Anglo Leasing, Goldenberg - have not come to fruition, although there are cases pending. And we're disappointed that those cases have not come to fruition. But that requires cooperation of the judiciary and others as well as the government.

THOMPKINS: But as long as these issues continue to stay in the public eye, there's every chance that this kind of perception - that the U.S. is making trades - will continue.

CHIDEYA: Well, Gwen, thanks again.

THOMPKINS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: That was NPR East Africa correspondent Gwen Thompkins, speaking with us from Nairobi, Kenya.

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