Monday, August 1, 2011

Somalia and "The Catastrophic Convergence"

In a world filled with crises, the current conflict-exacerbated famine in Somalia is perhaps the most dire. The entire Horn of Africa - Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti - is in the throes of an historic drought that threatens the lives of hundreds of millions throughout the region. But no country has suffered worse than Somalia, where the effects of the drought have been made drastically worse by the ongoing conflict between a barely functional central government and an Islamist militant group known as the Shabab. According to reports, tens of thousands of Somalis have already died, and an estimated 500,000 children are on the verge of starvation. As the New York Times reports, Somalis are faced with the kind of Hobson's choice that will become more prevalent in an era of climate change:

This leaves millions of famished Somalis with two choices, aside from fleeing the country to neighboring Kenya or Ethiopia, where there is more assistance. They can beg for help from a weak and divided transitional government in Mogadishu, the capital. Just the other day there was a shootout between government forces at the gates of the presidential palace. “Things happen,” was the response of Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Somalia’s new prime minister.

Or they can remain in territory controlled by the Shabab, who have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and have tried to rid their areas of anything Western — Western music, Western dress, even Western aid groups during a time of famine.


While the entire region struggles to confront the drought, two areas controlled by the Shabab are the only two in the region where the United Nations has declared a famine. Somalis report that the militants are diverting rivers away from poor villages to farmers who pay them taxes, and have forced many to live in camps outside Mogadishu. According to reports, the camps are violent, squalid places almost completely cut off from international food aid.

The disaster unfolding in Somalia is a prime example of what Christian Parenti calls "the catastrophic convergence":

Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence. By catastrophic convergence, I do not merely mean that several disasters happen simultaneously, one problem atop another. Rather, I argue that problems compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another.

Societies, like people, deal with new challenges in ways that are conditioned by the traumas of their past. Thus, damaged societies, like damaged people, often respond to new crises in ways that are irrational, shortsighted, and self-destructive. In the case of climate change, the prior traumas that set the stage for bad adaptation, the destructive social response, are Cold War-era militarism and the economic pathologies of neoliberal capitalism. Over the last forty years, both these forces have distorted the state's relationship to society - removing and undermining the state's collectivist, regulatory, and redistributive functions, while overdeveloping its repressive and military capacities. This, I argue, inhibits society's ability to avoid violent dislocations as climate change kicks in. (p. 7-8)


Somalia and the Horn of Africa was ground zero for the Cold War struggle between the U.S. and the Soviet bloc (with the Cubans playing a key role) in the late 1970s. The dueling powers intervened war between Somalia and Ethiopia, now on one side and now on another, in an attempt to set up a sphere of influence in a strategically important region. Parenti details the history of the war, the machinations of the superpowers, and the disintegration of the Somali in Chapter 7 of Tropic of Chaos.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does the author offer any suggestions on how the UN and world governments can help deal with catastrophic convergence situations? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like any viable solution for Somalia is going to be presented any time soon.

kendellguy said...

dear peoples from google
Does the author offer any suggestions on how the UN and world governments can help deal with catastrophic convergence situations? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like any viable solution for Somalia is going to be presented any time soon.

kendellguy said...

Does the author offer any suggestions on how the UN and world governments can help deal with catastrophic convergence situations? Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like any viable solution for Somalia is going to be presented any time soon.

thankyou
from:ms.chan

kendellguy said...

In a world filled with crises, the current conflict-exacerbated famine in Somalia is perhaps the most dire. The entire Horn of Africa - Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti - is in the throes of an historic drought that threatens the lives of hundreds of millions throughout the region. But no country has suffered worse than Somalia, where the effects of the drought have been made drastically worse by the ongoing conflict between a barely functional central government and an Islamist militant group known as the Shabab. According to reports, tens of thousands of Somalis have already died, and an estimated 500,000 children are on the verge of starvation. As the New York Times reports, Somalis are faced with the kind of Hobson's choice that will become more prevalent in an era of climate change:

This leaves millions of famished Somalis with two choices, aside from fleeing the country to neighboring Kenya or Ethiopia, where there is more assistance. They can beg for help from a weak and divided transitional government in Mogadishu, the capital. Just the other day there was a shootout between government forces at the gates of the presidential palace. “Things happen,” was the response of Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, Somalia’s new prime minister.

Or they can remain in territory controlled by the Shabab, who have pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and have tried to rid their areas of anything Western — Western music, Western dress, even Western aid groups during a time of famine.

While the entire region struggles to confront the drought, two areas controlled by the Shabab are the only two in the region where the United Nations has declared a famine. Somalis report that the militants are diverting rivers away from poor villages to farmers who pay them taxes, and have forced many to live in camps outside Mogadishu. According to reports, the camps are violent, squalid places almost completely cut off from international food aid.

The disaster unfolding in Somalia is a prime example of what Christian Parenti calls "the catastrophic convergence":

Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change intersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence. By catastrophic convergence, I do not merely mean that several disasters happen simultaneously, one problem atop another. Rather, I argue that problems compound and amplify each other, one expressing itself through another.

Societies, like people, deal with new challenges in ways that are conditioned by the traumas of their past. Thus, damaged societies, like damaged people, often respond to new crises in ways that are irrational, shortsighted, and self-destructive. In the case of climate change, the prior traumas that set the stage for bad adaptation, the destructive social response, are Cold War-era militarism and the economic pathologies of neoliberal capitalism. Over the last forty years, both these forces have distorted the state's relationship to society - removing and undermining the state's collectivist, regulatory, and redistributive functions, while overdeveloping its repressive and military capacities. This, I argue, inhibits society's ability to avoid violent dislocations as climate change kicks in. (p. 7-8)

Somalia and the Horn of Africa was ground zero for the Cold War struggle between the U.S. and the Soviet bloc (with the Cubans playing a key role) in the late 1970s. The dueling powers intervened war between Somalia and Ethiopia, now on one side and now on another, in an attempt to set up a sphere of influence in a strategically important region. Parenti details the history of the war, the machinations of the superpowers, and the disintegration of the Somali in Chapter 7 of Tropic of Chaos.

Anonymous said...

Really great article with very interesting information. You might want to follow up to this topic!?! 2012

Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

simon bech said...

Somalia have the ressource of a harbour, which could be the new gateway to eastern and central africa, if it wasn't used for military purposes.
Somali culture is islamic and based on clans (family) structures. A western imposed democracy should be avoided; an islamic government with relations to other islamic countries is preferable.
Support for the written language of Somalia, which is only 50 years old, should take place in form of university aid and cultural development of the written language into a form of formalized administration (a bureaucracy)