Whenever Americans recall Somalia, whether considering lofty foreign policy aims or simply reflecting upon the chance encounter with the name, our minds inevitably snap back to October 3, 1993 and the tragedy that was the Battle of Mogadishu. This is a memory of eighteen U.S. soldiers lying senselessly dead and desecrated, one even decapitated, in the streets of a hostile city. Given the striking clarity with which Black Hawk Down has memorialized the chaos and the horror of this battle, it is no surprise that the trauma remains fresh in our collective consciousness. At the time, the shock of this loss and the seemingly intractable and inhuman belligerence and disorder of the nation compelled the U.S. and all other foreign forces to withdraw. Somalia did not fit with the spirit of the times, the notions of how intervention and aid was to be conducted. After 1993, Somalia dropped off the map of U.S. foreign policy, relegated to a distasteful and repressed memory, and no one has been able to make a great case for a return.
A few months ago, I was standing in line at the Gap when I overheard a mother talking to her young daughter. “Buying this shirt will help us to save Africans,” she said, smiling as she waved a child-size shirt that read “INSPI(RED)” across the chest. I wondered if this could possibly be true.
This July, while interning for l’Organisation Marocaine Des Droits de l’Homme (OMDH)/Moroccan Human Rights Organization, I saw the streets of Rabat, Morocco adorned with red and green. The Moroccan national flag was displayed at every street corner, and pictures of King Mohammed VI were hung in every restaurant. The country was preparing to celebrate Throne Day, the ten-year anniversary of King Mohammed VI’s ascension to the throne.
Western media coverage of the conflict in Kenya has been enormous, especially for a story coming out of Africa. The reportage has been a staple of the Economist and the New York Times since the beginning of the year, and even the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has run the AP’s dispatches from Nairobi.
Rampant apathy and cynicism. Growing civic disengagement. Hedonistic individualism. These accusations have often been leveled at our generation of students. The lack of traditional engagement by the 18-24-year-old cohort has been seen as the end of student activism. But these criticisms are blind to the diversity and subtle power of the student action happening today.
“I don’t drink Starbucks.” That used to be my mantra. They had destroyed Spinelli’s and were squeezing Martha’s, and I did not appreciate it. It wasn’t that I did not love their orange-mocha frappuccinos (I did), but I felt like buying their coffee would be an unforgivable breach of my ethical codes.