By Farid Omar.
Somali-led initiatives to raise greater awareness on the plight of Somali refugees took to the silver screen in Toronto and other western capitals with the recent screening of the acclaimed documentary, "Dadaab: Get There or Die Trying".
The documentary is the work of Somali filmmaker, Ahmed Farah, who has documented the life of Somali refugees for several years, and Abdisalaan Aato and Deeq Afrika. It highlights the plight of Somali refugees who endure hardship and untold suffering in a hellish journey that has claimed numerous lives, notably children, weak mothers and the elderly.
In a public screening organized by Aspire 2 Lead, a youth-group, Somali-Canadians and members of the general public thronged the Nat Taylor Theatre at York University on Friday, July 29th to watch the documentary and hear Professor Mohamud Siad Togane and other featured panelists speak.
The documentary traces the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees into the world’s largest refugee camp, in Dadaab, Kenya where close to half million displaced Somalis live in squalid conditions.
The combination of two decades of a devastating civil war and recurring humanitarian disasters including the ongoing drought and famine ravaging much of the Horn of Africa region is pushing more refugees to trek under scorching heat on a lengthy and dangerous path across the Somali desert to the inhospitable Dadaab camp.
Displaced by conflict, drought and famine, Somali refugees are left with no option but walk hundreds of miles to Dadaab camp where upon arrival, their ordeal turns into another nightmare.
Media attention is focused on refugees arriving at the Dadaab camp while those who can’t make it through the Liboi-Dadaab corridor, which can take days to cross, are left with nothing. The documentary highlights the need to reach this unserved segment of refugee population through the provision of immediate relief under the banner “survival backpacks for Somali refugees”. In part, the filmmakers hope to fundraise for the Survival Packs campaign: www.globalgiving.org The typical backpack relief supplies would include blanket, shoes, canteen for water etc.
During the shooting, the filmmakers embarked on a backpack trip across the harsh corridor that stretches from Liboi, located at the Kenya-Somalia border, to assist refugees making their way to Dadaab. Like most other Somali analysts, the filmmakers are urging those willing to help the refugees to go beyond Dadaab.
The producers of this documentary not only uncover the perils of the killer path (road to Dadaab) that is taking lives but mistreatment of refugees in Dadaab camp where unprocessed, emaciated refugees, are forced to wait for days without food and shelter.
Refugees interviewed by the filmmakers give disturbing accounts of their harrowing journey to Dadaab with grisly tales of elderly and infants dying along the way and weak mothers forced to abandon their children who inevitably succumb to the harsh terrain. The refugees also speak about the appalling conditions in the Dadaab camp such as the lack of assistance for new arrivees who endure lengthy waits for relief help.
Speaking to the public during his keynote address, Professor Togane recounted how he was driven out of Somalia in1973, blaming his forced exile on the then military regime. Saying that the Somali crisis has been in the making since 1973, Togane said that unnecessary “enmity (within Somalis) produces obscenity like this” adding that Somalis should now “better dwell on what they can do than dwell in the past”.
Stating that war and famine go hand in hand, Professor Togane, who is known for his stern rebukes, blamed Somalia’s crisis on local, regional and international actors. At the national level, he castigated Somalia’s political class that has driven the war-torn nation into ruins.
“This corrupt leadership is accountable to nobody. These leaders have no vision beyond their bellies. When there is no vision, people perish” said Professor Togane.
At the regional level, Mr. Togane highlighted how neighbouring countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and to some extent Djibouti that are fueling the Somali conflict, are responsible for the ongoing mayhem. It is not in the interest of these countries to see peace and stability return to Somalia.
At the international level, Mr. Togane blamed the US for destroying Somalia’s agricultural sector having flooded the local market in the past with food aid. Prior to that, Somali farmers were harvesting enough food sufficient for local consumption.
Mr. Togane also hit out at the UN and other international aid agencies saying that they are equally culpable for Somalia’s misery.
“The UN and the aid industry are making money out of Somalia. This Nairobi-based cabal has never set foot inside Somalia for the past 20 years” noted Mr. Togane. The best solution is for " Somalis to put the UN and Museveni (Ugandan Leader) out of the meetings". President Museveni is one of the architects of the divisive Kampala Accord, which Somali observers say places their homeland under an illegal trusteeship.
Unity, Mr. Togane emphasized, is the only viable avenue out of the current political stalemate in Somalia.
“If we don’t unite and overcome our petty differences, nothing will work. The ongoing suffering is largely due to lack of unity. This has made Somalia become the country of death” Said Togane.
Somalis, Mr. Togane argued, should learn from the experience of Cambodia.
“In Cambodia’s killing fields, over one million people perished. But the people of Cambodia got up and said no more death. We want life!”
Invoking Bob Marley’s “one love, one heart” philosophy, Professor Togane called upon Somalis in North America to come together and organize the biggest demonstrations ever in New York in September, “to shame Somali and world leaders” who will converge at the UN during the upcoming summit of the General Assembly for "allowing Somalia to descend into further chaos".