Without a # Tag. Somalia.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. I was asked to join the Al Jazeera Director General on this trip in order to help create greater awareness about the situation through “new media” tools. Having read about the stories coming out of Somalia and looking through a ton of photo galleries and videos I thought that I had somewhat prepared myself for the trip.

I could not have been more wrong.

For the first time in my life, I now know what it means when people say “words cannot describe what I’ve seen.” It was tough. Very tough. The people who make it to Dadaab are the “lucky” ones – others have perished on the side of the road, on their way to Dadaab.

The stories that were told were… devastating. Parents having to decide which child to leave behind so that they could make sure the fittest would be able to make it to camp. Imagine having to leave your weakest child behind, on the side of the road, to die. That’s it. Left for the vultures. The lucky ones will die before and at least get a burial. Another told a story of how his baby had to breast feed of his dead wife so that they could have enough strength to go on with the journey.

I felt ashamed to call myself a human being.

There are countless more stories like this, they’ve been told over and over and over. The thing that has hit me most about this, is that it’s not new. Dadaab has been around for over 20 years. Famine and drought are known to occur in these places, yet year after year people are dying of starvation.  Why?

As I sat down on my comfy hotel bed back in Nairobi (only an hour flight away), realising the cruel irony of having a rain shower in the bathroom was a bit too much too handle. We are all living so close to this disaster. In 2011, with all our technology and knowledge, we’re not able to stop people from dying of starvation? That’s hard to believe. How have we as humanity failed these people? We have tons of donations*, but often our donations go without a sense of purpose and attachment to the story. Sending aid does not deal with the core issues that exist. People will get the aid today, what about tomorrow, next month, 5 years from now?  (*the aid that is going is far from enough)

We met people standing in queues to just get one meal for the day. People who are fighting for the right to live. For human dignity. For just a chance. That’s all they want. A chance at life.

Looking into the eyes of children you always get a sense of joy, a sense of optimism that can defeat anything. When I looked into the eyes of some of the children in the camps they looked defeated, worn out, life had taken its toll on them. I’m talking about children who are not older than 3 years old. They’re still the lucky ones. Seeing babies who are malnourished, children without the strength to even stand. The skeletal structure of a living human. This is Dadaab. This is our problem.

Yet, the story goes mostly unnoticed. Once in a while people will talk about it in the media, there will be hype for a bit, and then the search for a new story moves on. And we forget that the old story has not ended. In fact it’s grown to proportions beyond anyone’s imagination.

With the world of Social Media, everyone likes to talk about how technology can overthrow governments and change the world. How it can mobilise people around a cause almost instantaneously. How we always know what is happening, at any time, anywhere in the world.

Not this world.

When people have not eaten for weeks, have just enough cloth to cover a bit of their body, the last thing that is going to happen is for them to start a revolution with a # tag to get the world’s attention by telling their own story. They need us to do it for them. They need us to be the ones to show the world what’s happening.

As I type this, the trending topics on twitter look something like this:

I don’t actually think that I’ve ever seen Somalia trending on twitter. Ever. Will the world only pay attention when it makes it to the top of the trending topic list? When it gets it’s own special # tag? When it becomes “cool” to join a cause? Maybe if lady gaga was to visit Somalia it’ll trend? She could maybe take her meat dress with her and put it to good use?

What is happening in the world is real. The stories out of Somalia are not some movie. Visting Dadaab felt like I was going to a different planet. I still can not believe that a couple of hours away from me, someone is about to die because they do not have enough to eat. It’s just so real. A realness that’s disturbing, that’s uncomfortable. One that is easy to pass on as not our problem, because if we acknowledge it, the sheer weight that falls on our shoulders to make a difference becomes frighteningly unbearable.

I type this while I’m sitting at home, with my fridge stocked, countless food places to get food from and with the luxury of eating to enjoy the taste of the food. Where did it all go wrong? How can we, as humanity, sit back and let this continue? We have all seen the videos. We have seen the pictures. We’ve heard the stories. What are we going to do about it? At the very least let’s tell the world what’s going on. Be the # tag the people in Somalia need us to be, for the sake of our humanity. If we cannot even get #somalia to trend, then I’m scared for what the future holds for us as a human race.

If only we paid as much attention to the African Summers as we did to the Arab Spring.

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6 thoughts on “Without a # Tag. Somalia.

  1. Gertrude Chelimo says:

    i like your opinion, however, the drought and famine issue is not new in the horn of africa region and each time the world has responded, people mobilised, sang songs about it, but all that will be a temporary solution and soon they’ll disappear. The main solution should be; ‘teach a person how to fish instead of giving him a fish’, its time that development agencies and people be patient and teach these mostly nomadic people to embrace agriculture especially towards drought resistant crops. Secondly, the role of IGAD; the main regional bloc, should be enhanced in promoting regional co operation noting that this affects the whole region.

  2. This moved me, I must say. The #tags or the attention the mainstream media houses give are only but an indication of what the real passion of this 21st century is- servitude. The people around the world are basically held bondage by their own desires and are passionate in that, and not by the compassion for the affliction of others, in this case the famished Somalis. However, God will ask each of us some day in the hereafter, “Where were you yourself?’. I also beleive God is testing whether the Somalis will endure these maladies with fortitude or they will cry to the world and supplicate to them, we seem to have chosen the latter. We have failed the test, me thinks, but I would like to tell the people of Somalia, whose homogeny I identify with that, “WAA LA DOOGI YAAN LADACAROONIN” meaning that “there is prosperity after adversity, don’t despair”. Let us also show compassion for ourselves whilst least expecting outside help or the world to trend our afflictions for it is obvious that we can no more explain a compassion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind.

  3. H.Panninen says:

    Riyaad,

    Thank you for saying this. You asked “Where did it all go wrong?” I think Dahr Jamail at your organization knows the answer, why don’t you talk to him?

  4. One of the true tests of leadership could be the power to recognize a problem before it is deemed an emergency.
    Many men meet with failure due to their insufficient persistence in creating new offers to take the place of people that fail.

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