HARGEISA, Somalia (Reuters Life!) - Clay Aiken appealed on Wednesday for the world not to forget Somalia, where conflict and hunger have created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Aiken said U.S. and international interest in Somalia had been minimal since failed military intervention in the early 1990s.
“There hasn’t been much discussion of Somalia since the early 1990s in the U.S.,” said Aiken, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, on a visit to Somalia. “The American population kind of got a bad taste of Somalia in the early 90’s and hasn’t really had much interest in the country since.”
Somalia has suffered relentless civil conflict since the 1991 toppling military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.
In the latest cycle of violence, an Islamist-led insurgency against the Somali government and its Ethiopian military advisers since the start of 2007 has killed thousands and made one million people homeless.
“It’s the most dangerous place for a child to be,” Aiken said. “In the lower part of the country, southern part, I feel it’s a more desperate situation than any place we’ve ever been.”
Aiken, 29, who was traveling on behalf of U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, was in Somaliland, a relatively peaceful northern enclave of Somalia that has declared itself independent but not been recognized internationally.
While there have skirmishes with neighboring province Puntland, Somaliland has functioning political institutions.
“In Somaliland, you really do have a sense of people who really want to help themselves, who want to do better, who want to effect change for themselves, that is very hopeful,” he said.
Somaliland authorities hope a high-profile visit like Aiken’s may bolster their case for world acceptance of their separation from Somalia.
For 12-year-old, Ubah Mohamed, her wants were simpler.
“I understand he is famous. I hope he will give us food and build a school for us,” she said, near to a refugee camp.
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Editing by Matthew Jones