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Local Activists Lobby for Intervention

Central Ohio Somali activists are concerned about recent reports that Ethiopian troops have moved into the country. The reports are troops have been sent into provincial capital Baidoa and other border cities. Somalia has been racked by civil war for the last 16 years. Now local activists are lobbying US officials to intervene. WOSU's Sabrina Hersi-Issa reports.

If you happen to enter a local Somali restaurant, mosque or civic center you might notice a petition circling the room. It's from local Somalis from the city of Balanballe one of the areas thought to be under Ethiopian control. They plan to send the petitions to Senator Mike DeWine and Senator George Voinovich's. They hope the effort will lead to US or international intervention.

The head of the Somali Community Association, Hassan Omar, says many activists leading the petition drive and organizing demonstrations have ties to Balanballe.

"They American residents. They live here but they have relatives who suffered from the civil war and live in that town. And most of the people are very upset, really," says Omar.

Mohamed Dini is a katib, or lecturer at local mosques and head of the Somali Public Affairs Committee. He says the weak central government in Somalia lead activists in Columbus to pick up the issue.

Dini says, "we're willing to take this to every level because we're the voice of people who don't have one. We're talking about folks who are struggling to get what they will eat tonight for dinner. We're talking about a family of 11, 14, 15 people who don't have a drop of water in their homes. This is the type of problems that we're dealing with."

Dini says the petitions will be collected and presented to Ohio Senators before the mid-term elections. Magbaily Fyle, Professor of African and African American Studies at Ohio State has studied African activists' movements. He says focusing on US government figures is a smart move for the local activists because the US government carries a lot of weight.

"For example, what happened in Liberia with Charles Taylor before they came to have a civil government. When President Bush stepped in and said 'Charles Taylor must step down!' over and over again, it began to have an impact. People have a sense that they must provoke that sort of attention. And they're becoming aware now that much is that is in Washington, DC. They can raise the profile of concerns they have in the Horn of Africa," says Fyle

There are several pressing African issues also vying for national attention such as the situation in Darfur, conflicts in the Congo and regional famines and droughts. Fyle says simply raising awareness will not bring intervention to Somalia.

"That's not enough, you have to bring that correct information to the quarters where it matters, to the people who can make noise, use it and raise the profile of that event and therefore attract the right kind of attention that can help ameliorate the situation there, says Fyle.

So far Omar says the petition drive has brought more than 1-thousand signatures in the last 4 weeks. But he says he has heard from local Somalis frustrated with the situation. He says many are ready and willing to return to Somalia to protect their home cities.

"I have seen so many people say 'If Ethiopia takes over Somalia then we will go back', says Omar.

Dini says he hopes progress on this issue will lead to some stability for Somalia.

Sabrina Hersi-Issa, WOSU news