Africa's Worst Crisis

Congratulations, Kofi Annan, you just cut a peace deal for Kenya. But with a half-dozen African crises still burning from Congo to Sudan, what's next? Right now, all eyes are on Somalia.

The headless country is descending once again into chaos. Since U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia in December 2006, overthrowing a Mogadishu-based Islamist coalition, fighting has raged. Last week came world headlines of a U.S. cruise-missile strike against suspected Qaeda insurgents in southern Somalia. Pirates off the coast discourage aid from reaching the 1 million people who have been displaced. While that's less than half the number of refugees in Darfur, Somalia is much less safe for international organizations—only 2,000 aid workers operate there, while Darfur has six times that figure, and six workers have already been killed in Somalia this year. "I truly believe this is the worst humanitarian crisis on the continent, possibly in the world," says Philippe Lazzarini, the United Nations' top humanitarian official for Somalia.

So what could outsiders do? Some experts note that Somalia could be returned at least to its prior level of chaos if Ethiopia could be persuaded to leave. This week Annan's successor as U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, is expected to issue a report on a possible U.N. peacekeeping force to replace the ineffective force from the African Union. "At this stage," admits Lazzarini, "there is really no cause for optimism.