Feeding the Monster: Somalia and Aid

Aug 15, 11 Feeding the Monster: Somalia and Aid

Somalia is experiencing a crippling famine. Again. As the world’s most failed state for several years running, there is little surprise that country has entered yet another period of instability. Since its societal rupture in 1991 with the end of Siad Barre’s regime, Somalia and its inhabitants have experienced what is quite possibly the epitome of hell on earth. As fellow Africans we should feel obliged to donate what we can towards alleviating the effects of this famine and reduce the chronic waves of death and disease every month which are quickly overwhelming every aid agency and related organisation operating there. Indeed, even South Africa’s DIRCO doubled its aid from R4m to R8m in the wake of the highly successful Gift of the Givers mission to Somalia, which provided a temporary reprieve for a fortunate minority in Mogadishu. But before you whip out the checkbook and sign away some savings towards the abyss of Somalia, there are some things you should be aware of.

First of foremost, please do not think that 100% of your donation will go towards feeding legitimately hungry Somalis, and neither will it provide unmitigated medicine to those most in need. For the most part, the food or medicine your donations provide will flow straight into the black market, winding up either as currency itself or as a highly-valued commodity on sale in Mogadishu’s Bakara market. This is because Somalia is dominated by clans at odds with each other. Moreover, these clans control large portions of Mogadishu and surrounds, thereby taking a hefty cut from the aid for the use of ports, roads, trucks or even labour before it even gets distributed.

Once distributed, this heavily-pruned portion then gets further divided between clans who control the most influence in each section of Somalia. For Mogadishu the lion’s share now goes to Habr Gidr. For those unfamiliar, Habr Gidr and their former leader Mohammed Farah Aidid were the clan responsible for the infamous Blackhawk Down incident, and likewise responsible for destroying Barre’s government and eliminating any semblance of stability Somalia has ever known. They’re still there. And now that Al Shabaab has temporarily withdrawn (to the naive trumpeting by global media pundits), they will take the majority of the aid for the benefit of their clan and those in favour with them. For the rest of Somalia, they will be starved into the immense Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya or they will simply starve. The World Food Programme itself deemed large parts of Somalia outside of Mogadishu unsafe for food aid, and suspended its operations there. When it wasn’t being threatened by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on the way into Somali ports, the WFP found that a lot of its food aid simply was not safely reaching those in need. So effectively what aid is injected into Somalia is quickly reduced by clans and corrupt officials until considerably less is available for the legitimately starving.

Secondly, please do not think donating to the famine in Somalia will result in some as-yet unheralded reform in the country. Somalia is a broken country now, and it will be a broken country after the famine. Since UNOSOM withdrew Operation Restore Hope in the 90’s, nobody has dared tackle the problem headlong since. The AMISOM mission currently there are suffering serious casualties in a peacekeeping mission that is strategically impossible. Once Al Shabaab resurface – which they will – Mogadishu will again erupt in flames and whatever aid is still stockpiled in UN warehouses will be looted clean in order to feed the islamist terrorists. Somalia will not be fixed with aid, and neither will aid save everyone, or even most, Somalis. At best it will provide a temporary relief to a fortunate few while empowering the dominant clans in the country to continue their chronic civil war.

This is by no means an appeal to not send aid. Even if a few are saved a miserable death through starvation it is probably worth the price in peripheral extortion by the guys with the guns. But just bear in mind the reality of where the aid is going, lest one imagine that any form of famine relief in Somalia will change anything.

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