Friday, July 29, 2011

Somalia Famine: Al Shabab Leadership or America’s State Department is to blame?

Somalia Famine: – Al Shabab Leadership or America’s State Department
is to blame?
By Abdikarim H. Abdi Buh
“When the Somalians were merely another hungry third world people, we sent them guns. Now that they are falling down dead from starvation, we send them troops. Some may see in this a tidy metaphor for the entire relationship between north and south. But it would make a whole lot more sense nutritionally — as well as providing infinitely more vivid viewing — if the Somalians could be persuaded to eat the troops”.
Barbara Ehrenreich
The above quote from the renowned author and columnist is as true today as it was back then. The country is awash with soldiers and security operatives from both sides of the divide – CIA secret prisons, Al Qaeda operatives, TFG army, the Al Shabab islamist insurgents, explosives sniffer dogs, drones, pirates, AU troops and confused humanitarian agencies. This lethal cocktail of antagonistic forces, in the absence of a strong national government in place, is bound to generate humanitarian crises of epic proportion because of the simple fact that the battle ground isn’t an empty recreational space but at the heart of densely populated regions of a stateless country.
The U.N didn’t take lightly the decision to evacuate their staff and suspend the food aid programme for about a million people in Southern Somalia in May 2010.  Al Shabab militants, among the 48 aid workers killed over two years, is accused to have directly assassinated four of WFP staff, looted WFP offices and equipments, barred women aid workers from discharging their duties, demanded protection money and etc. In the face of such untenable requirements from the armed Islamists, the UN staff tried their best to resolve the anxiety through community level talks.  The staff engaged village elders and other local notables to bridge the gap but the intransigent Al Shabab leadership bluntly refused to give security guarantees to aid workers on the grounds that the aid workers, in their paranoid mind, are spies and Christian missionaries in disguise.
U.S Policy on food aid needs to be responsive in emergency situations
Al Shabab’s misadventures and narrow mindedness attracted the wrath of the US government, the prime humanitarian food donor, after they went public in declaring that they are part of Al Qaida terrorist network.  The U.S in line with its policy towards terrorism withheld half of its funding last year and demanded assurances from Mr. Mark Bowden, the UN’s Humanitarian co–ordinater based in Nairobi that supplies weren’t being diverted to Al shabab and other armed militants. This further complicated the already messy humanitarian situation in Somalia – only two- thirds of the 900 million dollar needed for Somalia was raised.
To accommodate the U.S goverment, U.N aid agencies and other groups that provide humanitarian assistance in Somalia spent months last year in talks with US officials over how to reasonably monitor the aid distribution in the country. Investigations launched by WFP concluded that there was no evidence of diverted food aid to Al Shabab but even that didn’t go well with the American state department.  Officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government’s humanitarian aid arm, shared the United Nations’ concerns and wanted to resolve the dispute; but the U.S. restrictions appear to stem from higher levels of the administration.
Mr. Bowden out of frustration said in February this year “the United States has asked U.N. agencies to enact impractical measures, which he said could further hinder aid delivery.”  For much of the last ten months, Mr. Bowden was raising the issue of impending famine in Somalia at every venue to draw the world’s attention to the plight of the captive people of Somalia.
It seems easier for the UN humanitarian coordinator to move mountains than to convince the US politicians to modify and rationalize their stance on humanitarian aid to the destitute and hungry nation that is facing a calamity of apocalyptic proportion. This tragedy is the consequences of a two decade old misplaced U.S short –term policies towards Somalia, and not the U.N, which has brought Al Shabab and its likes to the forefront of the Somali Politics. Watch the two discussions on Somali Famine
U.S. policy toward Somalia has wavered between engagement and neglect throughout the last two decades that Somalia was without central government. A humanitarian crisis drew American troops into the country in 1992 and opened VOA Somali service for U.S intervention propaganda. But after the Black Hawk fiasco, America pulled out and shut down the station too. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks heightened the U.S. concern that failed states could spawn terrorism.  In 2006 the United States backed and provided support to disreputable warlords in Mogadishu to fight terrorism on their behalf.
As a result of these policies, Somalia fell into the hands of the Islamic Courts Union, which promised more law and order and in reality delivered it within six months.
The U.S drafted in Ethiopian army in December of the same year and VOA Somali Service was launched again in 2007 to dish out propaganda in support of the Ethiopian occupation army. The Ethiopian army quickly drove the moderate Islamists out from Mogadishu but after two years of relentless war the Ethiopians was defeated and out of the imprudent U.S policy came a more lethal hardliner front called Al Shabab Islamists. Al Shabab and the other Islamists fighting against the Ethiopian occupation were getting the unreserved support of the Somali people as they were back then regarded as national liberation forces.
The US has a moral responsibility to open the food aid pipeline and if need be to bomb the Al Shabab militants to submission or to shelf this impracticable monitoring requirement. Colonel Qadafi was alleged to have killed 800 civilians when NATO took action but in contrast  Al Shabab killed 10,000 civilians through starvation and are holding 3.5 million others to ransom and yet the response the humanitarian coordinator gets from the giant US government is “Mark Bowden’s criticism is misplaced,” as State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said. The real blame falls on al-Shabab, which is setting up checkpoints and denying the delivery of food to the Somali people.”
The U.S government has no long-term or comprehensive policy towards Somalia other than tactical policies which are geared towards hunting down few Al Qaida individuals. The TFG should have been enabled by supplying sufficient funds to pay for their soldiers and to fund stabilization and recovery programs as they take territory from Al Shabab but unfortunately diplomatic lip service is what it gets from the U.S government.  At this juncture there is a new TFG cabinet that took office this week but their coffers are empty. With exception of few districts in Mogadishu the rest of the country is in the hands of Al Shabab so it will be a miracle if they could afford to pay their own fighting force or to make any difference on the ground, without a generous help from the international community. Us policy towards Somalia is engraved in to stone because U.S. Policy in Somalia Update(March 2010) is still the same as today despite all the misfortunes that settled in Southern Somali.
Definition of Famine
  • More than 30% of children must be suffering from acute malnutrition
  • Two adults or four children must be dying of hunger each day for every group of 10,000 people
  • The population must have access to far below 2,100 kilocalories of food per day
The US sanctions have prevented aid from reaching areas under Al Shabab control where 80% of the needy reside. Paradoxically U.S humanitarian and military aid was increased to less affected areas in Somalia and to AMISOM forces by supplying top of the range weaponry including shoulder launched drones and etc. AMISOM is repeatedly accused by Human Rights Organizations of indiscriminate shelling of residential areas of Mogadishu. Despite holding several Mogadishu districts for the weak TFG; AMISOM’s heavy handed tactics emptied civilians from Mogadishu and sustained the IDP camps in what is commonly termed as Afgoi humanitarian corridor. It seems AMISOM’s unchecked actions is pushing people to Alshabab areas as the safe haven of IDPs from Mogadishu is under control of the same Al Shabab AMISOM purports to fight.
Having said so; the bottom line is if the $600 million requested by the coordinator is not forth coming and Al Shabab are not coerced to give full access to humanitarian workers then  the alternative is one and only one – the spread of famine to the eight regions that lie in the south and central Somalia. Most of the humanitarian and development practitioners are in agreement that the dooms day is round the corner unless the U.S and Alshabab, stop politicizing this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe
Al Shabab are committing genocide by refusing food to Hungary people
To begin with; who should be considered Muslim? Mr. Mark Bowden who is fighting day and night to feed the famine stricken Somali people or Al Shabab who are refusing food to the people they claim to administer? I think this picture from Mr. Amin, the Somali political cartoonist, can serve as the judge and the jury.
Last week’s message from Al Shabab, a movement in leadership crisis, regarding lifting the ban of humanitarian aid workers was ambiguous at least in the Somali version and a thunderbolt to the students of Al Shabab. The proclamation wasn’t adopted unanimously by the leadership of the now factionalized group so it was premature in nature. The message in the Somali language read that Al Shabab are inviting all aid workers irrespective of their religious background to come to the assistance of the Somalis but at the end it emphasized that none should have an agenda that Al Shabab deems as undesirable. In essence Al Shabab wasn’t sincere to give free and open access to the humanitarian teams and to that end the US along with its European partners have to do whatever they can to open the roads to save the millions who are too weak to take the ardous journey to the boarders of Kenya and Ethiopia.
Listen to the speaker of the group denying the existence of famine and accusing the international community of encouraging people to cross the boarders in to the Christian countries of Kenya and Ethiopia. The Al shabab rebels can’t understand why the other 8.5 million in the region who are affected by the drought weren’t classified as famine areas too? The simple answer to this question is, unlike Al Shabab the governments of these “Christian” countries have been working with the UN early warning department and other donors and so made food aid available to the segments of their population that are considered food insecure in goodtime.
The speaker is emphasizing that the aim of the international community is to Christianize the Somali Muslims in the refugee camps of Kenya and Ethiopia. In Conclusion the speaker of the group clearly states that the previous ban on specific aid agencies is still in force. This week’s announcement is the outcome of a meeting the group had in Qoryooley and so can be taken as the final position of Al Shabab. Here is the full and unedited audio press release from Al Shabab on Friday Al Shababs keeps the ban on some aid agencies and disputes the UN declared famine
Conclusion and Recommendations: – No lull until the tide is reversed
“Across the country nearly half of the Somali population – 3.7 million people – are now in crisis, of whom an estimated 2.8 million people are in the south,” said a statement by the UN Office for the co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia.
In view of this situation, it is my humble opinion that Amb Johnnie Carson, the US assistant secretary of state for African Affairs should take the lead and break the ice. The immediate resources and the will of the humanitarian workers are there on the ground but the delivery to the needy people rests primarily on the US government and its allies. Most of the Somali people and aid workers were saddened by Mr. Carson’s statement yesterday in which he said the US was assessing if they were seeing “real change” from Al Shabab or whether the group planned to impose some kind of “taxation “on aid deliveries.
This is an emergency situation which is nonpolitical and purely humanitarian in nature therefore the international community has to take swift action to address this harsh situation. Al Shabab made clear that eighteen agencies of which WFP, CARE, World Vision International, IMC, Somali Red Crescent, and etc can’t set foot in the territories they control then what the US government’s assessment is for other than ducking from its responsibility and letting Al Shabab get bolder by the hour – Today they already started stopping people from leaving the death trap.
The cheapest option is for the international community to funnel food aid through the Al Shabab approved agencies to alleviate and mitigate the depth of the famine and at the same time to empower the TFG to a level it can take the total responsibility of the security of the country.
Finally Al Shabab is on the creed to win all or to perish so they can’t be realistically expected to join the reconciliation process at all. In that case I believe the international community has only the weak TFG that is crying for empowerment on its side as Al Shabab preferred to travel on the road to nowhere.
Abdikarim H. Abdi Buh (Political Analyst)
WardheerNews, London UK

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