The world is again failing Somalia, aid organisation Refugees International (RI) says.
A new field report says Somalia, currently in the news as a hotbed of piracy, is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. The report adds that aid agencies are unable to respond to the immense scale of needs.
“The insecurity preventing assistance is a consequence of failed international political and diplomatic efforts,” RI says.
“Neighbouring countries are bearing the brunt of the refugee outflow and more needs to be done to help them.”
RI says more than 3.2 million Somalis – 40% of the population – are dependent on external assistance, and 400 000 people have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.
While the situation has deteriorated in the past two years, the last months have seen worsening indicators: more than 1.3 million Somalis are now displaced within the country; 35 000 fled from the capital in October alone; 10 000 Somali refugees crossed the border into Kenya in September; and one in six children under five years old in the southern part of the country is malnourished.
Exacerbating the problem has been the extreme difficulty in providing assistance. Somalia has always been a challenging operating environment for aid agencies, but it has now become one of the most dangerous places for humanitarian workers, alongside Iraq and Afghanistan.
More than 30 staff from non-governmental organizations and UN agencies have been killed this year alone, as well as many journalists and human rights defenders.
“While the responsibility for this crisis lies first and foremost with the Somali leadership, the international community, principally the US government and members of the UN Security Council, has also failed in its duty to protect the Somali people,” the report says.
“They have failed repeatedly to take a principled engagement to solve the crisis, acknowledge the power realities on the ground, support peace negotiations without imposing external agendas, or provide independent humanitarian assistance.
“This lack of principled engagement is demonstrated by the US and the European Union`s response to the piracy problems of the coast of Somalia. The root cause of the piracy is lawlessness inside Somalia, an environment where accountability means little and where the traditional clan linkages are giving way to the law of the gun.
“Maritime patrols, whether by individual countries, NATO, or mercenary operatives, do little to stem the motivation behind those attacks. Moreover, the speed and resolve with which piracy has been addressed by the UN Security Council underlines Somalis` sentiment that economic interests trump humanitarian concerns. The United States swiftly and sternly condemned the pirates, and yet remains silent over egregious war crimes committed during the civil war.
“Thanks to the efforts of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, political negotiations have been ongoing between Somalia`s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the moderates in the opposition, mainly the Djibouti-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). After several rounds of talks, an agreement was signed in late October 2008 calling for a ceasefire and joint security operations.
“The inclusion of the opposition was a welcome recognition, albeit a late one, that the TFG was slowly slipping into irrelevance. However the reluctance to include hardliners, who control much of south central Somalia, runs the risk of making the agreement largely symbolic. Until parties hoping to broker peace in Somalia find a way to engage these groups, including Al Shabaab, an Islamic group designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the US State Department, the security situation will make humanitarian assistance near impossible.”
US Policy Requires Pragmatism
“United States policy in Somalia is loosely based on three objectives: counterterrorism, political reconciliation, and humanitarian response. In pursuit of these three objectives, the US has at times worked at cross-purposes. The US agenda has been driven by the Global War on Terror, which has undermined US humanitarian and political efforts. Decisions to launch airstrikes appear to be taken unilaterally by the Department of Defence without input from the State Department regarding the potential diplomatic fallout, and without assessing the consequences for humanitarian actors on the ground.
“The May 2008 missile strike targeting Aden Hashi Ayro was deemed a success by a US Administration keen to show progress in counterterrorism efforts in the Horn. The consequences for aid agencies were felt immediately: a UN agency had to cancel the opening of an office in the region where the attack took place; humanitarian workers have been increasingly targeted; and two international non-governmental organisations were ordered to leave by Al Shabaab, accused of providing intelligence to the US.
“These examples illustrate the consequences of unilateral strikes that endanger millions of Somalis who depend on international agencies for medical care and food aid while doing little to reduce terrorism or lessen the ongoing violence in Somalia.
“While the increasing number of attacks on humanitarian workers is due to a variety of causes, there is a perception from armed opposition groups that humanitarian actors work in tandem with political actors. The targeting of humanitarian workers has resulted in dramatic curtailment of operations and in some cases withdrawal from a region.
“Efforts by humanitarian agencies to distance themselves from diplomatic efforts were compromised by the co-opting of aid in the peace negotiations. Refugees International spoke with several non-governmental organizations who talked of being ‘hijacked` into the Djibouti process.
“Aid groups were being asked to participate in the political initiative as members of civil society. While some UN agencies and non-governmental organizations can still claim a certain amount of independence, the ability to deliver aid in Somalia while appearing neutral has all but disappeared.
“Humanitarian actors recognize that the situation will not improve until there is political progress. The TFG, in its four years of existence, has failed to provide a modicum of security for the Somali population, and despite international financial and military support, now controls only small pockets of territory. The Djibouti process has been a welcome step forward, insofar as it provides a platform on which various parties have come together, but the TFG lacks any legitimacy and the ARS is believed to have little remaining influence over insurgents determined to drive the Ethiopian forces out of Somalia.
“Indeed, the main objective of the insurgency is the withdrawal of all Ethiopian troops. This message of Somali national sovereignty has been the rallying cry in opposition to the TFG, whose leaders are seen as taking orders from foreign capitals. While there is no fixed timetable for the Ethiopian troop withdrawal, experts agree that a gradual pull-out is likely in the short term, and is perceived to be the best option in a range of bad scenarios.
“The only credible political route is to broaden the peace agreement to the opposition groups controlling south Somalia. This is a step which would require UN Security Council members, particularly the US, to publicly support the SRSG in attempts to build on the existing process and reach out to the actors with real influence. Furthermore, including opposition groups in the peace process can be a first step towards convincing them to refrain from continued violence, particularly towards humanitarian agencies, while negotiations are underway,” RI says.
“The US role in all this has been damaging. It has ignored evidence of the inability of the TFG to function and its illegitimacy in the eyes of the Somalis, while continuing to provide political and financial support. The US has also turned a blind eye to human rights abuses being committed by all parties to the violence in south central Somalia.
“In particular, the failure to adequately condemn abuses committed by Ethiopian troops, in direct contravention to US law governing bilateral military relationships, has undermined the ability of the US to be perceived as a credible broker of peace.
“There is direct evidence linking the patterns of displacement to kinetic operations conducted by Ethiopian forces, and the US has continuously failed to hold the Ethiopian government accountable, hiding behind ‘quiet diplomacy,` which has produced nothing.
“The start of a new administration is an opportunity to overhaul US policy in Somalia, incorporating the input of the humanitarian actors on the ground, who have the most accurate and detailed understanding of the local dynamics of the regions in which they work. US policy must be open to a truly inclusive political process in order to achieve a modicum of stability, while placing priority on supporting humanitarian assistance at requisite levels when openings occur.