Humanitarians fear politicisation of Somalia aid

by Katy Migiro | @katymigiro | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 6 May 2013 10:39 GMT

A displaced Somali girl prepares a traditional breakfast at Sayyidka camp in Howlwadag district, south of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, May 3, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Faruk

Image Caption and Rights Information
Donors meet in London to discuss support for the new Somali government's policies, and security-sector reform

Corrects spelling of source's name in paragraph 8 to Balthasar

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Aid workers are wary of being co-opted into a Western political agenda in Somalia, even though experts say supporting the new government in Mogadishu could be the best way to improve security and prevent another famine.

At a London conference on Tuesday, co-hosted by Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and the British government, donors will be asked to endorse the policies of the Somali Federal Government (SFG), as the Horn of Africa nation emerges from two decades of war.

The top item is security-sector reform. The SFG, elected in August, depends heavily on a near 18,000-strong African peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, for its survival.

An African Union military offensive has pushed the Islamist rebel group al Shabaab out of major towns in south central Somalia, although it is still able to launch bloody, guerrilla-style attacks.

On Sunday, eight people were killed when an al Shabaab suicide bomber hit a convoy in Mogadishu. The group threatened further strikes against Somalia's government, which it called a "puppet" of Western powers.

Government security forces, meanwhile, have been accused of numerous human rights violations, including rape and theft. They need to win Somali hearts and minds if they are to secure the military gains made by AMISOM in recent months.

“If you have a poorly disciplined military that comes out into so-called newly liberated areas, it’s not going to attract the support of the people,” Laura Hammond, a senior lecturer in development studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

ALTERNATIVES TO GUNS

Military advances need to be followed up with social and economic gains, said Dominik Balthasar, a Somalia expert at London’s Chatham House.

The gun is a means of survival for many in Somalia.

“If the Somali government does not manage to quickly revive the economy…to create livelihoods for the masses of Somali people, and if it cannot sustain donor funding in order to continue paying the soldiers… then I am not sure how far the optimism that we currently see is really justified,” he said.

Yet if the government does succeed in establishing military and administrative control across the country, it would cut the risk of another famine in Somalia, analysts say.

In 2011, 258,000 people died, largely because al Shabaab would not allow food aid into the drought-affected areas it controlled. Today, a quarter of Somalis – 2.7 million people – still need humanitarian assistance.

“If the SFG really only has a presence in urban areas, then it’s always going to be very limited in what it can do to prevent a recurrence of this kind of famine,” said Hammond of the SOAS.

“Only once al Shabaab is really out of those rural areas will humanitarian access open up in a way that we can meaningfully talk about prevention of famine,” she added.

HUMANITARIAN ACTION COMPROMISED?

But aid agencies are fearful of being used as a political tool. The United Nations is merging its political and humanitarian operations in Somalia, a move the humanitarian community has resisted for years.

The newly-created U.N. Assistance Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) will start work on June 3. Its mandate is to support the SFG and AMISOM.

“By requiring U.N. humanitarian coordination to fall under the political mandate of the new U.N. peacebuilding mission in Somalia, the neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian action will be compromised,” Joel Charny, vice-president of InterAction, an alliance of 180 U.S. aid agencies, told the International Peace Institute.

UNSOM will be led by the new U.N. Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, replacing the separate political and humanitarian heads. Kay is a British diplomat who previously ran the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.

“Some of the NGO partners feel they are being pressured by some donors to engage in stabilisation activities if they want the humanitarian funding,” Justin Brady, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The UK government, one of the main proponents of stabilisation, defines it as “the promotion of peaceful political settlement to produce a legitimate indigenous government”. For the European Union, stabilisation in Somalia involves training and paying the police, AMISOM and security forces.

The line between humanitarian assistance and support for state building risks becoming blurred in Somalia, as it has in other conflict zones.

In Afghanistan’s PRTs, foreign military forces worked with aid agencies on development projects, hoping to secure peace by showing Afghans their lives were improving under President Hamid Karzai’s government.

Critics have argued that this politicised aid, in violation of the humanitarian principle that it should be given according to need.

“We have to be conscious collectively of perception issues. If we are brought in on the coat tails of a conquering force (in Somalia), how are we not part of that force?” Brady asked.

 

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