[Dehai-WN] Foreignaffairs.com: Somalia's Starvation-How to End the Famine and Weaken the Insurgents

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Aug 24 2011 - 18:34:18 EDT

Somalia's Starvation-How to End the Famine and Weaken the Insurgents


 <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/author/ken-menkhaus> Ken Menkhaus

August 24, 2011

The ongoing famine in Somalia has placed millions of Somalis at risk. On
August 5, the U.S. government estimated that the famine had taken the lives
of more than 29,000 children under the age of five. A total of 3.7 million
Somalis -- almost half the country's population -- are in need of emergency
relief, and more than 750,000 are now in refugee camps in neighboring

For several weeks, it appeared that the international community would be
unable to aid those suffering from starvation. But developments over the
past two weeks offer at least modest hope that key obstacles to food aid
delivery may be overcome.

The conditions that led to Somalia's famine were already apparent late last
year. The country had been beset by corruption, political instability, and
an insurgency pitting 9,000 African Union peacekeepers, protecting a weak
transitional government, against al Shabab, an Islamist group with ties to
al Qaeda that controls southern Somalia. The armed violence, which has raged
for four and a half years, has crippled the economy and, according to the
United Nations, displaced an estimated 1.4 million people. Then, in 2010,
Somalia began to suffer its worst drought in 60 years, just as food and fuel
prices spiked worldwide. The crisis fully erupted in July, when the
worsening humanitarian crisis reached a tipping point and the UN announced
famine conditions across parts of southern Somalia. Hundreds of thousands of
Somalis in famine-stricken areas fled to the capital, Mogadishu, and Kenya
in search of aid.

At first, the international community could do little to aid the victims of
the famine. Most relief agencies had suspended operations in Somalia two
years earlier, due to attacks on their aid workers by a variety of armed
groups, including al Shabab. When the famine was announced in July, those
agencies no longer possessed the networks and infrastructure necessary to
operate in the country and distribute aid effectively. The organizations
that remained had only a limited presence and could not boost their capacity
on such short notice to deliver the amount of aid necessary to end the

The strain on al Shabab is likely to grow.


In addition, the United States -- which had been Somalia's main source of
food aid -- suspended provision of food assistance in 2009 to avoid
providing material benefit to al Shabab; since al Shabab controls southern
Somalia, it stood to profit from U.S. resources flowing into the area. This
move had a chilling effect on relief organizations, many of which feared
prosecution under U.S. law for operating in places controlled by al Shabab.

Perhaps most critically, in 2009 al Shabab banned almost all international
aid agencies, claiming that they were Western spies and that their food
assistance was a conspiracy to drive Somali farmers out of business. The
group not only prevented aid distribution but also forbade famine victims
from fleeing to Kenya, even going so far as to deny the existence of a

To break the gridlock, the Obama administration worked feverishly in early
August to provide special waivers to aid agencies, providing at least some
level of protection against prosecution. This partially removed one obstacle
to food relief and shifted responsibility for blocking food aid squarely to
al Shabab.

Shortly thereafter, operatives from al Shabab suddenly withdrew from
Mogadishu, most of of which they had occupied since 2008. Al Shabab's
retreat signaled its internal weakness in the wake of a sharp drop in public
support over the past two years and pressure from the African Union
peacekeeping force protecting Somalia's Transitional Federal Government
(TFG). The organization's fall from grace among Somalis was driven by many
factors -- its practice of forced recruitment, its indifference to
casualties suffered by the many child soldiers it employed, its extremist
interpretation of Islamic law and links to al Qaeda, and above all, its
blockage of food aid to famine victims.

The strain on al Shabab is likely to grow. Some of the organization's
leaders operate in territory controlled by their own clans and face intense
pressure from their people to allow food in. Tensions are strong between the
most radical elements in the movement and these local commanders, who might
defect from the movement to permit food aid. If this happens, key parts of
southern Somalia may open up to aid agencies. Indeed, the key to ending the
famine rests with these local al Shabab leaders, who are most likely to
cooperate with aid agencies if allowed to do so discreetly. The United
States and the UN should act accordingly, quietly working with dissident al
Shabab leaders and protecting them from reprisal. The defection of al Shabab
commanders would simultaneously strengthen humanitarian operations and
weaken al Shabab.

To further undermine and perhaps vanquish al Shabab, Ethiopia and Kenya have
considered sending in Somali militia units that they have trained and
equipped. But the United States should be wary of military operations by its
regional allies at this time. Foreign-inspired military operations in
Somalia have a long history of triggering unintended consequences and, in
this case, could rally Somalis behind al Shabab or encourage the
organization to launch terrorist attacks outside Somali borders. If al
Shabab remains intact and the famine worsens, however, the international
community may face a painful choice between supporting armed humanitarian
intervention and resigning itself to witnessing a major famine and offering
aid only to those who manage to cross into Kenya.

Either way, the Obama administration and its partners must plan for
Somalia's future after the famine. It must begin by finding new ways to
pressure the TFG to extend its governance over the newly liberated areas of
Mogadishu. The TFG has earned a reputation for rampant corruption and
incompetence, and it cannot extend direct control over the entire capital
without forging alliances with existing or newly formed community
authorities. The United States and its partners should encourage the TFG to
understand its limits and negotiate with existing local authorities as a
short-term measure.

In addition, the international community will need to address Somalia's
growing refugee crisis. Over 750,000 Somalis have crossed the border into
neighboring countries, with tens of thousands more arriving each month. With
440,000 Somali refugees, Dadaab camp in northern Kenya now constitutes the
third-largest Somali city in the Horn of Africa. Few of these refugees will
ever return home, placing enormous stress on the countries receiving them.
In some respects, this tremendous flood of refugees represents Somalia's
most critical challenge in the country's 20 years of state collapse and war.

As a result, all humanitarian and state-building actions should be designed
to stop and reverse the flow of refugees. In terms of relief, this means
getting food aid and recovery support to populations at home, before they
flee in search of food. In terms of diplomacy, it means a sustained
international commitment to broker and support a viable peace and a strong
government in Somalia. If those two tasks can be achieved, Somalia may
emerge from the famine with some hope for stability in the future.


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