NAIROBI: Corrupt Somali politicians could face travel bans and have their
foreign assets frozen under tough new United Nations sanctions, a UN
official said Tuesday, a move that analysts said could also help get
desperately needed food aid to the country's growing number of famine
A team of eight investigators is due to begin work this week. It's the first
time senior Somali politicians could face consequences for corruption in the
20 years since the country dissolved into civil war. The country's justice
system has virtually stopped functioning and there has been no system to
hold politicians in the famine-struck Horn of Africa nation to account.
"Corruption has been identified as one of the main obstacles to the peace
process," said Matt Bryden, who heads the UN arms monitoring group on
Somalia, which provides an annual report to the UN Security Council. "This
sends a clear signal that corruption and political obstruction will no
longer be tolerated."
The monitoring group was set up 10 years after an arms embargo was imposed
on Somalia in 1992, when hundreds of thousands were dying from famine and
the country was in the grip of a clan-based civil war.
The group's mandate was to report anyone selling weapons to fuel the
conflict. In 2008, the UN decided it should be able to punish violators by
imposing sanctions that include travel bans and freezes on assets such as
bank accounts and property.
The list of possible sanctions was expanded the same year to include anyone
obstructing access to humanitarian aid. That's a huge problem in Somalia,
where militant groups have denied many aid agencies access to territory they
control and militias in areas controlled by the UN-backed government steal
and sell food.
In July, the sanctions mandate was expanded again to include corruption and
those blocking the peace process. The new mandate came at the same month
famine was declared in parts of the country.
Tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died and the UN says
750,000 are at imminent risk of starvation. Now, Bryden said, anyone could
be sanctioned for threatening peace and security or for blocking or stealing
humanitarian aid or government funds.
"Our investigations will help the sanctions committee ensure that violators
are held accountable," he said. "These sanctions are most effective against
those with an international profile - those with foreign passports, with
foreign bank accounts, and those who travel."
On the potholed streets and among the bullet-riddled buildings in the
capital, Mogadishu, there's little to show for the tens of millions of
dollars donated to the Somali government over the past two years. The mayor
has put up a few streetlights and international aid agencies fund a few
trash collections. But schools, hospitals and roads are in a state of
Somalia has the world's highest child mortality rate. Nearly one in five
children will die before their 5th birthday. More than 70 percent of Somalis
don't have clean water and the country is regularly rated the most corrupt
in the world by international watchdog Transparency International.
The poor performance of the government is one reason why the population
turned to militias in the first place. But if the threat of sanctions helps
improve their performance, an analyst said, it could help win the government
"This new mandate has the potential to be very useful," said Ken Menkhaus, a
political science professor who specializes in Somalia at North Carolina's
Davidson College. "What the Security Council had in mind was to make the
(government) more accountable and more legitimate in the eyes of the Somali
It could also help force through humanitarian aid to those who need it, he
said. Around 200,000 of the 750,000 at risk of starvation live in
government-held areas, he said, but "we are having problems making sure aid
is getting through to them because of corruption and interference and
The Somali government did not respond to requests for comment. It recently
proposed a joint watchdog with donors to track funding and corruption but
the agency has not yet been set up. Many Somali ministers have dual
nationality or assets abroad. The new prime minister, defense minister and
minister of finance are all American citizens. Other Cabinet members are
British or Canadian passport holders.
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Received on Wed Sep 21 2011 - 15:21:48 EDT