Somalia: Humanitarian Aid and Security in Somalia - Separate, but Still
By Melanie Teff, 25 February 2012
A viable political process emerged as the key objective of the London
Conference on Somalia. ( Resource:
Leaders Pledge Help For Somalia
On Thursday, an impressive group of world leaders lead by Prime Minister
David Cameron gathered at Lancaster House to discuss Somalia. But like many
international conferences before it, the outcome was known well in advance
of the first plenary. Indeed, in the weeks leading up to the conference,
"leaked" copies of a draft communiqué had been floating around the Internet.
What we knew from this draft - and what has been confirmed in the final
communiqué and statements of many participants - is that the conference's
overwhelming focus was the security situation in Somalia. That meant
terrorism and militancy (in the form of Al Shabab), the roles of the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and African Union peacekeepers, and
One would think that a focus of the London Somalia Conference would have
been humanitarian concerns, given the severity of the humanitarian crisis.
Even now, with famine in the Horn officially declared over, millions of
Somalis are experiencing acute shortages of food, shelter, and health care.
And since Somalis have spent the last year fleeing drought and militias
rather than sowing seeds and raising cattle, the food security situation is
In the past, you may well have heard those working in the 'humanitarian'
community clamouring for humanitarian and development concerns to be made
central to a conference of this type. But in today's world, a political and
security-focused conference of this type throws up dilemmas for us. In fact,
the UN's Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, agreed to co-chair a
humanitarian side event, but only on the condition that a line was drawn
between the humanitarian event and the main conference.
With increasing difficulties in gaining access to assist populations in
need, most international aid agencies prefer that humanitarian issues be
kept entirely separate from the international political and security agenda.
They fear the politicization of aid and the resulting lack of access to
populations in need. Aid agencies have seen how the use of humanitarian
issues to justify military or political actions can backfire and impact
badly on the most desperate of populations. They are aware that they must
maintain a strictly neutral stance, and not be associated with any party to
the conflict. And they are already resisting pressure by donor governments
to direct their assistance in line with the political objectives of those
donors - such as pressure to direct assistance into areas "liberated" from
Al Shabab in order to provide "peace dividends", rather than directing their
assistance strictly on the basis of most acute need.
Yet we are all aware that humanitarianism does not take place in a vacuum.
Unless and until a political solution is found to the problems in Somalia,
the humanitarian crisis will be never-ending.
Security and humanitarian actors have been working at cross-purposes in the
Horn of Africa for decades. On some occasions, this has meant direct
interference, where regional or Western governments stop assistance from
reaching those who need it for political reasons. At other times, the
interference is indirect but no less harmful - for example, when military
actions produce unnecessary displacement or prevent Somalis from rebuilding
their lives and livelihoods.
The activities of the parties to the growing conflict inside Somalia - from
Al Shabab, to the TFG, to Kenya, Ethiopia, and including AMISOM in its
latest offensive outside of Mogadishu - are having a negative impact on the
safety and wellbeing of civilians, including people living in displacement
camps. Military operations do not adequately take into account the impacts
on civilians, including the need of farmers to plant and harvest. Without a
real effort on this score, food insecurity will be exacerbated, and
additional internal and international displacement of civilians will result.
On Refugees International's recent research trip to Kenya, we also heard
many accounts of security operations being a cause for humanitarian concern.
Kenyan authorities, for example, have conducted numerous raids and searches
within the country's refugee camps - and within permanent Kenyan Somali
communities elsewhere - on the suspicion that Al Shabab militants are hiding
amongst them. On our recent trip, we heard many accounts of the rough
treatment these Somali refugees received: including arbitrary arrests,
detention, and physical and sexual abuse. This state violence and
intimidation has forced some back over the border into Somalia- a disturbing
testament to the operations' scale and seriousness.
On Monday, I met with other members of the humanitarian and advocacy
community to clarify the humanitarian priorities in this current crisis. But
we all knew very well that the outcome of our meeting and the humanitarian
side meeting co-chaired by Valerie Amos was unlikely to generate the same
buzz as the conference itself, with its high-profile guests U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
A political solution to the problems of Somalia is essential, and we commend
any serious attempts towards that elusive goal. But we've seen scores of
unsuccessful political and military attempts to solve the problems of
Somalia in recent years. Whilst the attempts continue, humanitarian issues
cannot be ignored. The acute famine crisis came to an end because of the
rains and because of the success of humanitarian assistance, not because of
political or military successes. The leaders gathered at Lancaster House
should have agreed to a Somalia strategy in which there was careful,
parallel consideration of humanitarian and security concerns - and in which
the decision to take up arms was weighed against the possible human
consequences. Sadly, both for those delivering life-saving assistance in
Somalia and for those who receive it, they did not.
* Melanie Teff is a Senior Advocate and European Representative with
Refugees International, a Washington DC-based organization that advocates
for an end to refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For
more information, please go to www.refugeesinternational.org.
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Received on Sat Feb 25 2012 - 18:18:32 EST