In the past two months, a number of Somalis seeking food aid in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, have been shot dead by gunmen. Only days ago, another gunman opened fire, killing six people at a feeding centre. The astonishing thing isn’t that civilians are being killed in Mogadishu, where marauding gunmen affiliated with various warlords make every part of the city a very risky place to be. It’s that, in each instance, the gunmen were government soldiers whose salary and weapons came from the international community.
There’s certainly a disconnect between the international community’s expectations and massive aid to the institutions of the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the failure of those institutions to respond to the real needs of Somalis facing very dire conditions. Hundreds of people are dying every day as a result of Somalia’s famine – and, according to the United Nations, a further 750,000 are facing imminent starvation.
Adequate attention has been paid to the role that the al-Shabaab terrorist group has played in contributing to the starvation and death of thousands of Somalis. The militants have substantially increased the suffering of Somalis by denying the existence of famine, banning relief agencies in the territories they control, and preventing people living in their midst to seek aid in other parts of Somalia.
What hasn’t been properly examined is how bad governance by elements of the Transitional Federal Government has resulted in conditions that exacerbate the effects of Somalia’s worst drought in 60 years. Forces under the control of various members of Somalia’s 550-member parliament who moonlight as warlords have been accused of looting food aid, sexually assaulting Somali women who’ve fled al-Shabaab-controlled areas and committing other human-rights abuses. The fact that aid agencies are willing to operate in only a handful of the more than 200 displacement and feeding camps in Mogadishu, a city under the full control of the transitional government, is a glaring example of the unwillingness of its security institutions to protect Somalis and foreign relief workers.
Despite this, there are signs that elements of the government are serious about reform, good governance and an end to corruption. In recent years, a number of talented, Western-educated members of the Somali diaspora have decided to offer their technocratic knowledge to Somalia and rebuild it after decades of civil war. These individuals have no history of corruption or war crimes. By introducing ambitious anti-corruption initiatives, they have gained much-needed trust and loyalty from an increasing number of Somalis.
The current cabinet, filled with Somalis from the United States, Canada, Britain and Finland, was brought in earlier this summer under a UN deal to try to end months of internecine squabbling. But these reformers within the government can’t succeed without support from the international community.
Canada could contribute to this endeavour by extending technical assistance and advice to help these reformers to set up an independent judiciary, draft a constitution and create an effective anti-corruption commission. Donor countries that prop up the transitional government should take swift action against any spoilers of this reform agenda. The international community has to make it clear that it won’t work with any government official who views development aid as a money-making initiative.
One of the most effective means of discouraging the theft of development aid has been the freezing of assets of corrupt officials. Combined with travel bans, the freezing of assets has been very effective, for instance, in persuading the Kenyan government to take serious action against corruption.
The international community’s responsibility to Somalia is to help the Somalis build viable political and development institutions that will stabilize their country, bring in good governance and improve the economy. These institutions will prevent future famines by encouraging the use of long-term anti-famine nutrition programs, better agricultural methods and the implementation of anti-corruption initiatives that prevent the diversion of food aid.
A peaceful and well-governed Somalia will also be able to eliminate the two security concerns currently emanating from the country: piracy and terrorism.
Ahmed Hussen is national president of the Canadian Somali Congress.