Wednesday, May 02, 2012

When America and Al-Shabaab Agreed

When war-torn Somalia was also ravaged by a drought-induced famine last year, which killed tens of thousands and displaced over a million people, international media was quick to blame the Islamist Al-Shabaab for blocking humanitarian assistance from reaching its zone of control in southern Somalia.Although the group undoubtedly prevented assistance from reaching starving famine victims based on its claim that food aid was a Western conspiracy to drive Somali farmers out of business, Menkhaus, a specialist on the Horn of Africa, believes that was not the end of the sordid story. According to Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina, the United States’ counter-terrorism laws played an equally central role in obstructing assistance from reaching famine victims in desperate need of aid. Menkhaus said humanitarian organisations suspended food aid delivery to drought- struck areas controlled by Al-Shabaab for fear of violating the USA Patriot Act. Humanitarian groups were fearful that an accusation of "aiding terrorists’ could damage their entire organisation. In reality, the U.S. could have issued a waiver, protecting relief agencies from counter-terrorism laws; similar waivers have been issued for relief agencies in southern Lebanon and the West Bank of the occupied Palestinian territories, where Hezbollah and Hamas operate respectively. But in the case of Somalia, Menkhaus believes the U.S. administration did not want to give its Republican opponents any political leverage on the eve of upcoming presidential elections by appearing too "soft on terrorism". Instead, the U.S. government prepared a document that purportedly gave relief agencies protection from the law but which, upon close examination by legal experts, was found to contain no such protections, leaving those humanitarian agencies vulnerable to attack under the Patriot Act.

The tragic irony Menkhaus explained  "suspension of food aid into southern Somalia was the only thing that the U.S. government and Al-Shabaab could agree on, to the detriment of (millions) of Somalis" 

The humanitarian agenda is becomes secondary to the political agenda.
By 2008 Somalia was the most dangerous place in the world for humanitarian aid workers. "One-third of all humanitarian casualties occurred not in Afghanistan or in Iraq but in Somalia," Menkhaus said. The Kenyan refugee camp of Dadaab, with a population of 520,000, is now Kenya’s third largest city, and completely unsustainable. In addition, destitute nomads and farmers who can no longer find livelihoods in rural areas are drifting into urban centres. These people, who come with no technical skills into a barren employment landscape, are forming huge slums of several hundred thousand people in villages that previous housed only a few thousand residents.

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