Peacekeeping: Killing With Kindness

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June 27, 2007: Peacekeepers aren't the only ones who get shot at by some of the people they are trying to help. The aid workers, especially those bringing in free food, are increasingly lambasted by the locals for making it impossible to grow food locally. How can this be? It's simple. Even in the most ravaged disaster areas, there are some farmers who are still producing food. Even in the poorest nations, the farmers sell some of their crops to buy other things, sometimes stuff (tools, fertilizer, insecticide, or even seed) needed to plant the next crop. When all that free food shows up, courtesy of international relief efforts, the farmers get much lower prices for their food. Often, the farmers are offered so little for their surplus food, that they cannot afford to plant another crop, and themselves become dependent on the foreign aid.

Relief agencies have been aware of the problem for some time, and have tried various things, most without success, to protect the local farmers. Meanwhile, the locals often take matters into their own hands. This sometimes takes the form of attacking the trucks bringing in the food, and destroying the vehicles, and the food they carry. These food convoys are always big targets. Bandits who attack them, carry away lots of the food for their own use, or resale on local markets. But when the food is just destroyed, it's often a sign that the local farmers are trying to avoid bankruptcy.

The relief agencies will hire local security, if it appears that attacks are likely. But the aid people are not always plugged into local politics. If the farmers get mad enough, they can muster a large enough force to scare the convoy guards off. In both Afghanistan and Somalia, you have food convoys being attacked to give the local farmers, or grain merchants, some price protection. In both of these countries, there's also tribal animosities to watch out for as well. One tribe will attack and destroy food headed for a rival tribe, just to make their traditional enemies suffer.

Peacekeepers will sometimes, as a last resort, be assigned to convoy protection. That way, even if the peacekeepers back down in the face of overwhelming force, they will be answerable to someone.

 


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