Peacekeeping: Good Works Gone Bad

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March 27, 2010: Increasingly frustrated with the problems encountered supplying food to starving Somalis, the UN has come out with even more damning admissions about how the food aid program had been corrupted by Somali warlords and local businessmen. Using force, intimidation and bribes, these Somalis had corrupted the food aid program to the point where over half the food was being stolen. Some went to supply warlord forces. These included Islamic radical groups like al Shabaab, which fed its followers with the stolen food, and sold off much of it to provide cash for weapons and other goods. The conduits for this theft were often the local contractors who were hired to transport and distribute the food. These businesses collaborated with the Islamic radical groups to pull this off, threatening Somalis with kidnapping, beatings or death if they complained to UN inspectors. Many Somalis sought to complain, because the food they did not get, left them starving. There wasn't much choice between a quick death from an al Shabaab bullet, or a slow one from starvation or malnutrition related illnesses.

But word of the wholesale theft of food did get out. Word, and pictures, of starving Somalis, who were supposed to be receiving regular food aid, did get out. As a result of that, the UN was having a hard time getting nations to donate food. Why donate food or cash, when it's common knowledge in the aid community that much of the food is stolen. Worse still, the UN has to pay millions of dollars each year in bribes to get armed groups to allow food aid in. Even that isn't always possible. Islamic radical organization Al Shabaab recently ordered the UN to stop importing food for nearly four million starving Somalis. The Islamic radicals say that all the free food makes it difficult for Somali farmers to stay in business. This is often the case, although there is a major drought going on in Somalia, and many farmers are unable to produce food locally, and are too broke to buy food locally. What's really going on here is that Al Shabaab apparently wants to extort more money and goods from the UN to allow food aid to come in.

Historically, a portion of the population would die of starvation during these droughts (or other natural disasters), and the survivors would prosper for a bit. But free food from international aid organizations has upset this cycle, often keeping populations dependent on the food aid indefinitely. The population also grows, putting more stress on inadequate resources.

Somalia is a crises that seems capable of coming up with an endless number of new problems, even as foreign aid organizations scramble to find ways to overcome the difficulties and alleviate the suffering of millions of Somalis. No one wants to say the situation is hopeless, but it is relentlessly heading in that direction. An increasing number of Somalis are fleeing to northern Kenya. There, they produce security problems for Kenya, because the refugees bring a number of outlaws and bandits with them. There are already 300,000 Somali refugees in northern Kenya, and many more are being forced south by starvation.

 

 


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