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Somalia: Piracy and the Policy Vacuum
Nov 22, 2008 (081122)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"While the responsibility for this crisis [in Somalia] lies first
and foremost with the Somali leadership, the international
community, principally the U.S. government and members of the UN
Security Council, has also failed ... They have failed repeatedly
to take a principled engagement to solve the crisis, acknowledge
the power realities on the ground, support peace negotiations
without imposing external agendas, or provide independent
humanitarian assistance." - Refugees International
Oil tanker Sirius Star, which was carrying $100 million worth of
crude oil when captured by Somali pirates on November 15, is still
being held for ransom a week later, as is the Ukrainian MV Faina,
captured almost two months ago with a cargo of heavy weaponry.
Actual and attempted hijackings by Somali pirates have more than
doubled from last year, with more than 60 through October 2008 as
compared to 25 in all of 2007. The world's military chiefs and
diplomats seem helpless to do much more than caution ships to post
armed guards on deck, grease their railings, or take the long route around
the Cape of Good Hope.
[For the most recent news on Somali piracy (over 16,000 stories as
of this morning!), see http://tinyurl.com/597ap3 (Google News) and
For a 12-page background briefing paper on Somali piracy, see
For an analytical article placing piracy in historical perspective, see
But while the rising threat of piracy off the Somali coast is now
attracting world-wide attention, the United States and other world
powers still have no serious policy to cope with the humanitarian
and political crisis in Somalia. The country's one recent
experience of some months of relative stability, under the Union of
Islamic Courts in 2006, was ended with a U.S.-backed Ethiopian
invasion which has helped make the country the largest humanitarian
crisis in the world. The Transitional Federal Government formed in
exile in Kenya in 2004 with international support and now kept in power
in Mogadishu with the aid of Ethiopian troops, is generally agreed
to be both illegitimate and ineffective. Sporadic peace talks under
way in Djibouti have not slowed the advance of insurgents, and
there is no coordinated international plan to promote peace (see
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains a call for a new policy by
analysts of the Washington-based Refugees International who have
recently returned from the region.
For a report of the November 20 Security Council meeting on
Somalia, see http://tinyurl.com/64w9zm The Secretary-General's
report, dated November 17, is available at http://tinyurl.com/6bsaw4 (22-page report in PDF format).
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, and additional
background links, visit
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Somalia: Policy Overhaul Required
November 19, 2008
2001 S Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202-828-0110 Fax: 202-828-0819
by Patrick Duplat and Jake Kurtzer, who recently returned from
Djibouti, Somaliland and Kenya where they assessed the humanitarian
situation for displaced Somalis.
- The incoming U.S. Administration should overhaul U.S. policy
towards Somalia by taking a comprehensive regional approach,
prioritizing the provision of humanitarian assistance and calling
for a truly inclusive political process.
- The U.S. should provide non-earmarked funding that allows UNHCR
to allocate funding in the Horn of Africa where it is most needed.
- UNHCR Djibouti should maintain daily protection staff presence in
the Ali Addeh camp.
- UNHCR Djibouti should start an outreach program for urban
Somalia is the world's worst humanitarian disaster and aid agencies
are unable to respond to the immense scale of needs. The insecurity
preventing assistance is a consequence of failed international
political and diplomatic efforts. To stabilize the situation in
south central Somalia, U.S. policy requires a complete overhaul,
prioritizing humanitarian concerns over narrow counterterrorism
objectives. Neighboring countries are bearing the brunt of the
refugee outflow and more needs to be done to help them. For
example, in Djibouti, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) should increase
its protection staff as well as identify and provide services to
urban refugees in Djibouti city.
Somalia is the world's worst humanitarian disaster. More than 3.2
million Somalis - 40% of the population - are dependent on external
assistance, and 400,000 people have sought refuge in neighboring
While the situation has deteriorated in the past two years, the
last months have seen worsening indicators: more than 1.3 million
Somalis are now displaced within the country; 35,000 fled from the
capital in October alone; 10,000 Somali refugees crossed the border
into Kenya in September; and one in six children under five years
old in the southern part of the country is malnourished.
Exacerbating the problem has been the extreme difficulty in
providing assistance. Somalia has always been a challenging
operating environment for aid agencies, but it has now become one
of the most dangerous places for humanitarian workers, alongside
Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 30 staff from non-governmental
organizations and UN agencies have been killed this year alone, as
well as many journalists and human rights defenders.
While the responsibility for this crisis lies first and foremost
with the Somali leadership, the international community,
principally the U.S. government and members of the UN Security
Council, has also failed in its duty to protect the Somali people.
They have failed repeatedly to take a principled engagement to
solve the crisis, acknowledge the power realities on the ground,
support peace negotiations without imposing external agendas, or
provide independent humanitarian assistance.
This lack of principled engagement is demonstrated by the U.S. and
the European Union's response to the piracy problems of the coast
of Somalia. The root cause of the piracy is lawlessness inside
Somalia, an environment where accountability means little and where
the traditional clan linkages are giving way to the law of the gun.
Maritime patrols, whether by individual countries, NATO, or
mercenary operatives, do little to stem the motivation behind those
attacks. Moreover, the speed and resolve with which piracy has been
addressed by the UN Security Council underlines Somalis' sentiment
that economic interests trump humanitarian concerns. The United
States swiftly and sternly condemned the pirates, and yet remains
silent over egregious war crimes committed during the civil war.
Thanks to the efforts of the Special Representative of the UN
Secretary General, political negotiations have been ongoing between
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the moderates
in the opposition, mainly the Djibouti-based Alliance for the
Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS). After several rounds of talks, an
agreement was signed in late October 2008 calling for a ceasefire
and joint security operations.
The inclusion of the opposition was a welcome recognition, albeit
a late one, that the TFG was slowly slipping into irrelevance.
However the reluctance to include hardliners, who control much of
south central Somalia, runs the risk of making the agreement
largely symbolic. Until parties hoping to broker peace in Somalia
find a way to engage these groups, including Al Shabaab, an Islamic
group designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S.
State Department, the security situation will make humanitarian
assistance near impossible.
U.S. Policy Requires Pragmatism
United States policy in Somalia is loosely based on three
objectives: counterterrorism, political reconciliation, and
humanitarian response. In pursuit of these three objectives, the
U.S. has at times worked at cross-purposes. The U.S. agenda has
been driven by the Global War on Terror, which has undermined U.S.
humanitarian and political efforts. Decisions to launch airstrikes
appear to be taken unilaterally by the Department of Defense
without input from the State Department regarding the potential
diplomatic fallout, and without assessing the consequences for
humanitarian actors on the ground.
The May 2008 missile strike targeting Aden Hashi Ayro was deemed a
success by a U.S. Administration keen to show progress in
counterterrorism efforts in the Horn. The consequences for aid
agencies were felt immediately: a UN agency had to cancel the
opening of an office in the region where the attack took place;
humanitarian workers have been increasingly targeted; and two
international non-governmental organizations were ordered to leave
by Al Shabaab, accused of providing intelligence to the U.S. These
examples illustrate the consequences of unilateral strikes that
endanger millions of Somalis who depend on international agencies
for medical care and food aid while doing little to reduce
terrorism or lessen the ongoing violence in Somalia.
While the increasing number of attacks on humanitarian workers is
due to a variety of causes, there is a perception from armed
opposition groups that humanitarian actors work in tandem with
political actors. The targeting of humanitarian workers has
resulted in dramatic curtailment of operations and in some cases
withdrawal from a region.
Efforts by humanitarian agencies to distance themselves from
diplomatic efforts were compromised by the co-opting of aid in the
peace negotiations. Refugees International spoke with several
non-governmental organizations who talked of being "highjacked"
into the Djibouti process. Aid groups were being asked to
participate in the political initiative as members of civil
society. While some UN agencies and non-governmental organizations
can still claim a certain amount of independence, the ability to
deliver aid in Somalia while appearing neutral has all but
Humanitarian actors recognize that the situation will not improve
until there is political progress. The TFG, in its four years of
existence, has failed to provide a modicum of security for the
Somali population, and despite international financial and military
support, now controls only small pockets of territory. The Djibouti
process has been a welcome step forward, insofar as it provides a
platform on which various parties have come together, but the TFG
lacks any legitimacy and the ARS is believed to have little
remaining influence over insurgents determined to drive the
Ethiopian forces out of Somalia.
Indeed, the main objective of the insurgency is the withdrawal of
all Ethiopian troops. This message of Somali national sovereignty
has been the rallying cry in opposition to the TFG, whose leaders
are seen as taking orders from foreign capitals. While there is no
fixed timetable for the Ethiopian troop withdrawal, experts agree
that a gradual pull-out is likely in the short term, and is
perceived to be the best option in a range of bad scenarios.
The only credible political route is to broaden the peace agreement
to the opposition groups controlling south Somalia. This is a step
which would require UN Security Council members, particularly the
U.S., to publicly support the SRSG in attempts to build on the
existing process and reach out to the actors with real influence.
Furthermore, including opposition groups in the peace process can
be a first step towards convincing them to refrain from continued
violence, particularly towards humanitarian agencies, while
negotiations are underway.
The U.S. role in all this has been damaging. It has ignored
evidence of the inability of the TFG to function and its
illegitimacy in the eyes of the Somalis, while continuing to
provide political and financial support. The U.S. has also turned
a blind eye to human rights abuses being committed by all parties
to the violence in south central Somalia. In particular, the
failure to adequately condemn abuses committed by Ethiopian troops,
in direct contravention to U.S. law governing bilateral military
relationships, has undermined the ability of the U.S. to be
perceived as a credible broker of peace. There is direct evidence
linking the patterns of displacement to kinetic operations
conducted by Ethiopian forces, and the U.S. has continuously failed
to hold the Ethiopian government accountable, hiding behind "quiet
diplomacy," which has produced nothing.
The start of a new administration is an opportunity to overhaul
U.S. policy in Somalia, incorporating the input of the humanitarian
actors on the ground, who have the most accurate and detailed
understanding of the local dynamics of the regions in which they
work. U.S. policy must be open to a truly inclusive political
process in order to achieve a modicum of stability, while placing
priority on supporting humanitarian assistance at requisite levels
when openings occur.
Support Refugees in Neighboring Countries
Somali civilians are the first victims of the ongoing conflict, and
the worsening humanitarian situation has left flight as one of the
few remaining options. Neighboring countries and regions bear the
brunt of this outflow, and more should be done to assist them.
a) Djibouti: Protection Needed
Djibouti, a small country strategically located in the Horn of
Africa, has long been a refuge for migrants from all over the
region, partly due to its location, but also because of its
relative peace and stability. The country is host to the Combined
Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, the largest U.S. military
presence in Africa. The intensification of the conflict in Somalia
since January 2007 has led to a steady increase in the number of
refugees from south and central Somalia, who are granted prima
facie recognition from the Djibouti government. Today, the Office
of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) cares for more
than 8,700 refugees in Djibouti, more than 90% of them from
UNHCR must immediately address the lack of protection of refugees'
rights. The vast majority of refugees stay in the Ali Addeh camp,
in a remote and isolated location three hours from Djibouti city.
The management of the camp presents challenges that are outside the
control of UNHCR. The environment is inhospitable and offers few
opportunities for refugees to develop sustainable livelihoods.
Moreover, UNHCR is a partner to the government agency ONARS, which
oversees refugee affairs, including the management of the camp.
Nevertheless, Refugees International interviewed several camp
residents who expressed concerns about a range of issues: from the
quantity of food to education and interaction with ONARS officials.
These are issues that UNHCR must address through the daily presence
of a Protection Officer, which would require an increase in
protection staff. Regular visits by a Field Assistant are not
adequate for monitoring and safeguarding of refugee rights. The
planned construction of the UNHCR office inside the camp, designed
to facilitate the presence of a protection staff and exchanges with
refugees, should be UNHCR's top priority.
The difficult relationship between ONARS and the World Food
Program, resulting in the recent removal of the WFP Representative,
means that there are no external monitors during food
distributions. Alarmingly, more than 15% of children under five in
the camp are enrolled in a supplementary feeding program. UNHCR
should be more proactive in determining the causes of this
abnormally high number. Lastly, UNHCR should ensure that mental
health care is part of the medical services offered.
UNHCR's focus has been almost exclusively on providing services in
the camp, and has neglected refugees who live in Djibouti city.
Apart from a few hundred who benefit from individual assistance,
the urban refugee population has been virtually ignored.
UNHCR provides few incentives to Somalis for voluntary
registration, besides access to the camp. Refugees International
interviewed Somalis who recently arrived in Djibouti city and they
were unaware of their options, let alone of UNHCR's presence. They
did not know that they had legal protection and the right to reside
and work in Djibouti. On the contrary, they were fearful of going
to the camp. Most UN staff readily acknowledge the potentially
large number of urban refugees, around 20,000 according to some
estimates, but there have been no initiatives to document them.
UNHCR, in partnership with other agencies, must conduct a public
outreach campaign in Djibouti city to assess the number of urban
asylum seekers, identify their protection needs, and design
programs to meet those needs. This exercise has been conducted in
various forms in the surrounding countries as part of a
Mixed-Migration Task Force. This task force has been successful in
assessing the nature of the migratory flows in the Horn, as well as
addressing the particular needs of migrants and refugees in the
region. UNHCR must take the lead in Djibouti and engage UNICEF and
UNDP, which are nominally part of the Task Force, but in Djibouti
focus on supporting the government. The support of other agencies
is crucial since services to an urban refugee population should
include support to host communities as well.
b) Somaliland: A Unique Case
Until the recent suicide bomb attacks in Hargeisa, Somaliland, the
semi-autonomous region of northern Somalia, had been relatively
insulated from the violence affecting south central Somalia and
Puntland. By virtue of its stability, Somaliland has become a
migratory hub hosting displaced Somalis from the south on their way
to Djibouti and Yemen, returnees from Somaliland who fled during
the civil war, internally displaced people from south and central
Somalia, economic migrants from various places in the Horn and a
small group of refugees from Ethiopia. These people live
interspersed among settlements around the capital city Hargeisa and
the surrounding provinces.
Somaliland aspires to independence, but is not recognized
internationally. The Somaliland government considers displaced
people from other regions as refugees since they have crossed an
"international" border, but UNHCR considers them as internally
displaced people. Thus, there is no formal registration process for
displaced Somalis in Somaliland, who number approximately 75,000,
including 45,000 in Hargeisa. Most of the displaced Somalis have
regrouped in settlements, which are essentially large camps with no
Somaliland offers a more stable operating environment than the rest
of the country, and international NGOs and UN agencies have been
able to run programs with fewer security constraints. Moreover, aid
agencies have a functioning government to interact with, including
ministries and an elected Parliament. Despite the stark difference
in levels of development between Somaliland and the rest of
Somalia, aid projects in Hargeisa are created on an ad hoc basis as
agencies frequently redirect funds that could not be spent in south
Currently, the international community has a schizophrenic approach
to Somaliland, treating it as an independent state when it's
politically or operationally useful - for example, funding
electoral reforms and citizen registration - but otherwise
maintaining the rhetoric of a unified Somalia. As a consequence,
Somaliland cannot receive bilateral development aid directly from
donors. Stopping short of formal recognition of independence for
Somaliland, the U.S. and other key players need to recognize the
unique status of Somaliland, and inject needed funds into recovery
and development projects.
The recent coordinated suicide bombings in Hargeisa do raise the
specter that the crisis in Somalia is spreading, and increase the
urgency of international support for Somaliland. If violence begins
to trickle north, aid agencies will be forced to increase their
security costs, and may have to cut back operations.
The U.S. continues to be a leading provider of humanitarian
assistance funding in Somalia, including to UNHCR. However, the
challenging environment in south central Somalia requires a new
approach. UNHCR has been extremely effective in designing and
implementing projects either directly or through partners. Yet some
of the funding currently earmarked for UNHCR Somalia remains
unspent, as security conditions inhibit the provision of services.
The U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration should take
a regional approach to the Somalia crisis, giving UNHCR the
flexibility to allocate funding where it is most needed. This
approach would include countries of refuge such as Kenya, Djibouti
and Yemen, allowing humanitarian actors to be responsive to large
displacement outflows. In particular, funding is urgently needed
for the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya for services to its growing
number of refugees and in anticipation of an expansion of the
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