Somalia’s complex situation has deteriorated dramatically in the last three years. Indeed, Somalis are experiencing the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world with more than three million people needing emergency aid. More than 1.5 million people are internally displaced and another million are trapped in conflict areas with no access to any humanitarian support. The supply of humanitarian aid from the international community diminished after insurgents failed to guarantee the security of humanitarian workers. This, in an environment where humanitarian workers were being called terrorists and accuse of diverting humanitarian aid to be used as military supplies to fuel the conflict. As a result, most international aid workers in these conflict areas were forced to leave the country or limit themselves to short visits for monitoring purposes.
Local humanitarian organisations have since tried to salvage the situation and as much as possible meet the humanitarian needs of the people. Dozens of innocent aid workers have been killed after being accused of working for foreign agencies or kidnapped by criminal gangs for ransom.
In terms of Somalis’ capacity to feed themselves, most farmers lack basic farm inputs and as the security situation does not permit the import of agricultural inputs, the country’s productivity and food security is threatened. Moreover, traders who otherwise might be able to import goods have left the country in search of a safe haven.
On the political side, the space for dialogue and negotiations are shrinking or have totally disappeared as neither side is exploring alternative avenues for reconciliation. A military solution is not a realistic option as neither side has enough guns or soldiers to defeat the other. The traditional mediation role played by Somali elders has been eroded as the dynamics of conflict and the proliferation of weapons make it difficult to influence warring parties. Some insurgent groups are using religious ideology to justify their actions, but many Somalis hold that these beliefs and practices have no legitimate reference in the Qur’an. At this time there is a divided leadership which is not helping stabilise the situation in South and Central Somalia. This is being capitalised upon by armed opposition groups. In addition, the absence of sound institutional policies, competent management frameworks and lack of skills are drivers that could cause the TFG to fail. Civil society has been demanding that the international community commit to empowering transitional institutions, but as yet there are no visible impacts. Finally, without guarantees that Somalis will be protected during this difficult time, then no amount of political investment will work. Dead Somalis can’t vote. Unfortunately, human rights abuses have dramatically worsened over the past several years. During this period of political conflict, the scale of mass and systematic killing, tortures, kidnapping and rapes have been the worst since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime. These abuses are well documented by human rights groups, but almost universally ignored by the international community. Indeed, some donor governments have contributed to these abuses by supporting the wrong groups without much oversight over the impact of their support. Despite these daunting challenges, Somali civil society has been busy. Local NGOs and activists have been filling as many gaps as they can in the delivery of humanitarian aid. They are developing community security plans in order to protect civilians and are strengthening local and traditional governance systems based upon traditional Somali values. In the absence of state functions, civil society is trying to restore basic social services in urban and rural communities. In all these efforts, civil society is trying to bring a measure of stability and hope to areas of conflict and suffering. Although there may be many Somali voices in what is loosely called “civil society”, one thing is agreed: without wide dialogue (rooted in Somali tradition) then a genuine political process will be nothing more than an elusive mirage on the political landscape.
Jama Mohamed is Director of the Somali Organisation for Community Development Activities (SOCDA).