Horn of Africa: aid charade follows predicted famine

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

In September 2011, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that 13.3 million people in East Africa were in dire need of food aid, up from 11.3 million in July. Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Djibouti are worst affected, but Sudan, Uganda and South Sudan also face food crises. In Somalia, as many as 750,000 people in the southern regions face starvation by January 2012.

Hundreds of thousands of stricken people have fled to refugee camps in search of food and medical care. The UN estimates that a quarter of Somalia’s population of 9.9 million are now either internally displaced or living outside the country as refugees, and 20 years of civil war in Somalia and conflict in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia has made a bad situation worse by preventing safe migration. Human Rights Watch reported in June 2010 that Kenyan police welcomed ‘the vast majority [of Somali refugees] with rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation’ and extorted money from them. Thousands of Somalis unable to pay were sent back to Somalia, in violation of Kenyan and international law. In 2009, Oxfam reported that Somali refugee camps were ‘barely fit for humans’.

The Kenyan and Ethiopian governments have denied any famine, yet in Turkana, Kenya (near the Ethiopian border), acute malnutrition affects 38% of the population; the famine threshold is 30%. The US-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was formed in late 2004, is blaming Islamist militants Al Shabaab and pirates for the crisis, but Al Shabaab does not control any part of Djibouti, Kenya or Ethiopia, where there is also famine.

As Kenyans starve, the government’s policy of increasing domestic production for export means that flowers, coffee and tea grown on the most arable land are being exported to the EU and Britain. Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, M&S and Tesco all sell Kenyan or Ethiopian cut flowers. Kenya is also selling massive tracts of farmland to foreign governments and private investors (see FRFI 222, ‘Corporate land grabs in Africa’). The multinational agribusiness corporations to whom land is being handed over are depleting scarce water resources.

Somalia’s economy is dominated by agriculture, with livestock accounting for 40% of GDP. However climate change means that hotter and drier conditions are more prevalent and there are now droughts and starving people in Niger, Cameroon and Malawi. In fact, droughts have increased from once a decade to every two or three years, and the problems can only get worse. In the Horn of Africa alone, there were droughts and affected crop levels or food crises in 1984, 1991-2, 1997, 1999-2000, 2002-3, 2005-6 and 2008-9.

The puppet governments in the region have used the droughts as political footballs and the crisis is being used by the imperialists in a cynical attempt to end the civil war in Somalia in favour of the puppet TFG. The famine has not stopped Barack ‘O’bomber’ Obama bombing Somalia, nor the CIA running secret torture sites there. Most ‘aid’ to Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Ethiopia is in the form of military aid from the imperialists – and mainly from Britain.

Aid charade and corruption

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) dominates food aid in Somalia; the US is the leading donor. Al Shabaab barred 16 ‘aid’ organisations, including the WFP, in 2009 from southern and central Somalia which they control. WFP aid to other areas was worth about $485 million in 2009, yet people have continued to starve in these regions.

Aid benefits primarily the donor, but to add insult to injury, it has been looted by the TFG and its militias. In two separate incidents in August, 19 Somalis were killed in Mogadishu after troops looted 15 tonnes of humanitarian aid and vehicles carrying maize and oil meant for famine victims. TFG soldiers and its militias have raided camps, raped people and stolen their famine aid. A Somali soldier opened fire at a food aid distribution centre in Mogadishu’s Waberi district on 7 September, killing at least seven famine victims.

In March 2010 a UN Security Council report revealed that between 50% and 80% of food aid to Somalia is pilfered by corrupt TFG officials, businessmen and militias, so at least 50% of food never makes it to the people who desperately need it. The WFP steers 80% of its transportation contracts to three Somali businessmen, some with connections to the very Islamist insurgents they claim to oppose. The looted aid is then sold in local markets at exorbitant prices out of the reach of the poor. The Somali State Audit Office reported in May that $300m received between 2009 and 2010 by the British and US-backed TFG is unaccounted for. However the British government has no problem with these looters: this is simply part and parcel of imperialist plunder.

Charles Chinweizu