Man Made Famine in Somalia

Special UN envoy to Somalia Augustine Mahiga arrived in Mogadishu on 24 Jan 2012 after Islamist group Al-Shabaab was evicted from the capital. It also coincides with Canadian oil company Africa Oil’s first drilling operation in semi autonomous Puntland in Northern Somalia. UN Somalia mission could mean recognition by the international community after the country descended into chaos in 1991 following the collapse of  Siad Barre’s dictatorial regime. Siad Barre’s government was accused of corruption and giving generous concessions to international oil companies in the country’s lucrative oil reserves, estimated to be around 200 billion barrels, or around USD 2 trillion in value. One survey placed Somalia second only to Sudan, another war torn country, for oil production importance in East Africa.

Somalia gained independence from colonial rule after the merger of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland on 01, July 1960. After the fall of Barre’s regime in 1991 there were no governments until 2004 when Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was formed with Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as its elected President. In 2006 Islamic Courts Union (ICU) emerged as the most powerful party ending warlordism and ruling by Islamic shariah.

TFG has ambassadors in various countries, and it represents Somalia in the UN, Arab League, OAU and other multi-lateral organizations. The ICU leaders are Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and Sheikh Dahir Aweys. US and Ethiopia accused Dhahir Aweys of links to terrorism and in late 2006, joint offensive by US-Ethiopian forces drove ICU out of power. ICU has since gone underground.

In 2009, Sharif Yusuf Ahmed, former chairman of ICU, was elected President, after an alliance between TFG and ICU, starting a counteroffensive to regain control of southern Somalia from Islamists. Within months Islamist groups Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam took control of 80% of South Central Somalia. In October 2011 Kenya and Somali Army formed a joint force to push Islamists out of Mogadishu. Last week, January 2012, Al Shabaab fighters withdrew from Mogadishu and cleared the road for UN special envoy to begin his mission. Most critical to UN mission now should be to end the famine. Food and medicine for people should receive first priority and the UN can start that by providing World Food Program with necessary funds.

Thousands of people died needlessly and millions of dollars were wasted because of not responding fast enough to early signs of famine in East Africa, aid agencies commented. Famine of Somalia is a man made disaster for which international community must share its horror. Most rich donor nations waited until the crisis in the Horn of Africa was in full swing before donating a substantial amount of money, according to aid groups. A food shortage had been predicted as early as August 2010, but most donors did not respond until famine was declared in parts of Somalia in July 2011.

“We all bear responsibility for this dangerous delay that cost lives in East Africa and need to learn the lessons of the late response,” said Oxfam head Barbara Stocking. The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died from the famine, mostly Somalis. Ethiopia and Kenya were also affected but aid agencies were able to work more easily there than in war-ravaged Somalia. More than half of those who died are believed to be children. The United Nations says 250,000 Somalis are still at risk of starvation and more than 13 million people need aid.

Canada’s Africa Oil recently started drilling for oil in the north. How much of the oil wealth will reach common Somalis is still doubtful. Benefits of mass level employment through oil exploration is unlikely as oil companies are expected to book most of the cash from Somalia’s oil sales. Somali government would be right to demand for food security for their people in exchange for their concessions to oil companies. Human lives take priority over profits.

Huge Oil Reserves But No Food

Puntland, one of the poorest regions in Africa, has been a semi-autonomous region in Somalia since 1998 when it was formed in response to the collapse of the government and the ongoing civil war in the south.

But now for the first time in 20 years oil companies are drilling in Puntland. Oil could offer the jobs and revenue the region desperately needs. Or, it could be the very reason why this strategic resource rich country is at war. Somalia has proven oil reserves of about 200 billion barels. It must be enough to make oil giants covet a land home to world’s poorest people. 2 oil blocks in Somalia are equal to the size of Bangladesh.

Somalia’s capital Mogadishu had been under the control of Al Shabaab (formerly Islamic Courts Union) until last week. Shabaab soldiers have vowed to fight back blocking the way for mega oil deals. Oil companies would not enter a war torn zone without some form of international military protection for its operations. US military intervention in Operation Restore Hope crashed with its Blackhawk in a disgraceful manner. Conoco’s Mogadishu office was used by US marines and by US special envoy during Operation Restore Hope. Since US withdrawal in 1993-94 made it harder for oil companies to continue in a country where 2/3rd of oil blocks were awarded to US oil companies.