28 September, 2012

Somalia: The Limits of Vuvuzela Charity

Somalia: The Limits of 

By Mahado Sheikh Dahir

I am officially beside myself with fury, I am fuming, I am fumbling, I am hopping mad; you get the picture! I am writing to you from Mogadishu. The devious ‘lords of poverty’ are turning a whole nation into beggars in the name of humanitarianism. These humanitarian ‘pirates’ erected a lucrative empire on the skeletons of starving Somalis for over two decades and the foreboding is as frightening as it is angering.. The sight I saw is depressing. This Somali nation needs much more than I ever imagined. It needs a reconstruction of Marshallian proportions. It needs much more than an uninitiated Sharif and a frail TFG can ever offer. It needs more than Mahiga. It begs for a revolution from its sons and daughters.
In the last week of July 2011, a famine was declared in parts of Southern Somalia. In the same week, it was hard to find a table and a bed in the exquisite restaurants and Hotels of Nairobi. The Kenyan capital was invaded by an army of humanitarian workers armed with laptops and projectors. You would think the hungry people in Somalia actually eat computers for a food by looking at the sheer number of gadgets that were readied to be deployed to Somalia in response to the crisis. Men and women of all ages, all nationalities, white, black, brown, descended on East Africa to ‘save’ lives and to ‘reduce’ malnutrition and further displacement.
A humanitarian appeal was launched for staggering $1 billion. All this money to flow to Somalia between August and December. You do simple arithmetic and realize if 10% of that money ends up reaching the poor in Mogaidshu and Bakool, the nightmare would be over. Mind you, before the revision, the original annual appeal was for $ 590 million, and funding levels stood at 75% (meaning about 445 million has already been received). Yet, the number of people in humanitarian crisis which were said to be 2 million in January shot up to 4 million in August. The mean malnutrition rates which showed a Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) of 16% and a Severe Acute Malnutrition of 4% at the start of 2011 rose up to 36% and 15% respectively. The global indicator threshold for declaring a nutrition crisis in a given area is 15% for GAM and 3% for SAM. You wonder why the funding figures and the number of population in need are inversely related. You wonder why a nation that received $ 400 million in six months would see a doubling and tripling of malnutrition rates. Until you realize the bulk of the money actually doesn’t reach Somalia!

In the name of surge capacity, over 200 UN international staff has arrived, the shortest for a month, the longest for three and more months. If you use an average $10,000 per month, the figure of $6 million is paid as salaries and allowances to the new arrivals. Add that to an already bloated bureaucracy of thousands and you get a sense of how much money is burnt in western capitals and Nairobi in the name of the Somalia Emergency. Add the millions of dollars paid to shipping and freight companies to transport food and non-food items. Add the rentals, construction, renovation and sundry costs of multifarious lavish buildings. Add the United Nations Humanitarian Air Services with the ridiculous fare. Add the phony security and safety specialists who roam everywhere with the expensive armored vehicles. Add the millions of computers, radio and audio-visual equipment procured on a continuous basis. Add the barbeque, the cakes, the drinks the humanitarians need to be able to discuss the severity of the famine and strategies for response. And you would think you got a feel of where the money is ending up. You have not even begun. This is the ears of a hippo. Below the dangling ears which look like two dancing birds lies a bigger monster. The UN and general humanitarian system in Somalia is corrupt to the bone, and all what is said here are the small things the naked eye can see.
As if all that profligacy is not enough, international NGOs take their share of the loot with officially declared 7-15% overhead costs of all money received. The poor local NGOs receive a cake with three quarters already eaten. They eat ¾ of the quarter they received and give the rest to locally affiliated community leaders and entrepreneurs. Where the authorities have enough muscle, they extort their share Vaccination kits and refrigerators given by the Turks and Islamic charities to Mogadishu hospital end up in private clinics, and in the homes of local administrators. This story accurately denotes the fundamental modus operandi of the humanitarian industry in Somalia. Not to sound melodramatic and excuse the foul language, but the whole surfeit of humanitarian demagoguery is bullshit!
You go to Wilson Airport in the morning or to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the afternoon and you would think the whole merciful world is going to Somalia to save lives. Indeed, most of the humanitarians are more interested in saving or advancing or starting a career. That is the cruel truism, known and acknowledged for long time and therefore you are right in asking me, what is the news? You can also rightly ask why I am not blaming the corrupt Somalis – in government or outside government, first. We have blamed Somalis enough in our melancholy moments. Let this be for another day.
The news is the marrow-melting contempt so visibly flaunted by members of the humanitarian and development community to the Somali leaders, and by extension to all Somalis. One of these men was asked why they do not support progressive elements within the TFG and use them as a building block for strong Somalia state. “Of course, that seems logical, but humors me, who are the honest ones? I am working with Minister so-and so and he is a certifiable thief. How can you empower such people?” And this is coming from the higher echelons of the ‘humanitarian’ and ‘development’ agencies who are known to own private NGOs who take millions from the systems they lead and show no impact of their interventions. Hypocritical accountability! Who is calling who a thief here?
Surely, there must be good ones in Somalia’s current crop of leaders. And in any case, who says there are no thieves elsewhere in the world. Who says you have to aim for all-clean system in Somalia’s current context? And is having corrupt Somalis a justification for international looting? What the ‘Humanitarian’ pirates want, in truth, is not to see a reconstructed Somalia with honest leaders, but one that remains a basket case for ages. A humanitarian programme can only thrive where there is a void of governance. That is why piece-meal seminars on gender equality, female genital mutilation, governance, consultancy and coordination receive millions of humanitarian investment. That is why false IDP camps are created by a victimized community who are made to see themselves as nothing but beneficiaries of global philanthropy. That is why millions of plastic sheets and non-food items crowd Mogadishu.

And in the few instances some initiated leaders of Somalia ask questions, they get acronyms and jargons: FFW, LGDP, Contingency Planning, ToT, M&E, ToR, assessment, CHEP, factsheets, policy papers, maps, matrixs, strategic plans, evaluation reports, draft templates, MoUs, SOPs, you name it. Is there no other ways of getting better value for all that money? Is it for lack of ideas or for lack of good-will? It is the latter.
This is not a conspiracy against Somalis. This is just how any business operates. The motive of self-interest and profit-making is enough to supplant compassion for humanity. Anyday, anywhere! Adam Smith said it. Mancur Olson agreed. The only problem is elsewhere nations have some authorities who tame the greedy charities. In Somalia, there is none. And those with interest in sustaining weak government structures are advising the process of rebuilding state institutions in Somalia.
The charade that the international community is responding to humanitarian and recovery needs of Somalia is just that – a barefaced charade. It is all talk. It is all trumpeting bigVuvuzelas for self-enrichment and organizational relevance. It can never transform Somalia; it can only systematically weaken it. The current political, humanitarian and development endeavors by the UN-led so-called international community will lead Somalia to nowhere. They haven’t led it to anywhere for two decades. The reliance of Somalis on these processes to rebuild their state is a mindless naivety or ignorance. Or an acceptance of defeat due to chronic vulnerability. But they better regroup. If you ride a hyena (which the international community is) to fight a lion (Alshabab and other forces of destruction), you will find a missing limb of yours, even before you confront the lion. Somaaliyeey Toos!



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