REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- The international aid agency Oxfam said in a report Wednesday that Western policy on Somalia had failed and called for a new approach emphasizing humanitarian aid instead of counter-terrorism and military intervention.
The organization said the focus of the United States and other Western countries had failed to build a stable country and only exacerbated the country’s problems.
The agency called on leaders of 40 countries and representatives of international agencies meeting in London on Thursday to discuss Somalia to develop a better policy that took into account the humanitarian cost of military action in Somalia –- adding that global players, including the United Nations, have failed to do so in the past.
“While the conflict in Somalia remains a source of legitimate concerns for regional and international security, policies focused more on these concerns than on the short- and long-term needs of Somali people have not worked, inadvertently fueling the conflict and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis,” the agency said in a report released on the eve of the London conference.
Somalia, a failed state wracked by war and chaos for decades, has not had a stable central government since 1991, despite successive international efforts to create one.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is hosting the Somalia conference because of global concerns that despite the efforts of the U.N., the African Union and other players, international policy on Somalia is failing. The conference is supposed to set a new approach to Somalia, including future governance, counterterrorism, piracy, humanitarian aid and funding for African Union forces that are helping the combat Al Shabab militants.
The U.N.-backed Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, is fighting the Islamic rebellion along with the African forces, which include troops from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Burundi. The aim is to crush Al Shabab and stabilize the troubled nation.
Although a famine last year has receded, nearly a third of Somalia's population remains in crisis and 325,000 children are severely malnourished, according to Oxfam.
But recent fighting in parts of southern Somalia as government forces and African allies attacked Al Shabab strongholds exacerbated the crisis for many Somalis and limited their access to humanitarian aid, according to the Oxfam report.
“The international community’s state-building, humanitarian, and in some cases counterterrorism objectives have, in the eyes of many Somalis, become dangerously intertwined. Aid agencies have felt pressured to help legitimize state-building efforts backed by the U.N. and major donors, in particular, building the credibility of the TFG.”
But being perceived as supportive of the TFG would undermine aid agencies’ neutrality, argues Oxfam, because the body is unelected and many Somalis don’t accept it as the legitimate government. Despite its international support, the TFG is also accused of corruption and theft of aid, Oxfam said.
Oxfam also criticized some Western countries that linked humanitarian support to the fight against terrorism, statements that had undermined the neutrality of humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and made it dangerous for them to operate.
“Past donor statements linking humanitarian assistance to counterterrorism strategies, combined with vocal international support for regional military intervention, help create an extremely dangerous environment for those delivering aid to the people most in need,” the report said.
Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries for aid workers, and dozens have been killed there in recent years.
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: A Kenyan army soldier rides in the back of a truck wearing a helmet, on which is written "We send soulz 2 heaven," near the town of Dhobley in Somalia on Tuesday. Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press