Banning aid groups, in Al-Shabaab’s interest or the Somali people?
By Harar24′s Editorial Team
It’s been a little over two years since Al-Shabaab began banning most aid agencies operating in the regions and areas they controlled. Several reasons were given and different explanations were cited by Al-Shabaab. Others warned and said that there would be food shortage and that these actions were bound to starve the victims of the then-famine. After two years what has changed? Has the famine returned? And how are the people coping?
In order to correspond and communicate with aid organizations Al-Shabaab set up what they called “OSAFA”, “Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies”. Naturally Al-Shabaab laid down guidelines & regulations for aid organizations to abide by and follow. So where did it all go wrong? Well, to begin with Al-Shabaab accused the majority of agencies and organizations of bringing expired food and labeled it “unfit for human consumption”. Secondly, which is what’s really interesting, was that Al-Shabaab was claiming that these aid agencies and organizations had hidden motives and agendas, which they claimed was to prevent Somalia and Somalis from being self sufficient, to constantly rely on aid from the outside world and to prevent the economy from improving. A classic example; a farmer would be planting and tending to his crops until harvesting season arrives, only to find that nobody is willing to buy from him, because everybody is busy getting aid from agencies and organizations. Thus, the farmer would give up his job and abandon his farm, nobody works, no produce, no economy and the vicious cycle would continue.
To see what Somalia is capable of producing and bringing forth one only has to look at the lush farmlands in, Jamame, Jilib, Kamsuma, Afgoye, Marerey and many other cities and regions in Somalia. An abundance of different produces can be found including, mangoes, a variety of bananas, coconuts, sugarcanes, papaya, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions and much more. It’s a well-known fact that Somalia had a history of being self sufficient, but what changed? As mentioned before, one of the reasons was the dependency on handouts and relief. Another important factor that prevented the land from being cultivated was the lack of security. As the country became engulfed in civil war and anarchy, warlords took control of different pockets of land where they extorted people, oppressed them and often killed them for the most minute of things. As much as people hate to admit it the Al-Shabaab movement did bring a relevant element of peace and stability to the large swathes of land they controlled. This encouraged farmers to return to their farmlands, cultivate them and tend to them, however hope was lost and morale plummeted after being unable to make any profit and seeing their crops go to waste time after time, due to the population having been accustomed to receiving aid. This in a nutshell can be said is why Al-Shabaab banned aid agencies and saw it as a necessity if Somalia’s economy was to be improved.
To see if the ban had the desired effects or adverse effects on the agricultural industry we decided to travel down south, to the fertile and green land of the Jubba regions. It’s an astonishing sight, the vegetation is lush, the greenery is astounding and the more south you head, the greener it gets.
In Bu’ale, around 150 kilometers north of Kismayo, we met Ali Ahmed Dahir, a clan elder who also is a farmer himself, we asked him about the situation, the farming and the effects of the ban on aid. “We have everything here, mangos, bananas, papaya, lemons, you name it. The land and the soil are very fertile and we use irrigation to have water reach our farms. We used to use engines before to pump the water from the river to the farms, but now we use irrigation. The majority of people are taking farming as a profession and many are returning to their profession, because they’ve seen the results and the amounts of money to be made.” he said with a freshly picked mango in his hand. “The people have realized the results of farming and what these lands can produce. But that’s mainly due to two things, the security that has been established and the expulsion of these aid agencies. What they were doing is well known, it was a form of colonialism, a psychological warfare to morally break you. Now we are dependent on no one and fear none”.
It seemed as if the whole town agreed with his view, wherever we went we received the same replies and answers. “I don’t have a farm or a piece of land, but I can tell you its safe and secure here, you can even walk at night. The agricultural business is booming so much, I’m saving up and planning on buying a plot of land.” one of the local townsmen Muse Aweys told us.
The produce from these farms are transported to different areas in Somalia and unlike before, the crops and products are actually being sold and bought in Somali markets. The Shabelle & Jubba rivers flow through many areas of Somalia making the area surrounding it very fertile. Even in the Hiran region where you’d maybe expect more herders than farmers, you still have very fertile farmlands bearing fruits like mango.
A recent article by FAO Somalia, claimed that it was due to their help that Somali farmers have been successful since the 2011 drought, but, it’s a well-known fact that Al-Shabaab don’t permit FAO and other similar organizations to operate in their areas, so to what or who can the success of the farmers in those areas be attributed to?
Going back to our initial questions, there is no famine nor does there seem to be any famine soon. The people and the farmers in particular seems to be doing fine, are well off, independent and self sufficient. We can only see things turning out better for the future of Somalia and Somalis.
So banning aid, was it in the interest of Al-Shabaab, or the Somali people?