SOMALIA: Appeasing bureaucrats, gangs first—helping drought-stricken Somalis second

Whether it is anarchic Somalia or other corrupted African nations, before the World Food Program (WFP) feeds drought-devastated locals: catering to the needs of the government officials as well as the local gangs first tantamount to resolving the most critical aspect of the crisis. The governments’ bureaucracies kill far more people than droughts obliterate victims from the face of the earth. The local gangs, on the other hand, loot whatever aid snatched away from the hands of callous, gluttonous, selfish officials.

Take Somalia particularly the Puntland region as an example. At the beginning of February, 2010, a large convoy of trucks loaded with food aid for the drought-stricken people of central Somalia departed from the republic of Somaliland’s port of Berbera. A chain of trucks over 130 departed from Berbera, traveling through the breath-taking views of Sheikh’s snaked mountain road to the plains of Togdheer and Sool provinces, all in Somaliland, without a hitch. Even the local police forces didn’t bother stopping the trucks to search illegal contraband because the security forces knew that the lives of thousands of Somalis were at risk of starvation.

But when the convoy reached the provincial capital of Sool region, Las Annod, something unexpected happened. Puntland refused to allow the trucks to proceed through its territory. For two weeks, while carrying heavy loads over 130 trucks remained in Las Annod. See the video clip below about the plight of the drivers:

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Understandably, the drivers complained because of the heavy loads on their trucks and the hot weather, the tires could rapture any minute. But Puntland officials turned a deaf ear to the outcry of the truckers as well as the needy people of central Somalia’s suffering.

Paradoxically, this is the same Puntland that echoes Somali nationalism and unity across the barren land of central Somalia, where heaps of livestock carcasses remain visible from a distance, and malnourished children depend on food aid which Puntland held hostage. But what compelled Puntland to act in such a cruel manner?

Puntland was not happy with how the food distribution was handled and the fact the aid went through Berbera port instead of Bosaso, Puntland’s commercial hub.

For the WFP officials, however, by going through Berbera achieves three things: first, the chances of pirates attacking the aid ships while in Somaliland waters is slim because Somaliland coastguards are known to round up pirates when they trespass into Somaliland’s waters; second, through Berbera, WFP officials face less bureaucracy.  After all the WFP has an agreement with Somaliland to ship food destined for the needy people of Ethiopia through Berbera, so why not send aid for Somalia through the same port as well. Third, the WFP officials know as long as the convoy is traveling through Somaliland territory security won’t be an issue, no need to hire gunmen to protect the food aid.
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But why Puntland officials waited until the last minute, when the trucks reached Las Annod, to raise objections doesn’t surprise anyone. The reason is too obvious: once the trucks reached Las Annod, the Puntland authority were in a better position to coerce the WFP to accept whatever they demanded. In other words, the corrupted Puntland officials knew they had the WFP over a barrel.

After an intense negotiation, and of course, receiving bribes, Puntland officials agreed to let the food reach its destination. How kind! They also assured the safety of the food, the trucks, and the drivers. But what the Puntland officials didn’t tell the WFP and the Somaliland was: the trucks will be protected while loaded with aid but not when they are empty and heading back to Somaliland.

Doubtless, in Puntland, some officials, local gangs, human traffickers, and pirates work as a team. That is, as soon as the trucks unloaded the food, local gangs started helping themselves. They began kidnapping the drivers and their trucks. See:

The kidnappers, members of Puntland’s infamous pirate community, demanded the release of a number pirates whom Somaliland arrested and convicted recently. All these pirates were caught red-handed with weapons in Somaliland’s territorial waters.

But for the kidnapped drivers, who may not even aware the convicted pirates much less have any thing to do with their arrest, must got used to being terrorized and kidnapped by none other than those who they deliver desperately needed aid to, by now.

Some members (not all of them) of the Ogaden National Liberation Front ONLF are notorious for burning trucks which belong to Somaliland citizens as to revenge for the ONLF comrades possibly held in Somaliland. So far over 75 civilian, not government, owned trucks—worth $30, 000 to $50,000 each—have been burned by the ONLF.

Employing the same tactics as the ONLF’s, Puntland pirates are now holding hostage five Somaliland trucks and their drivers.

However, what the ONLF and Puntland pirates ignored is: just as we cannot hold the population in the Gedo region of Somalia against former Somali ruler Gen. Siad Barre’s actions, so too Somaliland civilians should not suffer because of Somaliland President Dahir Riyale Kahin’s decision to crackdown ONLF and pirates in Somaliland territory. (Gen. Barre hails from the Gedo province of Somalia.)

In other words, the brave Somaliland truck drivers—determined to deliver much needed aid to the needy people of central of Somalia and the Ogden region should not suffer because Somaliland government’s actions.

Puntland’s piracy—a double-edged sword

If Puntland successfully rescues the drivers, this would open up a can of worms. The International community would demand to free hundreds of seamen and dozens of ships held hostage in Puntland territory. This won’t happen because much of Puntland’s economy depends on ransom money collected from ships. Also, Puntland doesn’t get its hand dirty unless pirates hijack ships destined to its territory.

In fact, Somaliland officials are already warning citizens not to take justice into their hands. Also read about the root cause of piracy in Somalia:

On the flip side, if Puntland doesn’t resolve the hostage crisis quickly: the infuriated family members of the victims my soon take the law into their hands. For instance, hundreds of trucks from Puntland travel through Somaliland peacefully every month. Now, the likelihood of some innocent driver from Puntland region becoming a victim of an ugly avenge carried out by the Somaliland truck drivers’ family members is very high.

More serious problem is Somaliland may launch a full-scale war against pirate bases to free Somaliland hostages. By doing so, would also open another unexpected door. The International community would ask Somaliland to undertake similar operations against pirate bases as to free ships and their crews. Somaliland won’t hesitate to neutralize pirates as longs as logistics are provided. Somaliland has over 16, 000-18,000 fully trained military personnel and will not hesitate to eradicate piracy in the region with the support of regional and international community.

To sum up, more than ever before, Somaliland truck drivers need to establish a strong union which will negotiate with Somaliland, Puntland, Ethiopia, and WFP in the near future as to safeguard the safety of the drivers and their trucks.

As for Puntland, failure to free Somaliland hostages will result: more damage to Puntland’s eroding reputation as the kingdom of piracy and human trafficking, dozens of Puntland trucks kidnapped—and worst of all Somaliland may launch a military assault against the pirate bases in Puntland.

To top it up, burning Somaliland civilian owned trucks and their goods by ONLF as well as kidnapping trucks and their drivers by Puntland pirates is a counter-productive strategy to accomplish anything; it just infuriates people.

Free Somaliland truck drivers now. Feed the needy people of Somalia first; bureaucrats, next.

Dalmar Kaahin

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Views expressed in the opinion articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the editorial.


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