U.N. Food Aid to Somalia Bypasses Needy

Daily News Article   —   Posted on March 11, 2010

(by Jeffrey Gettleman and Neil MacFarquhar, NYTimes.com) – As much as half the food aid sent to Somalia is diverted from needy people to a web of corrupt contractors, radical Islamist militants and local United Nations staff members, according to a new Security Council report.

The report, which has not yet been made public but was shown to The New York Times by diplomats, outlines a host of problems so grave that it recommends that [U.N.] Secretary General Ban Ki-moon open an independent investigation into the World Food Program’s Somalia operations. It suggests that the program rebuild the food distribution system – which serves at least 2.5 million people and whose aid was worth about $485 million in 2009 – from scratch to break what it describes as a corrupt cartel of Somali distributors.

In addition to the diversion of food aid, regional Somali authorities are collaborating with pirates who hijack ships along the lawless coast, the report says, and Somali government ministers have auctioned off diplomatic visas for trips to Europe to the highest bidders, some of whom may have been pirates or insurgents.

Somali officials denied that the visa problem was widespread, and officials for the World Food Program said they had not yet seen the report but would investigate its conclusions once it was presented to the Security Council next Tuesday.

The report comes as Somalia’s transitional government is preparing for a major military offensive to retake the capital, Mogadishu, and combat an Islamist insurgency with connections to Al Qaeda.

The United States is providing military aid, as the United Nations tries to roll back two decades of anarchy in the country. ……..

The report’s investigators, part of the Monitoring Group on Somalia, were originally asked to track violations of the United Nations arms embargo on Somalia, but the mandate was expanded.

Several of the report’s authors have received death threats, and the United Nations recently relocated them from Kenya to New York for safety reasons.

Possible aid obstructions have been a nettlesome topic for Somalia over the past year and have contributed to delays in aid shipments by the American government and recent suspensions of food programs in some areas by United Nations officials.

The report singles out the World Food Program, the largest aid agency in the crisis-racked country, as particularly flawed.

“Some humanitarian resources, notably food aid, have been diverted to military uses,” the report said. “A handful of Somali contractors for aid agencies have formed a cartel and become important power brokers – some of whom channel their profits, or the aid itself, directly to armed opposition groups.”

These allegations of food aid diversions first surfaced last year. The World Food Program has consistently denied finding any proof of malfeasance and said that its own recent internal audit found no widespread abuse.

“We have not yet seen the U.N. Somalia Monitoring Group report,” the World Food Program’s deputy executive director, Amir Abdulla, said Tuesday. “But we will investigate all of the allegations, as we have always done in the past if questions have been raised about our operations.”

The current report’s investigators question how independent that past audit was, and called for a new outside investigation of the United Nations agency.

“We have to tell these folks that you cannot go on like this – we know what you are doing, you can’t fool us anymore, so you better stop,” said President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, who was at the United Nations, where his country holds the presidency of the Security Council this month.

The report also charges that Somali officials are selling spots on trips to Europe and that many of the people who are presented as part of an official government entourage are actually pirates or members of militant groups.

The report says that Somali officials use their connections to foreign governments to get visas and travel documents for people who would not otherwise be able to travel abroad and that many of these people then disappear into Europe and do not come back.

“Somali ministers, members of Parliament, diplomats and ‘freelance brokers’ have transformed access to foreign visas into a growth industry, matched possibly only by piracy,” selling visas for $10,000 to $15,000 each, the report said.

The report’s authors estimate that dozens, if not hundreds of Somalis have gained access to Europe or beyond through this under-the-table visa business.

Mohamed Osman Aden, a Somali diplomat in Kenya, said: “Maybe there’s been one or two cases that have happened over the years. But these are just rumors. These allegations have been going around for years.”

The report also takes aim at some of Somalia’s richest, most influential businessmen, Somalia’s so-called money lords. One, Abdulkadir M. Nur, known as Eno, is married to a woman who plays a prominent role in a local aid agency that is supposed to verify whether food aid is actually delivered. That “potential loophole” could “offer considerable potential of large-scale diversion,” the report said.

The report accuses Mr. Nur of staging the hijacking of his own trucks and later selling the food.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Nur said he had sent the investigators many documents that “showed very clearly that the gossip and rumors they are investigating are untrue,” including the alleged hijacking or any link to insurgents. He said that his wife merely sat on the board of the local aid agency and that only “a tiny fraction” of the food he transported was designated for that aid agency.

In September, Somalia’s president, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, wrote a letter to [U.N.] Secretary General Ban, defending Mr. Nur as a “very conscientious, diligent and hard-working person” and saying that if it were not for the contractors, “many Somalis would have perished.”

The report questions why the World Food Program would steer 80 percent of its transportation contracts for Somalia, worth about $200 million, to three Somali businessmen, especially when they are suspected of connections to Islamist insurgents.

The report says that fraud is pervasive, with about 30 percent of aid skimmed by local partners and local World Food Program personnel, 10 percent by the ground transporters and 5 to 10 percent by the armed group in control of the area. That means as much as half of the food never makes it to the people who desperately need it.

In January, the United States halted tens of millions of dollars of aid shipments to southern Somalia because of fears of such diversions, and American officials believe that some American aid may have fallen into the hands of Al Shabab, the most militant of Somalia’s insurgent groups.

The report also said that the president of Puntland, a semiautonomous region in northern Somalia, had extensive ties to pirates in the area, who then funneled some of the money they made from hijacking ships to authorities.

Puntland authorities could not be reached on Tuesday, but Mr. Aden, the Somali diplomat, dismissed the allegations, saying that the Puntland government had jailed more than 150 pirates and that it had not “received a penny from them.”

“It’s unfortunate that this monitoring group thinks they can stick everything on the Somalis,” he said.

Jeffrey Gettleman reported from Gisenyi, Rwanda, and Neil MacFarquhar from New York.

Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from The New York Times. Visit the website at nytimes.com. 


Questions

1. a) Name the countries that border Somalia.
b) What is the capital of Somalia?
c) Who is the president of Somalia?

2. What is the World Food Program? (see “Background” below)

3. The U.N. Security Council investigation was originally initiated to look into violations of the UN’s arms embargo on Somalia. What problems did investigators then find with the World Food Program in Somalia? Be specific.

4. What recommendations do the report’s authors make for how to solve the problems with the World Food Program in Somalia?

5. a) In addition to reports on corruption with the World Food Program, what government corruption related to Somali pirates was uncovered? Be specific.
b) How have Somali officials responded to these accusations?

6. How have World Food Program officials at the U.N. responded to the report of corruption with their program?

7. Read the following reader comments on the article you just read. State whether you agree or disagree with each reader and explain your answers.

  • “If the World Food Program is this disorganized that over half their assistance is diverted to undeserving or terrorist organizations then the US support for this organization should be immediately terminated and shifted to an organization that does their homework and runs efficiently with checks and balances. This is a disgrace and makes humanitarian projects look bad in all areas.”
  • “‘Food Aid’ should be an emergency aid, this has been going on for nearly two decades undermining the local farmers. I not only support the recent decision by the US to stop aid from rebel held areas and hope that it results stopping all food aid, its times after two decades of reliance outside food, to sink or swim. it annoys me to no end that what United nation sales [sic] to the world as help, actually hinders the long term viability of troubled nations. How can farmers compete with free food?”
  • “As someone who has lived in Africa, I can assure you this takes place all over Africa. You can find food aid sent to Africa for sale in most markets. Of course the people who the food was sent to cannot afford to buy it at the market. Anything sent to Africa, that goes through the hands of government officials before it gets to the needy is going to get skimmed. Money, food, clothes. It does not matter. Government officials take what they want, give what they want to their families and give whatever is left to the needy. Usually nothing. Western countries have never understood this; if you want to give something to Africans give it directly to them. Anything else would be like giving money to a crack addict and telling him to pass it to his kid; it will never get there.”

 


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Background

The World Food Program (WFP) is the food aid branch of the United Nations, and the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger worldwide. WFP provides food, on average, to 90 million people per year, 58 million of whom are children. From its headquarters in Rome and more than 80 country offices around the world, WFP works to help people who are unable to produce or obtain enough food for themselves and their families.  WFP strives to eradicate hunger and malnutrition, with the ultimate goal in mind of eliminating the need for food aid itself. (from wikipedia)
(Visit the WFP website at wfp.org/faqs.)

GOVERNMENT OF SOMALIA   Britain withdrew from British Somaliland in 1960 to allow its protectorate to join with Italian Somaliland and form the new nation of Somalia. In 1969, a coup headed by Mohamed SIAD Barre ushered in an authoritarian socialist rule that managed to impose a degree of stability in the country for a couple of decades. After the regime’s collapse early in 1991, Somalia descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy. (from the CIA World FactBook)

  • In 2004, after protracted talks in Kenya, the main warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, which later appointed a president.
  • The fledgling administration, the 14th attempt to establish a government since 1991, has faced a formidable task in bringing reconciliation to a country divided into clan fiefdoms.
  • Its authority was further compromised in 2006 by the rise of Islamists who gained control of much of the south, including the capital, after their militias kicked out the warlords who had ruled the roost for 15 years.
  • With the backing of Ethiopian troops, forces loyal to the interim administration seized control from the Islamists at the end of 2006.
  • Islamist insurgents – including the Al-Shabab group, which the US accuses of links to al-Qaeda – fought back against the government and Ethiopian forces, regaining control of most of southern Somalia by late 2008.
  • Ethiopia pulled its troops out in January 2009. Soon after, fighters from the Al-Shabab militia took control of Baidoa, formerly a key stronghold of the transitional government.
  • Somalia’s parliament met in neighbouring Djibouti in late January and swore in 149 new members from the main opposition movement, the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.
  • The parliament also extended the mandate of the transitional federal government for another two years, and installed moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmad as the new president.
  • However, the government’s military position weakened further, and in May 2009, Al-Shabab and another radical militia launched an attack on Mogadishu, prompting President Ahmad to appeal for help from abroad.
  • The long-standing absence of authority in the country has led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and has prompted Nato to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation.
  • After the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, the north-west part of Somalia unilaterally declared itself the independent Republic of Somaliland. The territory, whose independence is not recognised by international bodies, has enjoyed relative stability. (from news.bbc.co.uk)

Resources

For a map of Africa and Somalia, go to worldatlas.com.

For background information on Somalia, go to the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2863.htm and the CIA World FactBook.

For information on the Somali terrorist group al Shabab, go to cfr.org/publication/18650/alshabaab.html.