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A State of Need

[Somalia] a State of Need - December 2006
After years of conflict and isolation, Somalia finds itself once more at the brink. Much of the country is now under the control of the Union of Islamic Courts, but will Somalia’s new actor bring security and d
Le Kenya craint de voir le conflit somalien se propager (IRIN Film & TV)

Somalia, a country without government. A nation without a state.
No rules, no institutions; no-one to protect and control the Somali people. They survive on their wits and their traditions – they endure.

With no central authority, the link to the outside world has effectively been severed. Somalis feel forgotten.

Nomad man: The authority here is the gun – AK47

Without services, people rely first on family and community.

Nomad, woman: We need everything. Water, medicine, immunization, food.


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But there is change afoot – a new actor on the stage. The ruined capital, Mogadishu, has been taken over by the Union of Islamic Courts. The city is now controlled by a single authority after 15 years of clan-based factional fighting.
This is a major event for the stateless nation.

And in the newly opened port, a significant humanitarian development - the safe delivery of food aid.
The sight of food aid being off-loaded on to trucks, and taken out of Mogadishu to other parts of the country, is remarkable. For eleven years, it was impossible to use this port – a major flash point for fighting and looting.

So the new authority brings both opportunities – and challenges.

Order and security has been established in the capital for the first time since the collapse of the government in 1991.

Professor Ibrahim Addow, Foreign Affairs representative for the courts….

Prof Addow: Our biggest challenge is to go beyond peace and provide social services to service the basic needs of the Somali population, whether it is food, medical care, shelter, clean water, all of this we have to provide.
We have to indicate to the world exactly what are doing. We want to pacify Somalia we want to help the Somali people – the unity of Somalia is very important; we want to defend the Somali population.

The Union of Islamic Courts has expanded into much of southern Somalia, with military might and moral authority. Shari’a law has been imposed – and seminars, like this one, teach the principles of the Koran, and the need for national unity.

But the challenges are enormous. Somalia is one of the most difficult countries in the world to help.

In Mogadishu, there are thousands of displaced people living in camps like this. They fled fighting years ago; poverty and insecurity keeps them here. They live on the edge of survival, like Mohamed Isak, who makes traditional toothbrushes to sell in the market. What he earns buys a bit of food every day. Nothing else.

Mohamed Isak: I fled because of drought and fighting among the clans
I want this country to get peace and settle down, then I hope I can go back home.

For years, the displaced have received no assistance – apart from the occasional gift from Moslem charities, and, when security allows, a little support from international organisations. This elderly woman from Baidoa has been sick for years, says her family – she has never seen a doctor, and they cannot afford to buy her medicine.

A generation of Somalis has lived this way as long as it can remember. There is no formal education system, and only a handful of private schools. Most are educated like this - In the local Koranic schools, they use ink made of charcoal, and wooden boards to write on.

Health care is very poor – here, ambulance by oxcart.
Somalia suffers one of the worse mortality rates in the world. Medicine Sans Frontier runs this clinic in rural Mererey: people travel for days to get here. A few of the main hospitals are supported by international agencies – like the Medina hospital in Mogadishu, assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Here, a boy shot in the stomach. He survived for a week before he got transport.
Most rural hospitals can’t function – unless crucial supplies arrive. So people depend on the drugs sold in the market, if they can afford it.

And so in Mogadishu, many have welcomed the arrival of the Islamic Courts. There is hope at last. Business is thriving. The new authority has given people a framework of order and protection. These market traders are no longer restricted to simply protecting their lives and their money – they can now work safely and plan a future.

Sadia Mohamed, veiled woman: Before, women had a lot of problems.
They were shot, robbed at the road blocks, and they were raped.
Security was bad. Now it is much better.

Armies of volunteers are clearing the streets. Streets blocked by waste were a health risk and an obstacle to city life.
This team shifts decades of rubbish, Including dangerous unexploded ordnance – It is the most worthwhile thing Ahmed Jumale has done for a long time, he says.

Ahmed Jumale: I didn’t anything since the civil war began – I was unemployed.
This is my first job in sixteen years.

The change in Mogadishu comes after a particularly bad year in Somalia. There has been one of the worst droughts in living memory – It has been a challenge even to maintain a traditional livelihood in places like Afmadow, southern Somalia.

This cow is called Majen – she is the last from a herd of forty. For her owners, cattle are their life, their survival. When the entire herd died from drought; the family moved to the outskirts of town. They now depend on menial work, and handouts. Halima feeds the children when she can. Her only hope are some orphaned calves – they get tea in the morning with the children, and sleep with her at night.

Halima: Her mother died, and I’m feeding her tea with milk. But sometimes I can’t do that. The only thing we survive on is the livestock. When they die, what is left?
We had one bag of maize, which my husband brought – We fed it to the cows.

When all the animals have gone, what is there left to survive on – the animals are our life. We got one sack of maize and we fed it to the cows.

Halima’s husband, Mohamed, was the proud owner of forty head of cattle before the drought struck. Almost over night, the family have joined Somalia’s countless number of poor and displaced, scraping together a pitiful existence on the edge of town.

Now, the future is dying before their eyes.
By early morning, Majen is dead.
The body is dragged away from the compound to join other carcasses – but the smell of death hangs everywhere. A funeral pyre for the dead.

Halima: Yes, it finally rained. But all the calves died because they were so weak..
Nothing much has changed.
We just got one sack of maize, and no oil.
My husband carries sacks, he’s a porter now.
How are we going to get out of this? Its up to the man of the house…..and god.

A new season, and rain drips into the family home. Mohamed is angry and bitter about his situation – Halima gets distressed and leaves the discussion.

Mohamed: When the international community sends something, if it went to the needy, nobody would be suffering today.

Mohamed wants to know why he has received so little during these years of crisis.
This is how he sees it.

Mohamed: Everything that comes in goes to the richest man in town – When it came, it all went to the shops, they are selling it.
I am supposed to have benefited, but I have to try and earn money to buy it.

Somalis lost their place in the world when the central government collapsed in 1991. Dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was driven out of Mogadishu. US troops arrived when Somalia became anarchic under competing factions – Civilian suffering was enormous, there was widespread famine. Aid was hijacked – it was one of the spoils of war.

Intervention by the US and UN failed to bring peace, and in 1995 international troops pulled out. Humanitarian assistance could not do what it needed to do.

Delivering aid to Somalia has continues to be a problem, explains Phillippe Lazzarini, Senior Humanitarian Official for the UN …..

Phillippe Lazzarini: We are still in an environment that is very fragile, very explosive, possibly on the eve of major fighting….security is a concern

Because assistance is scarce in Somalia, there is always a scramble to grab it when it arrives – Keeping track of it is difficult. In Afmadow, during the drought, there was a lot of food aid in the shops, and a lot of complaints from the poor – But, without an accountable authority, it is impossible to find out what really happens.

And conflict is back on the agenda – Here, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, Chairman of the Courts, declares Jihad – Holy war - against neighbouring Ethiopia. The US accuses The Courts of harbouring terrorists; Sheik Sharif accuses Ethiopia of having troops inside Somalia’s borders.
Somalia’s neighbours have thrown their weight behind the internationally-backed Transitional Federal Government, the TFG. Formed in exile, after nearly two years of talks, it is a government-in-waiting. It resides in Baidoa, preparing to get established in the capital.

So the Islamic Courts prepare to fight – Military camps re-train the young militia who preyed on society so long, and ‘reeducate’ them – they will fight again: now, they say it is for their country and religion.

Young militia: We ruled by the gun. We used to take what we liked, rob and rape. Now I have repented, thank god.

People are told to prepare for Jihad. After the years of chaos, there is an appetite for discipline – here, the scene after an execution of a murderer by an 8-man firing squad. Strict religious and moral standards are being imposed by the Courts – What does the future hold now?

Not everyone is happy about the change. In the shadowy markets and backstreets of Mogadishu, people complain their cinemas and entertainments have been closed down. And khat, a traditional narcotic leaf, widely used, has been banned.

Woman khat trader: We used to earn a livelihood out of selling this khat. Now we don’t make any money any more.

And so a humanitarian opportunity could quickly turn into a humanitarian crisis. Somalis are fleeing their country again – most, it seems, out of fear of what might happen.

Here, at the Kenyan border, Somalis wait to be taken to a camp – some have been refugees many times.

Geoff Wordly, protection officer for the UN refugee agency, receives people as they arrive, and tries to cope with the new influx, arranging transport and shelter.

Geoff Wordly: Many of the people arriving in Kenya complain of fear, not just having been affected by fighting, but the fear of major fighting….and objecting to the imposition of shari’a law….and without humanitarian assistance just find it too much of a struggle to survive.

Camp life means shelter, and food –but sometimes bitter competition for basic resources. Tensions from Somalia spills into the camp. Here, a fight over shelter, and the Kenyan police move in. Neighbouring countries are nervous about security on the Somali border.

Then, the worse regional floods in years - and many Somalis who have just struggled with drought, find themselves dispossessed by water – flashfloods overwhelm the temporary shelters of the new arrivals. Flooding affected most of southern Somalia, causing more displacement – but, temporarily holding back fighting.

Phillippe Lazzarini: I’m very concerned about the near future of Somalia, I think the Somalis have an shown an incredible resilience and capacity….in a country where you have a malnutrition threshold above 20 percent this would trigger massive humanitarian assistance, in Somalia this has become the routine. People are going from unprecedented drought, to one of the worse floods, and we are speaking about adding to that a possible broad scale conflict in the country. And we really hope if that would be the case to allow these people to get the necessary assistance and protection and their dignity to be respected.

The future hangs in the balance. The international community continues to weigh the options. … The nation is still without a state. And so Somalis, for now, remain in the twilight zone.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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