10 million people are currently threatened by starvation in the Horn of Africa – which includes Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia – due to a drought, potentially the worst for sixty years. In these areas an humanitarian crisis has been declared by the UN, apart from in parts of Somalia which are experiencing full-blown famine. But why is Somalia coping so much worse than other equally drought-stricken countries?
The short answer is: Somalia is a so-called failed state. Just as in other failed states (such as Yemen), the official government has little or no control over vast swathes of the country. This makes any co-ordinated aid mission impossible, reduces the domestic governments ability to do anything, and stops preventative measures being carried out. Therefore Somalis were in a worse position than others from the Horn before the drought struck and the effects had a more imediate – and more dramatic – outcome. This explains why Somalis are heading in their hundreds of thousands over the border into Kenya in search of the enormous, over-crowded Dadaab refugee camp.
Somalia is a failed state for two reasons:
1) It does not actually exist. Somalia as a single entity collapsed in 1991. Two northern areas, Somaliland and Puntland, declared a kind of quasi-independence that year and are relatively stable – if not internationally recognised. Southern Somalia is officially governed by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), but again, this hardly exists. It has some control over parts of Mogadishu, the capital, but that is about it. Crucially, the TFG has very little support in Somalia, and is kept alive by foreign military and financial assistance. Quite frankly, there is going to be trouble when the legitimate government is not really legitimate.
2) The majority of the areas that the TFG does not control is instead held by al-Shabab, an Islamic militant insurgency. It also holds a big area of Mogadishu, making it impossible for the TFG to implement law and order. Al-Shabab has imposed a strict brand of Sharia law in its areas and had until recently banned foreign aid. The worst areas of famine are al-Shabab districts.
Until Somalis have a functioning state they will feel the adversities of their climate much more than their neighbours. There does not seem to be much hope for the country which is biterly poor. Military action by internationa bodies would only cause more havoc and there is not a government for money to be given to. The only glimmer (small and barely perceptable) of hope comes from the authorisation of aid by al-Shabab. For months and years to come, Somalis will be praying for rain.
UK residents can donate through the government’s Disasters Emergency Committee at https://www.donate.bt.com/DEC/dec_form_eaca.html?p_form_id=DEC01