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PV Vivekanand: Self-denial for a purpose
December 15, 2011
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Somali prime minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali has described the famine in his country as an imaginary creation of international aid agencies seeking funds for themselves.

“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” Ali told the Telegraph of the UK. He added that the aid agencies just say whatever they want to try to get funding, according to the report.

We do not know how he could ignore the hundreds of thousands who have crossed the country’s borders into neighbouring Kenya and those who have moved to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, in search of food. We do not know how he could ignore the reports of hundreds who die every day or are stricken with diseases linked to malnutrition.

Journalists, both foreign and local, are continuing to file horrid details of the suffering of the Somali people, whose main enemy so far had been the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab militia that has imposed a ban on relief agencies working in areas under the group’s control. And now, it seems, their government has also turned against them.

Ali could sit in his air-conditioned plush office, as described by the Telegraph, and shoot his mouth off, but he is bluntly ignoring the reality that his country and people are going through one of the worst crises they faced after the ouster of a dictatorial regime in January 1990. The country plunged into anarchy after the revolt when groups which had ganged up against the autocratic regime of Mohammed Siad Barre, who died in exile in 1995, turned their guns against each other. The country never regained stability and chaos prevailed in the Horn of Africa country, whose main exports used to be vegetables fruits, cattle and sheep.

Somalia was once known for its marine wealth, but not many are interested in Somali fish now because of reports that people take the easy way out by simply dumping bodies of famine victims into the sea.

Ali’s denunciation of aid agencies has come at a time when the United Nations has appealed for $1.5 billion for 2012 to help feed and offer assistance to more than half of Somalia’s 10 million people who are in need of urgent help.

The UN has said that “tens of thousands” of Somalis died of hunger this year and a similar number could die if the “emergency needs of four million people in crisis” are not addressed.

Ali, who studied in the US, is also forgetting that he owes his position to the UN, under whose urging the African Union (AU) sent a nearly 10,000-strong force into Somalia to prop up the weak Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that controls only a part of Mogadishu.

The so-called Somali army serving the TFG is also a source of misery for the people of the country. In August, Somali soldiers triggered a food riot when they stormed a relief camp for famine victims, opened fire on refugees and fled with food stored there. It would also appear that they themselves are going hungry.

It is indeed surprising to hear Ali, a Harvard-educated economist, accusing aid agencies of having become an “entrenched interest group” that would go to any extent to solicit funding.

Ali also denied that famine had struck his capital. “I have no idea how this international community makes the grading. You ask them and tell me how they did it. They don’t know what they’re talking about. But what I can say is enough relief came to Somalia and we provided enough relief to those affected by the famine.”

Perhaps the Somali prime minister could care to explain the picture that David Blair, the correspondent who conducted the Telegraph interview, painted: “The United Nations says that 250,000 Somalis are suffering from famine in three regions of the country, including Mogadishu. Patches of waste ground across the bullet-scarred city, devastated by two decades of war, are filled with the shacks of refugees who have fled drought and food shortages. Children with distended bellies and stick-like limbs can be seen in many of these sand-blown camps.”

The world has seen the images of the suffering and agony of the Somali people. Perhaps Ali could understand it better if his children were left to the mercy of international aid agencies in camps on the other side of Mogadishu. Surely, he knows the camps are there, but would not dare venture out there because he does not exercise control there. The hungry Somali refugees could even tear him up if they saw him in his immaculate Western-tailored designer suit and a demeanour that shows that he could not care less for his people.

His dismissal of the famine as a lie and verbal attack on aid agencies appears to be self-serving.

The TFG gets virtually its entire budget in the form of foreign donations apart from some $12 million in revenues collected at Mogadishu’s port.

The TFG budget for this year is worth about $100 million. Many donors have switched their cash assistance to the UN and aid agencies in the wake of their appeals for help. That means that Ali’s government is deprived of those funds and hence his focused attack on UN and aid agencies, whose staff are trying to help his people despite the danger of falling into the hands of militiamen who will be glad to take them hostage and demand ransom or get caught in the crossfire.

We know that the US backed Ali’s nomination as prime minister of the TFG, and are baffled how he could take an approach that implies that his government has priority above the country’s starving millions.

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