Saving Somalia

Children are among the guards at a warlord’s home in Mogadishu

In this part of the world it doesn’t take long to spot the problem with international aid to Africa. Or maybe I should rephrase things. In this part of the world it doesn’t take long to spot the problem with British aid to Africa. In the past decade Britain has pumped millions of pounds into new governments in Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda. A new breed of leader has been welcomed with the financing they needed to rebuild governments, states and institutions.
Only Messrs Museveni, Meles and Kagame turned out to be not quite so progressive as first though. Museveni abolished term limits so that he could stay in power. Meles had to rely on police marksmen to shoot dead dozens of unarmed protesters after flawed elections in 2005. And Kagame pocketed British cash while sending his soldiers into someone else’s civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Don’t take my word for it. The select committee on international development raised questions about this aid a couple of years ago. It looked at all these examples and, while pointing out the difficulties of helping states as they emerged from conflict, concluded:

DFID should ensure that it is not excusing wrongful acts as aberrations in an otherwise successful development partnership.

So what on earth has DfID – the Department for Internation Development – got itself involved with in Somalia. British cash is being used to prop up an unpopular government accused of human rights abuses and of blocking the delivery of humanitarian aid. Money is being used to equip, train and pay a police force, which is run by warlords and militia leaders and packed with their men.
You don’t need to know much about Somalia to know that Abdi Hasan Awale Qaybdib might not be the man you want running a police force. Fifteen years ago he was battling US and UN forces in Mogadishu. He was a key target of US forces as they detained lieutenants of Mohamed Farrah Aideed in the run-up to the Black Hawk Down episode. Then two years ago he was put on the US payroll to battle Islamist militias, as part of a warlord coalition that brought only misery to Mogadishu. A short time later he was arrested in Sweden on suspicion of genocide but later released.
Not great credentials for a man supposed to be running a civilian, community policing service. And no-one really believes his police force is anything other than a counter-insurgency outfit.
Funding a military operation would breach DfID’s own rules. The department is supposed to spend money only on “poverty reduction” and military spending is outlawed.
So what’s going on? The argument is broadly that donors have to work with whoever is available. To rule out gunmen, warlords and gangsters in Somalia would mean the international community would have to turn its back on the country altogether just as it is sliding into famine. For my story I spoke to countless aid workers and diplomats who said things like: “We know there are problems but there is little we can do about it. There is no plan B.”
Yet there are some astonishing breaches of commonsense in Somalia. The police wear a khaki uniform making it impossible to distinguish them from the other militias and government security arms. Odd for a supposedly civilian police force. The reason? That’s what Somalia’s police chiefs wanted. As a donor said to me: “Without Somali ownership nothing will get done.”
That view was not unanimous. Another diplomat said: “Whoever made the decision to give them military uniforms should be sacked immediately.”
It seems in the rush to apply standard developmental thinking no-one has remembered that this is Somalia. Policies are being implemented that would have been risky in fragile states emerging from war, the Ugandas, Rwandas and Ethiopias. But Somalia is no longer a fragile state or even a failed state. It is a post-failed state, with its own mechanisms and institutions for survival. These institutions – the warlords and their militias predominantly – are now exploiting the cash that is arriving in bucketloads to maximise their positions ahead of the expected collapse of the Transitional Federal Government. The latest report by the UN’s monitoring group on Somalia spells out the concerns and warns that donors are not monitoring where their cash is going. On the security sector it says:

The transformation of the security organisations of the TFG such as the Somali Police Force into clan-based forces armed with weapons obtained from caches and from the demobilisation programme defies national objectives, and those behind the transformation can be viewed as active spoilers of the reconciliation process.

Helping Africa’s impoverished countries to develop is fraught with difficulty. Security is one way to kickstart things. But in areas where it is impossible to monitor whether pick-ups have been “technicalised” – turned into battlewagons sporting heavy machineguns – there has to be a plan B. Aid Effectiveness – Opening the Black Box, by Bourguignon and Sundberg (2007), frames the question and suggests an answer (with thanks to Siphoning Off a Few Thoughts):

How should aid be given if policy and governance quality is very weak, and the
risk of resource diversion is high? These are often some of the world’s poorest countries.
Clearly need must also be an important allocation criterion. For these fragile states, aid
must be managed differently, possibly bypassing government to channel resources
directly to end users through reliable NGOs, and/or limiting aid to humanitarian

There is a plan B, but it seems that DfID with its dogmatic attachment to channelling cash through governments can’t see it.