From ‘war lords’ to ‘aid lords’

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Despite their charity to the needy in Somalia, Western humanitarian agencies are allegedly nurturing a culture of dependence that is likely to weaken the ongoing, albeit fragile, reconciliation process in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa country, according to a local analyst.

“There is a horde of international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) supposedly working for the Somali people but, instead of taking the people’s priority concerns into account they impose their own on the nation,” said Ahmed Moalin, a Mogadishu-based programme consultant of Somali Youth Development Network (SOYDEN).

“It is unfortunate that the [Somali] warlords have been replaced by the people I call ‘aid lords’, who are creating a culture of dependency in the minds of our people,” Moalin told panapress in an interview.

In Moalin’s opinion, beneficiaries of the humanitarian assistance being provided by Western agencies were being made to believe that begging for support, such as food aid, from outside should be perpetual.

“They want the people to keep on begging for handouts instead of producing their own food and having the capacity to determine their own destiny,” he said.

As a result of this lopsided approach, Moalin explained that foreign NGOs had been a concealed source of confusion and clashes among different groups of the Somali people.

He described the humanitarian scenario in the country as a setting whereby a charitable person pitched his camp opposite the beneficiary’s house and picked his favourites among the family members at the expense of the rest in the household.

“It is not really a situation where the Somalis feel that they are able to say: ‘we need this, we need that, we need health, we need education.

“The humanitarian organisations are not dealing with the causes but with the effects of the conflict in the country. And that creates effects on top of other effects,” said Moalin, stressing that communities in Somalia needed assistance to be empowered so that they could can progress socially and economically as a nation.

“On the ground, the position of NGOs creates conflict by raising a sense of dependence and uneasiness as Somali communities compete for handouts provided by the charities.

“Communities that usually derived their livelihoods from fishing, farming and rearing livestock now rely on handouts from abroad. That breeds a bad culture of dependence, which will affect generations to come,” he said.

Declining to name the NGOs he thought were culpable, Moalin said that their middle management staff based in Nairobi, Kenya, “are not really addressing the issues [in Somalia] to the degree that they are supposed to be doing. And that’s the real concern.”

“I suspect one of the reasons could be that these bureaucrats based in Nairobi are on fat wages and they tend to take care of that aspect … because lack of security in Somalia will keep them on the job.

“We are grateful to humanitarian organisations but they should understand that, as a Somali nation, we need to stand on our own feet. We don’t need to depend on handouts for ever,” Moalin emphasised.

Although the Somali people don’t want interference from the international NGOs, Moalin said that they were presently unable to speak up.

“They have already been grouped into various sectors. The NGOs employ the so-called Somali professionals as a means of tokenism. The moment a genuine Somali talks about the problems of humanitarian NGOs that are creating a culture of dependence, the so-called professionals speak on behalf of the community. It is like a proxy between the NGOs and the Somali people,” he added.

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