Somalia : East Africa drought raises political questions (Africa Report n°33 – August-Sept 2011)


For Somali migrants fleeing their drought-ravaged pastures, the focus is food, not politics. But the drought sweeping the Horn of Africa – which has expérience one of its driest years on record – has shone a spotlight on a massive felure of preparation.


The UN estimated that over 9 million people across Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti were in need of humanitarian assistance. By July, 1,000 f amilies a day were arriving at Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp. The price of staples soared dramatically, with red sorghum in Somalia’s Baidoa market up 240% in May compared to 2010. In some areas, 40-60% of cattle and sheep are dying.


July saw a co-ordinated plea for help from international aid agencies. Kenya opened a second camp at Ifo II, despite government unease that it could encourage more Somalis to cross the border. Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Kenya had been living with the problem for 20 years, but that the international community only respond « when they see people dying ».


Somalia’sTransitional Federal Government came Under fire for its slow reaction to the crisis. But with huge parts of the country’s south Under the control of the Al-Shabaab Islamic militia, aid agencies have had to reassess tir strategy. Al-Shabaab, embarrassed by the number of refugees fleeing regions Under its control, has now lifted a two-year ban on foreign aid. The World Food Programme says it is willing to work with the militia, having withdrawn from the country in 2010.


As aid trucks arrive, long term questions on how to tackle food insecurity remain. The International Fund for AgricultureI Development called for more money for agricultural research. The drought has also reactivated debate over genetically modified crops after the Kenyan government gazetted a law allowing imports of GM foods with the correct bio-safety permits.


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