Aid agencies ‘paid Somalia’s al-Shabab’ during famine

Monday, December 09, 2013

Humanitarian agencies paid Somalia’s al-Shabab militants for access to areas under their control in the 2011 famine, according to a joint report by two think tanks.

In many cases al-Shabab insisted on distributing the aid and kept much of it for itself, the report says.

Some of the groups are still paying al-Shabab to operate in the large parts of Somalia it still holds, it adds.

More than 250,000 people died during the 2011 famine.

The report – by the Overseas Development Institute and the Mogadishu-based Heritage Institute for Policy Studies – details how al-Shabab demanded from the agencies what it described as “registration fees” of up to $10,000 (£6,100).

It gives one example of al-Shabab diverting food aid in the town of Baidoa, where it is reported to have kept between half and two-thirds of food aid for its fighters.

Al-Shabab developed a highly sophisticated system of monitoring and co-opting the aid agencies, even setting up a “Humanitarian Coordination Office”.

Aid groups had to deal with this office, even though they risked legal problems by doing so because of counter-terrorism laws in other states which forbid engagement with groups like al-Shabab.

The report says agencies who worked in al-Shabab-held areas had to complete special forms and sign a pledge saying they would refrain from certain social and religious activities.

It also describes how al-Shabab gave people extra food if they spied on the aid groups.

Some agencies were banned outright by al-Shabab, while others withdrew because of the demands.