At a Refugee camp outside of Mogadishu last Friday, three elders were helping local aid workers distribute food. In Somalia, a country that has been without an effective central government since 1991, most aid workers are Somali’s working endlessly to ensure that millions get fed and maintain their health in a violent, chaotic setting. The three elders helping the aid workers feed refugees was in no way out of the ordinary in Somalia, except while taking a break for tea the elders were shot dead by unknown gunmen.
The rise in killings and kidnappings of aid workers, at least 20 have been killed since January and 17 have been kidnapped, makes "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world" an impossible situation. It is increasingly difficult to deliver aid to the estimated 2.6 million Somali’s that need it, a number that is expected to rise to 3.5 million, half of the population, by the end of the year. More than 1 million Somali’s have been displaced since 2007, and it appears as if little is being done to help them.
One of the world’s worst humanitarian crises often seems like it’s dismissed as a case where the international system can do little to help. Yet no one can doubt what a lawless Somalia means to the international community, a potentially dangerous breeding ground for terrorism. The United States has used ballistic missiles to bomb targeted Islamist Insurgents thought to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda this year, yet these attacks often kill civilians and do little to solve the Somalia problem.
Last month in Djibouti a peace accord was agreed upon between the Ethiopian backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and an alliance of moderate Islamist Insurgents known as the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS). However, hardline Islamist Insurgents rejected it, and the fighting and dying continued. Most recently hardline Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a man the US accuses of having links with Al-Qaeda and who rejected the peace accord in June, took over the moderate ARS. Sheikh Aweys was also one of the heads of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), which took over Mogadishu in 2006 and ousted the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
A major issue of contention is the presence of Ethiopian troops backing the TFG in Somalia, something the Islamist Insurgents despise and most citizens also do not agree with. The presence of Ethiopians will keep the country in chaos, especially since Sheikh Aweys has pledged to step up the insurgency against foreign troops. Ethiopia and Somalia have long been feuding over the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which is ethnically Somali, and the bad blood between the neighboring Horn of Africa countries has darkened with the present situation.
Despite the focus on the politics of the conflict, the people suffering the most are without a doubt the civilians caught up in the crossfire. The UN humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden stated yesterday that "we are months away from a major crisis" in Somalia. If aid workers continue to be killed and humanitarian operations threatened, Somali’s will continue to die in horrific numbers. How will the sudden change of leadership affect the peace process? Although Sheikh Awey’s has declared he will stop the killing of aid workers in Somalia, his hardline stance on a variety of issues makes it seem unlikely that a peace pact will come into effect any time soon.