Somalia: Al-Shabaab making drought even worse, says President Mohamud

By Anne-Marie Bissada

Posted on Friday, 11 November 2022 17:27
Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on 8 November 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt (photo: Somali presidency)

Kenya is bracing for the arrival of tens of thousands more refugees from Somalia in the coming weeks due to worsening drought and hunger. But Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has so far held back on declaring a famine in the country, even though such a declaration could increase the flow of aid. 

Mohamud says while drought is a natural disaster, it is being complicated by the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab in the rural areas hit hard by the drought.

Speaking to The Africa Report on the sidelines of the COP27 climate conference, he explained how al-Shabaab is undermining Somali farmers’ agricultural practices.

“[Al-Shabaab] complicated [the drought] by not allowing people to [establish] their own coping mechanisms,” he says.

Mohamud shared an example he heard while visiting a camp for internally displaced people in Somalia that mimics the situation for many rural Somalis.

A woman who walked 75km to a camp recounted to Mohamud how she and her family lost everything because of the militants. When the drought killed their livestock, she and her family turned to farming, but al-Shabaab soon demanded payment.

The family had no money but instead offered up half the harvest, equivalent to the price the militants wanted. They refused.

“That is the level of cruelty and restriction[s] they impose on the communities,” Mohamud says.

International aid?

Although declaring a famine would open the gates for more international aid to flow into the country, Mohamud says al-Shabaab will prevent it from getting to those in need.

“They stop the international organisations [such as], the NGOs from reaching the needy people and delivering humanitarian aid,” the Somali president says. The militants say “you are foreigners, you are infidels. You cannot come here.”

Even if a local Somali NGO were to take over, the Islamist group would still deny them access, accusing them of “serving” foreigners.

“They make the whole drought situation more complicated,” Mohamud says. “That’s what makes some of the communities in some parts of Somalia pushed to the corner.”

Lingering famine

According to the International Rescue Committee, some 55,000 Somali refugees have already made their way to Kenya’s Dadaab camps in the past year. The camps are already home to more than 200,000 people — mainly Somalis — who fled Somalia to escape conflict or difficult living conditions.

They make the whole drought situation more complicated.

The WFP says famine could break out in a matter of weeks. The last time the Somali presidency declared such a state was in 2011. A quarter of a million people died at the time.

Mohamud returned to power in May this year following delayed elections. He said while he previously led the country from 2012 to 2016, his government took on “two major operations” to liberate swaths of areas from al-Shabaab.

Mohamud was re-elected primarily on a platform of promising to stamp out once and for all the terrorist groups that continue to hamper Somalia’s development.

US troops presence

Since the president regained power, the Joe Biden administration has also brought back US troops to Somalia, reversing President Donald Trump’s decision to end the mission there. For Mohamud, the presence of US troops is key to defeating the Islamists.

“They are assisting, providing supplies, and equipment,” he says. “The United States is a fully engaged partner with us in the fight against al-Shabaab.”

The US has also stepped up air strikes in coordination with the Somalia government. Most recently, on 9 November, a US strike killed 17 militants, according to a statement from US Africa Command.

“If this issue of al-Shabaab and the terrorism is resolved in Somalia,” says Mohamud, then the country will be able to tackle the drought and properly administer aid.

Until then, he insists on waging “war” against the al-Qaeda-linked group.

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