Aug 082011

Dagehaley Camp

JOHANNESBURG, 2 August 2011 (IRIN) – Increasing numbers of Ethiopians and Somalis fleeing war, drought and poverty in their home countries face arrest, deportation and detention as they try to make their way to the south of the continent.

For most the goal is South Africa – the only country in the region where refugees and asylum-seekers have freedom of movement and the right to work rather than being confined to camps. But as the number of migrants from the Horn of Africa seeking asylum in South Africa has reached unprecedented levels, border authorities have started refusing them entry.

“There’s a new unofficial policy since the beginning of May where Somali and Ethiopian nationals are being informed they’ll not be given asylum by the South African government,” said Abdul Hakim, chairperson of the Somali Community Board, a local organization representing the interests of Somalis.  Hakim said that before the crackdown, about 1,500 Somalis were entering South Africa every month. With official borders closed to them, many were now entering the country illegally and then making their way to refugee reception centres to apply for asylum.

Deputy Director-General of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs Jackie McKay denied there had been any change of policy but Kaajal Ramjathan-Koogh, who heads the Refugee and Migrant Rights Programme at Lawyers for Human Rights, said her organization had also observed “a definite shift away from accepting large numbers of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia”.  “From a Home Affairs point of view… they’ve been seeing very large numbers arriving in the last two months and they’re not willing to accept the entire continent’s refugee burden,” she told IRIN.  An issue brief by Roni Amit of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand published in June suggests that the Home Affairs Department has been denying entry to asylum-seekers based on the principle that they should have sought asylum in the first safe country they reached. Amit points out that no such principle exists in international or domestic law.  “By denying entry to asylum-seekers based on the mere fact of their transit through another country, South Africa is contravening its obligations under international law,” Amit writes. “This practice increases the risk that individuals will be returned to the life-threatening situations from which they fled.”

 Knock-on effects

South Africa’s unofficial shift in policy has had a knock-on effect in neighbouring countries which had previously had a fairly tolerant attitude to the movement of migrants through their countries en route to South Africa. Zimbabwe’s state-run newspaper, The Herald, reported in July that immigration officers manning the country’s northern borders had been instructed not to admit illegal immigrants, especially those from Somalia and Ethiopia, who “pretend as if they want to seek refugee status” only to disappear into neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa.

Marcellin Hepie, country representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Zimbabwe, said the country had been receiving high numbers of migrants from the Horn of Africa in recent months with 646 Somalis and Ethiopians picked up and transported to Tongorara refugee camp in Manicaland Province since mid-May.  “Before their [asylum-seeker] cases are adjudicated some of them vanish, presumably for South Africa. Normally they’ll wait around long enough to receive their food and non-food items and then off they go,” he told IRIN. “It is eroding the asylum procedure here and it could eventually backfire.”  He also noted that since mid-May crossing into South Africa for this group of migrants, “has not been as smooth as it used to be”.

“Many have been sent back to Zimbabwe and detained at Beitbridge [border post]. No one has shared any official change of policy from South Africa, but in practice there have been changes,” he said.  According to Natalia Perez of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in the first quarter of 2011, 7,200 asylum-seekers registered at the Beitbridge border post as they crossed into South Africa. Perez said Zimbabwe had now closed its borders to “any migrant or asylum-seeker who cannot produce an ID”.  Now they’re being pushed backwards,” she told IRIN.

Dilemma for governments

The relatively recent phenomenon of mixed migration (which IOM defines as “complex migratory population movements that include refugees, asylum-seekers, economic migrants and other migrants”) from the Horn of Africa to the southern part of the continent presents a dilemma for governments in the region that are bound by international refugee laws but unwilling to bear the economic and security costs of allowing large numbers of undocumented migrants to travel through their countries.

The issue was the subject of a regional conference in Dar es Salaam in September 2010 where a number of recommendations were proposed for dealing with the influx such as greater regional cooperation, improved national policies and better collection of data on refugees and migrants. However, according to Katherine Harris, a regional protection officer with UNHCR, progress since the conference has been “slow going”, with attention and resources mainly focused on the current crisis in the Horn of Africa.  “The biggest thing is that we really need to come up with a regional approach to this issue,” she told IRIN.  Until recently, Mozambique was another popular transit country for Horn of Africa migrants intent on reaching South Africa. Since 2010, a steady stream of Ethiopians and Somalis have been arriving in the country, most of them having used the services of smugglers to take them by boat to the coastal town of Palma, just across the border with Tanzania. By the beginning of 2011, the numbers had increased significantly and the Mozambican authorities started restricting the movements of asylum-seekers outside of the country’s one refugee camp in Nampula Province.

 Mtwara prison

Starting in May, however, the number of asylum-seekers reaching the camp abruptly decreased as immigration officers started intercepting them and deporting them to Tanzania where 833 Ethiopians and Somalis, 45 of them children, are now being detained in Mtwara prison in the southeast of the country.  “We’re trying to find out why this is happening, and hoping to resolve the impasse in a way that will allow new arrivals to at least be screened,” said Carlos Zaccagnini, UNHCR’s country representative in Mozambique, who pointed out that the UN Convention on Refugees prohibits countries from rejecting, deporting or detaining asylum-seekers.  Responding to questions from the BBC, Mozambique’s interior minister said that some of the migrants were pretending to be refugees but had criminal intentions and were being turned away to guarantee the country’s security.  Lin Mei Li, a protection officer with UNHCR in Tanzania, said her office had been pushing the Tanzanian authorities to allow them to interview the detainees at Mtwara prison to determine which of them have genuine asylum-seeker claims. “Living conditions in the prison are not good, it’s over-crowded and there are not enough medicines,” she told IRIN. “We’re really worried about them.”

UNHCR is also trying to persuade the Tanzanian government to establish a reception centre that would provide humanitarian assistance to asylum-seekers rather than imprisoning them. The Zimbabwean government has asked IOM to set up something similar on its northern border with Mozambique. But Abdul Hakim of the Somali Community Board said that Somali asylum-seekers were still being imprisoned in Botswana, Mozambique and Malawi.  “They’re not taken to a court, they just stay in prison and they don’t know for how long. Because they entered the country illegally, they’re treated as illegal immigrants.”

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN 2011

 Posted by at 9:46 am
Aug 082011

Eritrea refugees in Shagarab Camp, Ethiopia (c) IRIN

ADDIS ABABA, 5 August 2011 (IRIN) – More and more Eritrean refugees, mostly educated young men, continue to arrive in Ethiopia, with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, expressing concern over the rising numbers.

“Most say they left their country [to avoid] a prolonged military conscription, but they also say they want to join their families on the road,” Moses Okello, UNHCR’s representative in Ethiopia, told IRIN.

Ethiopia hosts at least 61,000 Eritrean refugees.  UNHCR has described the latest Eritrean refugee influx as a “silent crisis”, coming at a time when the Horn of Africa has been gripped by the worst drought in 60 years.  Okello said those arriving were in good condition compared with thousands of Somali refugees in Ethiopia’s Dolo Ado area in the southeast. On average, 1,300 Eritreans leave their country for Ethiopia every month, according to government statistics.

“The trend seems non-stop and yet increasing,” according to Ayalew Aweke, the deputy director of the government’s Administration for Refugees and Returnee Affairs (ARRA).  Ayalew said: “We are receiving additional refugees of between 1,200-1,500 every month. Most of them are unaccompanied youngsters.”

Disputed numbers

UNHCR, however, says about 800 to 1,000 Eritreans reached Ethiopian refugee camps in Shimelba, Maiaini and Adi-Harush in Tigray Regional state every month.  Ayalew said: “UNHCR’s figure does not include the number of refugees coming [through] other entry points from the usual 17 [official] ones.”

According to ARRA, some Eritreans come to Ethiopia after passing through other countries such as Sudan and Djibouti.  Kisut Gebregziabher, the UNHCR spokesman in Ethiopia, said: “At the moment, we are counting those that are screened and have refugee status in refugee centres. But we expect to have a relatively acceptable number, once they reach camps and get their status.”

However, Ayalew said to ascertain the exact number of Eritrean refugees was difficult because most of the refugees are nomadic and ethnic Afar. The Afar are also found in Ethiopia.  “They tend to live with the host community rather than coming to refugee centres,” Ayalew said.  Gebregziabher said UNHCR had noticed an “unusual trend” among the new arrivals of Eritrean refugees.

“We usually see women and children dominating when it comes to refugees; the case of Eritrean refugees is different, they are mainly young, educated, single men.”  “We are receiving additional refugees of between 1,200 -1,500 every month.” He added that most of them came from an urban background, with high-school diplomas and above. Gebregziabher attributed the shift to their trying to avoid conscription.  During a visit in July, the UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Erika Feller, said she was “alarmed and shocked” to see “a sea of young faces” and “youth denied for so many people”.

According to ARRA statistics, more than 55 percent of these Eritreans are between 18 and 30 years old.  “Most of them are not ready to spend time in refugee camps and that is why we are working on an out-of-camp policy aggressively,” Ayalew said.  In 2010, the Ethiopian government allowed Eritrean refugees to live in urban areas, a move intended to improve their access to services. The policy allowed more than 200 Eritrean students to continue their studies in Ethiopian universities.  “For this year, the same chance will be given to 700 students, after taking a proper entrance exam,” Ayalew said. Gebregziabher said some of the Eritrean students would be entering universities through a cost-sharing agreement supported by UNHCR.

Resettlement options

According to UNHCR, voluntary repatriation is not an option at the moment. Gebregziabher said the agency would pursue “resettlement as the only durable solution for Eritrean refugees. In fact, those who came before 2008 are expected to benefit from the resettlement programme offered by the United States,” he said.  In 2008, the US government agreed to receive 6,800 Eritrean refugees from various camps in Ethiopia.  “Over 2,000 Eritrean refugees have been resettled in the US so far,” Gebregziabher said. “This programme is expected to continue operating.”  According to Feller, resettlement placements offered by different countries were limited. However, she said the refugee agency would continue to advocate for an increase in resettlement opportunities.

Apart from the US, Canada, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand and Australia have shown interest in resettling Eritrean refugees.

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN 2011

 Posted by at 9:40 am
Jul 232011

UN Photo: Somali children and women refugees await for food and assistance near Dadaab

By Jeremy Laurence

SEOUL, July 22 (Reuters) – The humanitarian crisis unravelling in southern Somalia, which the United Nations says is the worst famine in the area for 20 years, has been compounded by political instability that is nearly impossible to deal with, a top UN official said.

“This is a huge humanitarian crisis compounded by both manmade and natural disasters,” Kanayo Nwanze, director the of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), told Reuters in an interview in Seoul on Friday.

“The case of Somalia is very sad … to invest in a country where there is political instability is practically impossible.”

Years of anarchic conflict in southern Somalia have exacerbated the emergency, preventing aid agencies from helping communities in the area. Nearly 135,000 Somalis have fled since January, mainly to neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, with many small children dying during the journey.

“You’ve seen scenes of dying children, malnourished people walking kilometres south into Kenya and Uganda,” he said, calling the international community to donate food aid, tents and blankets.

“Of course neighbouring countries are also concerned that this migration … that they are also accepting potential problems.”

The United Nations has called an emergency meeting for Monday in Rome to discuss mobilising aid for drought-stricken east Africa.

A wide swathe of east Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, has been hit by years of severe drought and the United Nations says 3.7 million people face starvation in southern Somalia.

“The most unfortunate part of this is it is not the first time it has happened … droughts occurred in the 1980s, 90s and now in 2011. That is the sad part of the situation.

“When we do not prepare for natural disasters, they are bound to recur year after year, and then there is something wrong with the system that we have.”

Monday’s meeting in Rome was called at the request of France, current president of the Group of 20 leading economies. It will bring together the three main Rome-based aid agencies IFAD, the World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organisation. (Reporting by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Reproduced with the kind permission of Thompson’s Reuters Foundation 2011

 Posted by at 7:55 am
Jul 192011

Newly arrived refugees at Dadaab refugee camp, northern Kenya

NAIROBI, 18 July 2011 (IRIN) – At least 500,000 malnourished children in the Horn of Africa’s drought-affected areas risk death if immediate help does not reach them, Anthony Lake, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) executive director, has said.

These are the children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, whose clinical signs include swelling in the feet, legs or face caused by an extreme shortage of protein.

“This crisis is likely to deepen over the coming six months or so,” Lake told a news conference in Nairobi on 17 July at the end of a visit to the northwestern Turkana region and Dadaab – home to thousands of Somali refugees – in the northeast.

Lake said: “I talked to a mother who was feeding her child pounded palm nuts, with no nutritional value, moistened in her mouth as the local wells have become saline.”

Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates of 37 percent have been recorded in Turkana. Malnutrition is described as severe acute or global acute. A GAM value of more than 10 percent generally signifies an emergency.

Across the Horn of Africa, at least 10.7 million people in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia need urgent humanitarian aid due to the drought, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In Somalia, thousands are fleeing the country or heading to the capital, Mogadishu. An estimated 3,200 Somali refugees are crossing into Kenya and Ethiopia daily.


Justin Forsyth, chief executive of Save the Children UK, said: “Over the past few days, I’ve seen first-hand the enormous suffering the drought is causing in the Daadab refugee camp and across northern Kenya. Families I’ve met are absolutely desperate for food and water, and we know that the situation in Somalia is even worse.”

Humanitarian actors have welcomed a recent statement by the Islamist opposition group in Somalia, Al-Shabab, allowing humanitarian access to south-central regions. Lake said this “will help us to ramp up support”.

On 13 July, UNICEF airlifted emergency nutrition and water supplies to Baidoa, southern Somalia, the first time in more than two years, Lake said.

”It is a horrible thing in our world today that a baby should die due to a lack of food”

In Mogadishu, doctors with the African Union peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are helping to tackle a measles outbreak at a camp for the drought-displaced. Some 9,300 people, who fled their homes in the central and southern regions, arrived in Mogadishu in June, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

Lt-Col Kaamurari Katwekyeire, head of AMISOM’s Civil-Military Cooperation, said: “The need is great and we can only make small emergency interventions. We hope that humanitarian organizations will take advantage of the improved security situation to come to the aid of the Somali people.”

In Kenya, communities neighbouring the refugee camps are complaining about the attention given to the Somali refugees when they are not faring any better.

Lake said: “They [the drought-affected] are suffering what is a perfect storm due to the drought, rising food prices, shortages of the food pipeline… these people live on the edge in any case. This is not just a question about lives being threatened but a way of life being threatened.”

The drought has hit pastoral communities in the arid and semi-arid parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia the hardest [ ].

On 17 July, the UK’s international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, pledged £52.25 million (US$84 million) in emergency aid for at least one million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The aid is in addition to previous support for 1.36 million people in Ethiopia, announced on 3 July. The Ethiopian government launched an appeal on 11 July saying at least 4.56 million drought-affected people needed help.

The new UK funds are for programmes to prevent and treat malnutrition and improve care for refugees in the Daadab and Dolo Ado camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, respectively.

Mitchell called for more international engagement in the Horn of Africa crisis, saying there was a need to prevent a disaster turning into a catastrophe.

“It is a horrible thing in our world today that a baby should die due to a lack of food,” he said.

aw/js/mw Photograph Newly arrived refugees at Dadaab refugee camp, northern Kenya. © UNICEF/Riccardo Gangale 2011

Reproduced with the kind permission of IRIN.

 Posted by at 9:05 am
Jan 182011

25 Nov. 2010 by Mohamud Ahmed


Somaliland’s Foreign Minister said, quote: “Ethiopia is working on economy, diplomacy and security issues that we expect will help us to achieve our final goal, which is full diplomatic recognition,” Somaliland Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullahi Omar told The Reporter. The enthusiastic minister had been part of a delegation led by President Ahmed Silanyo– SNM founder and former rebel leader. President Silanyo and his delegation were received by the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, during a visit to Addis Ababa.

The meeting with the FM Desalegn was not any different than the routine ‘fruitless’ visits Northwest enclaves’ leaders made to Addis Ababa, in the past. However, the minister came to that conclusion, it seems another political spin and bewilderment to reason probable cause to exaggerate what he gleaned from the promiscuous meetings Silanyo had with the deceptive Ethiopians. Mr. Omar would like us to believe that this time the despotic ‘Wayanes’ are serious enough about what they said on the recognition issue.

In general, it’s been customary for the separatist representatives to attend conventional donor meetings for their share of the international aid. Likewise, Meles loyalists in Hargeisa periodically respond to Addis calls–often from low key officials who have a say in the enclave’s affairs.

For the past 20 years Hargeisa has been the servant for the ‘Wayane’ interests– oppressing ethnic Ogadens. To that extent, on the pretext of the ‘war on terror,’ it is alleged that the Somaliland Intelligence Agency, in collaboration with the Ethiopian Secret Police, has deported hundreds of Ogadenia inhabitants who had escaped from the Ethiopian Military.

Nonetheless, Ethiopia’s stand on the ‘recognition’ question did not accelerate despite the secessionists’ unconditional cooperation.  The African Union stipulated in its Charter, “…determined to safeguard and consolidate the hard-won independence as well as the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our states, and to fight against neo-colonialism in all its forms.” Clearly, the AU has discredited Somaliland’s quest for independence, and warned against further sub-divisions of the African Continent, a continent mired by border disputes and tribal clashes.

Moreover, Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital and Meles Zenawi’s privileged stronghold is the seat for the AU. Equally important, Ethiopia has more than 200 ethnicities and close to 80 million population, therefore to promote co-existence amongst different ethnicities in Ethiopia, is a fundamental issue for the Ethiopian government.

Indeed, Ethiopia has no interest in providing ‘diplomatic recognition for any separating part of Somalia for the sole reason that Ethiopia itself has both internal and external problems. The Meles Zenawi government has lots to ponder, in particular the war on the Nile with Egypt, unsettled border disputes with Eritria and the rebellion movements gaining more ground in many parts of Ethiopia (ONLF, OLF and AMARA movements, etc).


Minister Abdillahi Omar has probably magnified Addis Ababa’s intentions, and his endeavors became counter-productive–his blunt statement has not achieved new favors.

In essence, the relationship between Ethiopia and Somaliland has been rather a ‘constant’ one and should remain so.

Furthermore, Ethiopia has established a multi-ethnic federal system (autonomous regions) to foster co-existence and commune diversity. For that reason, Ethiopia cannot have it both ways: dividing Somalia, a culturally homogeneous nation and keeping its country together. “Charity begins at home” is a famous saying, Meles is better off keeping Somalia together than dividing it because of the political under-current in his own backyard.

By: Mohamud Ahmed


this article is (c) Mohamud Ahmed 2010 and does not represent the opinions of

 Posted by at 11:03 pm
Dec 142010

Ethiopian migrants outside the offices of the Charitable Society for Social Welfare in Haradh

HARADH, 5 December 2010 (IRIN) – The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and humanitarian partners are scrambling to help over 3,000 African migrants stranded at the Yemeni border with Saudi Arabia, where 30 migrants have died in recent weeks.

“We are seeing a dramatic increase in migrants needing help,” IOM Senior Operations Officer Bill Lorenz said in a press release on 3 December. “Over the past week, the number of migrants being referred to IOM has jumped to about 76 a day.”

The Saudi government has reportedly enacted a strict policy of deporting African migrants since September, and many of them – mostly from Ethiopia, some of whom are in extremely poor health – are now in the northern Yemeni border town of Haradh, which already also hosts 17,000 Yemeni families displaced by fighting between government forces and the Houthi-led Shia rebels in neighbouring Sa’ada Province.

“The Saudi authorities have been increasing their border controls and also erected a fence. This makes it more difficult for migrants to enter Saudi Arabia and many are therefore stranded in Haradh,” Emilie Page, the eligibility officer for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) stationed in Haradh, told IRIN.

Saudi border policy changed in response to instability in northern Yemen, after the Saudi military was drawn into the fighting between the government and the Houthi movement in 2009.

“An increasing number of [migrants] have been deported from Saudi Arabia and left at Haradh with nothing more than the clothes they stand in,” said the IOM press release. “With no means of either continuing their journey or returning home, the migrants are sleeping out in the open, dehydrated and trying to survive on whatever scraps of food they can find.”

Walking for weeks

Even in December, when it is winter, temperatures can reach 30 degrees Celsius or more. Groups of African migrants can be seen walking north on the 200 km road between Haradh and the port city of Hudeida, on the Red Sea, with no possessions but the occasional bottle of water, and have to depend on the mercy of locals for sustenance.

Some migrants told IRIN that they had been walking for weeks, and could wind up in the hands of smugglers, who can use violence to extort payment for getting people into Saudi Arabia.

“The primary health issues facing migrants are related to their lack of food and water,” Carolyn Merry, head of mission for the medical relief group, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-Spain), told IRIN. “Our focus was on IDPs [internally displaced persons] but we also provide services to whoever needs them, including the local population and migrants.”

UNHCR has registered 3,100 migrants with a local partner, the Charitable Society for Social Welfare (CSSW), and reported that besides Ethiopians, there were also migrants from Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. More than 100 asylum seekers have been identified so far.

“Most of the Ethiopians are migrants who tried to go to Saudi Arabia and were either deported back to Yemen or unable to cross the border,” said Page, the UNHCR officer. “Most of them are willing to go back to their country.”

IOM, working with UNHCR and Ethiopian immigration officials, aims to have repatriated over 1,000 Ethiopians by 6 December. The group is appealing for US$1 million to fund further repatriation.

“In the mid-term, we want to promote a holistic response, including dialogue between governments, sensitization of humanitarian partners, and building capacities of all parties,” Bill Lorenz, IOM senior operations officer, told IRIN.

There are also ongoing efforts by the Mixed Migration Task Force, a consortium of intergovernmental agencies and NGOs, to inform citizens in the Horn of Africa about the hardships of migrating.

Mohammed, a young Ethiopian, told IRIN: “We heard about the problems on the sea, but we did not expect to find it so hard here.”

reproduced with the permission of IRIN (c) 2010

 Posted by at 9:10 am
Sep 062010
reproduced with the kind permission of The Enough Project.
This article by Ken Menkhaus is still an important contribution to the debate on Somalia.

Ken Menkhaus, Feb 9, 2009

President Barack Obama has inherited a dangerous and fast-moving crisis in Somalia—one with profound implications for regional and international security. While some within the new administration will be tempted to continue to place short-term counterterrorism goals ahead of a more comprehensive strategy approach as was done during the Bush administration, the shortcomings of this approach are abundantly clear: violent extremism and anti-Americanism are now rife in Somalia due in large part to the blowback from policies that focused too narrowly on counterterrorism objectives. The new U.S. national security team must make a clean break by defining and implementing a long-term strategy to support the development of an inclusive Somali government.

Building on the recent creation of a more broad-based transitional parliament, and its selection of Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, as president of Somalia’s transitional government, the United States should immediately bolster its diplomatic engagement in the region and assign a senior diplomat to drive U.S. policy and harmonize its counterterrorism and state-building agendas. At the same time, the United States should work multilaterally to provide focused, conditional support to expand the legitimacy, inclusiveness, accountability, and capacity of Sheikh Sharif’s fledgling government. It must make clear that it will provide sustained support to the general principles of reconciliation, consensus-building, power-sharing, and moderation, but not support to specific individuals or factions.

U.S. policymakers must approach Somalia with humility. Somalia has been much more susceptible to negative external forces than positive ones over the last two decades. U.S. engagement will only prove effective if it is driven by sound analysis, sound policies, and a willingness to invest in the hard work of local consensus building. The Obama administration must adopt a clear set of core principles and interests, develop a better understanding of regional and local political dynamics, and take a more pragmatic, nuanced approach to dealing with local actors that works with rather than against powerful social and political undercurrents within Somalia. Given Somalia’s deeply dysfunctional state, policy choices may often have to be a matter of selecting the least-worst options. In addition, the U.S. government will also need to engage in much more effective public diplomacy if it hopes to reverse high levels of anti-Americanism and convince ordinary Somalis that the United States shares their interest in peace and stability.

New dangers and opportunities in 2009

As the Enough Project chronicled in its most recent report, U.S. policy under the Bush administration helped push the crisis in Somalia to catastrophic dimensions. An Ethiopian military intervention in Somalia in December 2006 succeeded in ousting an increasingly radical Islamist movement, the Islamic Courts Union, but provoked a brutal cycle of insurgency and counterinsurgency that plunged the country into new depths of misery. As conflict raged and humanitarian conditions spiraled downward, flawed U.S. policies only strengthened the Islamist shabaab movement and its commitment to attack Ethiopian and western and United Nations interests, as well as regional governments collaborating with the United States. This homegrown terrorist threat emanating from Somalia has the potential to become even more dangerous than the East Africa Al Qaeda cell that was responsible for the 1998 terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And as the recent epidemic of piracy off the Somali coast demonstrates—as did Afghanistan earlier this decade—the cost of ignoring failed states can be very high.

Several major developments present both new opportunities and new risks for Somalia and the Horn of Africa in 2009.

The Ethiopian withdrawal: Ethiopia has made good on its decision to withdraw its military forces from Somalia, a move which has transformed the political landscape in Somalia. The worst fears that the shabaab would consolidate control over the capital Mogadishu—a fear the Bush administration sought to exploit at the eleventh hour with a failed push for authorization of a U.N. peacekeeping force through the U.N. Security Council—have not materialized. On the contrary, the Ethiopian withdrawal has the potential to dramatically reduce violence and defuse radicalism by removing the presence of a “foreign occupier” which Somalis of all stripes resented and which fueled the insurgency. It also promises to strengthen the coalition of moderates from the Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, and opposition groups—including many Islamists—who signed the Djibouti Peace Agreement in the summer of 2008. That coalition will now enjoy greater legitimacy for having delivered the Ethiopian withdrawal, while the shabaab will have lost its main adversary and rallying point. Periodic Ethiopian incursions into Somalia are inevitable, but are unlikely to be sustained and will hopefully not undermine the new transitional government.

President Yusuf’s resignation: Under sustained pressure from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Western countries, TFG President Abdullahi Yusuf resigned in December 2008.  Yusuf was a deeply polarizing figure in Somalia, a hardliner who actively sought to block implementation of the Djibouti Agreement and who specialized in a particularly divisive style of clan politics. He was widely viewed as a major impediment to peace in Somalia, a conclusion eventually reached by his former patron, Ethiopia. Yusuf’s departure opened the door for progress toward implementation of the Djibouti Agreement and the building of a broad-based coalition government. It also robs the shabaab of another important rallying point.

Formation of a new government: On January 31, 2009, an expanded transitional federal parliament met in Djibouti and selected a new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.  Sheikh Sharif’s selection signals a major power shift in the TFG toward the moderate Islamists within the former Islamic Courts Union. However, as Enough argued in a recent release, the process of appointing an expanded parliament was very problematic, and risks de-legitimizing the new government in the eyes of many Somalis since little time was allotted for consultations or consensus building among key groups ranging from civil society to armed factions. It is also not yet sufficiently broad-based; important Somali constituencies currently feel marginalized in the government, a problem President Sharif must address as he forms a new cabinet. Nonetheless, the formation of a post-Yusuf government offers the promise of a more broad-based administration which, if successful, should be able to negotiate with parts of the armed insurgency and contain the rest.

A new U.S. administration: With the arrival of a new administration in the United States, a window of opportunity clearly exists to reverse the very high levels of anti-Americanism prevailing in Somalia. Most Somalis were deeply impressed with the election of an African-American president, are hopeful for a change in U.S. policy, and, if the Obama administration takes the appropriate steps, could quickly shift attitudes toward the U.S. government.  Moreover, the new face of the American government also deprives the shabaab of some of its ability to demonize the United States.

Resistance to Islamic extremists: Armed groups, organized mainly around clan but in some cases Islamism, have actively resisted the shabaab’s attempts to gain control of some neighborhoods and key sites in Mogadishu. This is an important indication that the shabaab was tolerated, and enjoyed some support, when it posed as the main source of resistance to Ethiopian occupation, but is not acceptable to most Somalis as a source of political leadership once that existential threat has been removed.  While it is still too early to say, there is a good chance that the shabaab reached its high water mark in late 2008, and is now facing resistance from Somali constituencies and struggling with internal fissures.

Successful selection of new government in Puntland: The northeastern polity of Puntland, long a zone of relative stability and economic recovery in Somalia, suffered dangerous political and security deterioration over the past two years, threatening to slide into violent anarchy. It also became the hub of the world’s worst piracy epidemic. But last month the Puntland Parliament selected a new President, Abdirahman “Farole,” resisting efforts by the incumbent faction to manipulate the election. The election raises hopes that Puntland can reverse its worrisome slide and can re-establish public order.

Now what? Possible scenarios for the coming months

Taken together, these new developments have created a dramatically different political and security landscape in Somalia, and they add to already high levels of uncertainty about the direction the country will take next. The three most likely scenarios to emerge in the coming months are:

Violent stalemate: The most likely scenario, and the one in which Somalia finds itself right now in the aftermath of the Ethiopian withdrawal and Yusuf resignation, is a bloody stalemate in which the country remains divided into fiefdoms held by warring Islamists, clans, warlords, and self-declared national and local administrations. The shabaab and other Islamists groups will be the strongest groups but would not be in a position to overrun or dislodge rivals, and will fight among themselves. The transitional government will remain dysfunctional and will complete its five-year mandate in late 2009 without having achieved any of the goals of the transition.

Incremental success by the new unity government: A post-Yusuf, post-occupation unity government is Somalia’s best hope to end its current catastrophe. Success is by no means assured. Indeed, most observers consider it a long shot at this time. The newly formed government now led by Sheikh Sharif has yet to form a cabinet and select a new prime minister; faces sharp criticism from civic, business, and militia leaders who were not adequately consulted about the expansion of the new Parliament; and faces significant armed resistance, especially in the form of the shabaab, which openly rejects the Djibouti process and the new government it produced.  In a best-case scenario, Sheikh Sharif will be able to win over a pragmatic coalition of Somali businesspeople, clans, civic leaders, and Islamists, while reassuring Ethiopia that the new government seeks coexistence. If this newly constituted TFG can win enough local support, it will be able to hold portions of Mogadishu and south-central Somalia and gradually work to negotiate with parts of the shabaab and militarily defeat the rest. Sheikh Sharif may also be able to revive some level of the administrative capacity demonstrated by the ICU in 2006, providing improved governance in southern Somalia.

Radical Islamist consolidation of power: It remains possible that the new government will not be able to secure adequate alliances from the many clan militias and business groups in country. That could allow the shabaab and other jihadist movements to build tactical alliances, consolidate control over territory they already hold in southern Somalia, and possibly even take control of all of Mogadishu. From a western security perspective, however, a radical Islamist takeover of the capital does not allow those groups to do much more that they already can. The shabaab and related jihadist groups already control ample territory from the Kenyan border to the outskirts of Mogadishu and several important ports and airports, and therefore are in a position to engage in acts of terrorism across Somali borders should they so choose. But the fall of Mogadishu to the shabaab would have significant political consequences; the emergence of an Islamist regime with connections to Al Qaeda would almost certainly set in motion some type of security responses from both Ethiopia and the United States, and it would likely usher in a new chapter of armed conflict and instability.

Toward a more effective U.S. policy

The immediate preference for the Obama administration government is self-evident—it should promote the success of the Djibouti process and the new unity government, while actively preparing a “plan B” in the event the Djibouti process fails and Sheikh Sharif’s government collapses. To formulate a policy that avoids the disasters of previous U.S. engagement, the new administration should take a step back, re-examine old assumptions, and establish basic principles of engagement. This in turn should produce unambiguous objectives and a clear map of how best to achieve these objectives.

Articulating principles for engagement

Effective policy in Somalia must be integrated within a broader strategy to promote regional stability: The Somali crisis is deeply enmeshed in a broader regional dynamic, including Ethiopian-Eritrean tensions and Ethiopia’s domestic politics, including the ongoing counterinsurgency campaign against the Ogaden National Liberation Front in eastern Ethiopia. U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa over the last several years has brushed past these important regional dynamics while making efforts to kill or capture specific individuals responsible for terrorist attacks in the region the paramount objective. Unfortunately, this approach has essentially gone after a symptom of Somalia rather than trying to treat its underlying disease. Even worse, this narrow focus has consistently exacerbated rather than reduced levels of extremism, anti-Americanism, and jihadism inside Somalia and negatively impacted U.S. relationships in the region. This approach has reduced the U.S.-Ethiopia partnership to an ill-advised quid-pro-quo: Ethiopia helps the U.S. achieve its counterterrorism objectives and, in exchange, the United States has had little to say about the shrinking democratic space inside Ethiopia and the severe human rights abuses committed by the Ethiopian government in both Ethiopia and Somalia.

Ethiopia has legitimate, vital security interests in Somalia and has the capacity to block developments that it views as threatening to its interests. Moreover, Ethiopia’s constructive response to the Djibouti Agreement and its support of the creation of a moderate coalition of opposition and TFG leaders suggests that, under the right conditions, ample political space exists to find solutions which are acceptable to both Somalis and the Ethiopian government.  The United States must protect and expand this political space, with the aim of building a common political vision of coexistence and shared security and economic interests between Ethiopia and the Somali people.  To do this, the United States cannot remain silent in the face of problematic Ethiopian behavior in the region, lest the Obama administration quickly lose its leverage and credibility in the Horn of Africa.

Investing in the time-consuming work of collaboration and consensus building is essential: Though committed ideologues exist in Somalia, Somali political culture is fundamentally pragmatic in nature, privileging negotiations as the bedrock of politics. The withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, and the resignation of TFG President Yusuf, will deflate radicalism and insurgency in Somalia, reducing (although not eliminating) the regional threat posed by the shabaab. The shabaab’s main energies will now be devoted toward a power struggle against other Somali political actors. This is a key assumption; if it holds true, it means that successful reduction of the terrorist threat posed by the shabaab is more likely to come from changes in Somali politics, not from external military operations.

Policies which privilege Somali-driven processes, rely mainly on Somali interests and actors to drive outcomes, and respect Somali preferences will stand a much better chance of success than those imposed from the outside: External actors, including the United States, have only modest capacities to shape short-term outcomes in Somalia. Though limited, the Obama administration can increase its influence by embarking on a much more sustained and extensive public diplomacy with Somalis across the full spectrum of society and in multiple locations, including in the Gulf states and the Diaspora.  Increased engagement with Somalis will not only yield benefits in terms of public attitudes, but will also produce better-informed policy.  Indeed, greater reliance on Somali-driven solutions requires much better local knowledge on the part of external actors, including the United States. This will not be easy to achieve given the current high levels of insecurity and threats which have driven almost all foreigners out of south-central Somalia and which have also greatly restricted the Somali press and Somali civil society from reporting on events in the country. Effective Somali policy cannot be conceived or executed if primarily confined to discussion at the State Department and inside the walled compounds of the U.S. Embassy and U.N. agencies in Nairobi.

Policies that maximize space for negotiations are especially valuable; an overreliance on punitive action and isolation reduce the already narrow room for diplomatic maneuver: The 2008 U.S. designation of the entire shabaab movement as a terrorist organization, while debatable on its merits, served to reduce space for Somalis to negotiate, and painted shabaab leaders into a corner from which their only option is to fight. Although some leaders and units in the shabaab are certainly extremists and could never be brought into a normal political dialogue, others may well be mainstreamed if conditions are right.  This is also true for U.S. policy toward Eritrea, a principal backer of the insurgency in Somalia and a state that has interests in playing the role of spoiler in Somalia as long as it is diplomatically isolated. Designating Eritrea a state sponsor of terror (which the Africa Bureau within the State Department unsuccessfully tried to do during the last days of the Bush administration) would make it almost impossible to engage Eritrea in a constructive dialogue to convince it to cease its proxy war in Somalia.

Articulating U.S. interests and objectives

The United States should articulate the general objectives, processes, and outcomes it would like to see in Somalia, but avoid the temptation to directly back individual Somali leaders at this point in time. Because of high levels of anti-American and anti-Ethiopian sentiments in Somalia, the United States and Ethiopia run the risk of de-legitimizing local actors and processes by supporting and embracing them too overtly. This is especially important with regard to the current political and military resistance to the shabaab by a variety of Somali constituencies. This is a positive development, but could be undermined by overt support to those groups.

Put counterterrorism in a broader context: While the United States needs to remain vigilant in its counter-terrorism stance in Somalia, counterterrorism policies must be de-conflicted with other objectives, especially the promotion of a long-term political stability—which is the only way terrorist threats will ultimately subside. The U.S. counterterrorism approach in Somalia has been short-term and tactical in nature, focusing on the immediate need to target and remove “high value” terror suspects and undermining international efforts to address the underlying drivers of violent extremism in the region—statelessness, conflict, poverty, and impunity. Likewise, U.S. counterterrorism actions have deeply compromised humanitarian access for the United Nations and international relief agencies at a time when more than 3 million Somalis need emergency assistance.

Focus on human rights and accountability: A greater U.S. focus on human rights and accountability is imperative, both as a reflection of a core foreign policy principal of the Obama administration and to restore U.S. standing in Somalia. U.S. defense of human rights in Somalia must be universal, not selective, to have credibility among Somalis. Although all sides in the Somali conflict have been guilty of crimes against humanity, the Bush administration was loudly critical of abuses by the armed opposition and silent in the face of gross violation of human rights by the transitional government and Ethiopian forces. The damage this has done to U.S. credibility in the region cannot be overstated. Rightly or wrongly, most Somalis believe the Bush administration was complicit in the human rights abuses and indiscriminate shelling that drove at least 700,000 people from their homes and reduced much of the capital to rubble. Because of the United States’ close relationships with Ethiopia and Kenya, the behavior, those governments’ behavior (in some cases, policies pursued at the behest of the Bush administration) also reflects on the United States and can damage U.S. credibility with Somalis and with the sizable Muslim communities in each country.

Prioritize good governance over capacity building: In Somalia, the central government has a long history of predatory tendencies, and needs to develop a range of basic checks, balances and accountability mechanisms. Yet international support for the transitional government has tended to emphasize capacity-building at the expense of good governance and adherence to the rule of law. The result was predictable: The TFG was empowered but unrestrained, leading to abuses by police forces directly supported by the United States and the United Nations (among others) and the complete neglect of the task to establishing functioning institutions. Somali civil society, which is key to any peace and reconciliation effort, has been particularly devastated by assassinations and threats from hardliners on both sides.

Reinforce zones of relative peace and recovery in the North while focusing on resolving the crises in south-central Somalia: Efforts to broker an end to war and state collapse in south-central Somalia should not come at the expense of sustained support to consolidate gains in the northern polities of Puntland and Somaliland.  The peace and stability of both of those regions have been taken for granted by the international community, and yet are fragile and vulnerable to political setbacks.

A new approach to peacebuilding in Somalia

Despite current levels of violence and extremism prevailing in the country, a negotiated solution to the Somali conflict is possible. A period of armed clashes between the increasingly fragmented collection of Islamists, clan militias, and others is inevitable, but the departure of Ethiopian forces and the selection of a more broad-based government create a much better context for the promotion of dialogue and negotiations.  A window of opportunity is opening in Somalia and must not be missed.

Building an improved climate for U.S. engagement in Somalia is an essential first step, and the Obama administration should take the following further steps:

  • Articulate clearly to Somali leaders and communities both what the United States aspires to see in Somalia—genuine peace, revival of an accountable and legitimate central government, promotion of economic recovery, and a secure environment for all—as well as the minimal criteria the United States insists upon in order to work with Somali individual leaders and groups. These criteria should include: (1) respecting the peace and security of regional states; (2) avoiding linkage with terrorist organizations; (3) actively working to reduce and eliminate al-Qaeda presence in Somalia; and (4) protecting the physical security of the Somali people and humanitarian aid workers.  Some Somali political figures and intellectuals will bristle at the notion of any conditions of engagement being imposed on them, but there is a climate of sober realism in Somalia at present and awareness that failure to be attentive to the basic security needs of neighboring states and the West could plunge the country into continued chaos.
  • End the overuse of “red-lining” Somali individuals and groups while providing assurances that any measures designed to pressure Somali actors with punitive action will be applied universally, not selectively. This includes possible targeted sanctions against violators of the U.N. arms embargo. The designation of some groups and individuals as terrorists has been used as a political weapon and has created serious disincentives for those designated as terrorists to modify their positions and seek negotiated settlements.
  • Cease U.S. involvement in cross-border renditions between Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia and voice public criticism of Ethiopian government abuses in Somali-inhabited Ethiopia.
  • Promote accountability by supporting a U.N. commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses by all parties to the Somali conflict.

The key role for external actors at this time is not to impose solutions on Somalia but rather to create more permissive conditions for Somali-driven solutions to take hold. Toward that end, the Obama administration must take the following steps:

  • Designate a senior diplomat to lead U.S. Somalia policy, base that person in the region, and provide him or her with adequate staffing and resources.
  • State its willingness to accept political outcomes that occur beyond the Transitional Federal Government. While there are a variety of reasons why the TFG may be a preferable vehicle for a unity government and a political transition, the TFG’s survival and advancement is not essential for a durable solution in Somalia and should not be conflated with it.
  • Maintain continuous communication with all significant Somali political, social, and economic actors. The U.S. government must avoid over-reliance on contact with a small number of top leaders and facilitators, both to avoid being perceived as playing favorites and to protect Somali contacts from being portrayed as collaborators. One-off meetings with Somali political and social figures are generally unhelpful, as those sessions are usually dedicated to the airing of grievances and can be fairly corrosive. Repeated engagement provides more time to push beyond the grievances and into constructive dialogue.
  • Run interference between Somali political processes and well-meaning international actors who seek to impose external agendas and tired, template-driven solutions in Somalia. The United States should voice confidence that a Somali-driven process is the solution and infuse that conviction in the international community. This should include restraining members of the international community from insisting on boilerplate treaties, charters, and state blueprints designed to remake Somalia in their own likeness. Somali state revival may well take on new and more indigenous forms that are not entirely recognizable to organizations dedicated to state building and rule of law.
  • Ensure that Ethiopia is fully involved in whatever capacity it chooses, so that it is confident political processes in Somalia are not threatening its interests, and so that Ethiopia is tempted to undermine the process.
  • As part of an integrated regional policy, explore quiet overtures to Eritrea to de-escalate tensions and provide that government some incentive not to play the role of spoiler in Somalia.
  • Support conflict resolution between Ethiopia and Eritrea, particularly in resolving with finality the border dispute between these two countries.

How to counter terrorism and violent extremism

The Obama administration must remain vigilant about serious security threats emanating from Somalia, both from shabaab and the East Africa  Al Qaeda cell. But the strategy for diminishing that threat must place greater emphasis on promoting an environment in which home-grown threats to the United States and its allies lose their legitimacy and appeal and in which foreign terrorist threats are confronted with a highly non-permissive environment.  Indeed, the United States and its allies must have confidence that a Somali-led process combining armed conflict, persuasion, co-optation, and negotiation will succeed in eroding the shabaab’s appeal and capacity. Foreigners attempting to “marginalize hardliners” in Somalia invariably fail, and can discredit erstwhile local allies in the process.  And the past several years of direct “kinetic” counterterrorism actions to eliminate terror suspects have had deleterious side effects and should be drawn upon only in extraordinary circumstances.

If Somali communities are convinced that terrorist activities are harmful to their interests, they will engage in community policing and make it much more difficult for both foreigners and shabaab to misuse Somali territory. Given the lengthy period of time it will take for an effective Somali police and national security force to develop even in best-case circumstances, community policing is the only option for reducing the threat of transitional terrorism and criminality in Somalia.

The shabaab is already in trouble, thanks to the Ethiopian withdrawal, Yusuf’s resignation, and growing resistance from other armed groups in the country. The shabaab faces multiple internal divisions—over clan, leadership, tactics, and ideology—which a new unity government can exploit in order to convince parts of the shabaab to abandon the movement and gradually outmaneuver, marginalize, and defeat the core hardliners.  It also runs the risk of having its most powerful ideological card—Somali nationalist, anti-foreigner sentiment—turned against it, as domestic adversaries accuse it of being a puppet of foreign jihadists bringing more trouble to the country.


The elements of a new strategy for Somali policy proposed in this paper share a common confidence in the ability of Somali actors to manage and resolve the country’s long-running crisis if provided a more conducive environment. It assigns principal responsibility to the United States and its allies to help promote, protect, and expand an enabling environment for Somali negotiations take place and community policing to emerge. It charts a middle way between disengagement and heavy-handed, direct intervention in Somalia, recognizing that Somalia’s crisis cannot be solved by foreigners but that Somalis cannot resolve the crisis without well-conceived assistance from outside, and an end to neighbor states using Somalia as a proxy battleground. This call for more informed, indirect, and surgical engagement on the part of the Obama administration and other external actors reflects an approach that is intended to work with rather than against powerful political and social undercurrents in the country, and one that taps into many of the very effective traditions of skilled negotiation, compromise, and pragmatism that have long been the hallmark of Somali political culture.


(c) Ken Menkhaus and The Enough Project 2009

reproduced with their kind permission

Enough is a project of the Center for American Progress to end genocide and crimes against humanity. Founded in 2007, the Enough Project focuses on crises in Sudan, eastern Congo, and areas of Africa affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Enough’s strategy papers and briefings provide sharp field analysis and targeted policy recommendations based on a “3P” crisis response strategy: promoting durable peace, providing civilian protection, and punishing perpetrators of atrocities. Enough works with concerned citizens, advocates, and policy makers to prevent, mitigate, and resolve these crises. For more information, please visit

Aug 222010

A vote by Southern Sudan to succeed from Sudan in early 2011 is also likely to create new conflicts within the region. Northern Sudan may resist the loss of the south’s oil reserves and agricultural resources. Other countries, including Ethiopia, and Egypt, also see this as an opportunity to extend their influence in the region. In July 2010 Egypt announced that it would give South Sudan $300 million for water and electricity projects[1], this is undoubtedly an attempt to influence any independent government in the territory not to support the May 2010 Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework. Egypt has refused to negotiate on the subject of its entitlement to the bulk of Nile water, mainly because even with the current levels of supply it faces water shortages by 2017, according to a 2009 Egyptian government study. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit has said that his country’s water rights were a “red line.” A western diplomat said that, “Egyptians are behaving with the Africans the way they accuse Israel of behaving with the Palestinians: they say they are ready to negotiate [on Nile water] but without committing to the difficult issues.”[2] Egypt has threatened to use force against Ethiopia if the flow of Nile water is restricted and there is no doubt that it would be prepared to threaten other countries in the region over this issue. Due to its rapid population growth Egypt’s water needs are projected to reach 86.2 billion cubic meters in 2017, while its resources will not exceed 71.4 billion cubic meters, over 80% of its water resources will still come from the Nile and this understanding conditions Egypt’s total opposition to the Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework signed in May 2010 by Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. Under a 1929 agreement on the use of Nile water, negotiated by the British, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic metres (75%) and Sudan 18.5 billion cubic metres (25%) of Nile water, the other African states have no entitlement.[3] Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources, Mohamed Nasreddin Allam, described the 2010 Nile River Basin Cooperative Framework agreement as “irrelevant”. Egypt has taken the position that unilateral agreements by other Nile Basin states are illegal and non-binding on Egypt, and also lack international legitimacy, furthermore it has said that it will take all legal and diplomatic measures to protect its historical rights to the Nile water.[4] South Sudan presents a particular problem for Egypt for three reasons, firstly it is not clear how Sudan’s current allocation of Nile water will be divided with the South, secondly the South is more closely allied to countries like Uganda and Kenya, not to the Arabic-speaking Muslim countries to its north and may therefore view the May 2010 Agreement with favour, and thirdly the two-thirds-finished Jonglei Canal runs though its territory, abandoned in 1984, with 110 kilometres needing to be dug and this could give the White Nile another 4.5 billion cubic metres of water, which currently evaporates in the marshes of the Sudd (although probably at the price of an ecological disaster). The government of South Sudan has indicated that it would commission a feasibility study on the Canal.[5] Egypt is extremely keen to see this project revived, although arguably there is no reason why Egypt should take the primary share of any additional water resources. The United States has a close interest in South Sudan because of the influence of American Churches in this mainly Christian territory. We therefore have a situation where Egypt is prepared to arm and support those elements within Somalia which are opposed to Ethiopia, because Egypt fears that Ethiopia will irrigate its land with water, from its own rivers, that would otherwise flow north to Egypt, where that country faces a future with insufficient water, due its failure to restrict its population growth and plan. Egypt’s response is that of a tyranny under threat, to use the threat of force against those who could control its water supply, and the ramifications of this affect the whole region. Egypt has the largest armed forces in Africa, with 450,000 men and over 200 F-16 fighters. It has the ability to deploy troops within the region using its C-130s, and operates its own spy satellite.[6] Egypt has threatened to bomb Ethiopian dams and land paratroops in South Sudan; the day is fast approaching when Egypt will cease merely making threats. Egypt undoubtedly regards Ethiopia as its biggest threat, because the bulk of the Nile’s flow comes from the Blue Nile, which rises in Ethiopia’s highlands, flowing out of Lake Tana. In 1964 the United States Bureau of Reclamation proposed that four large dams be constructed in Ethiopia along the Blue Nile, Karadobi, Mabil, Mendaia, and Border. These dams would have the capacity to generate 5,570 megawatts of power, and irrigate 250,000 hectares of land.[7] Given the immediate threat that such projects would raise as far as Egyptian policy makers are concerned, it is not far-fetched to suggest that Egypt may become far more involved in the affairs of the Horn of Africa in the next decade, with inevitable consequences for Somalia and Eritrea. Ethiopia will effectively be forced in to undertaking such developments by its own rising population and food scarcity, and it is likely that Chinese money and technical expertise would build these dams. If its own problems were not enough to make these developments inevitable, foreigners from countries with few food resources, like Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, are keen to develop even more of Ethiopia’s land, and Ethiopia approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects between 2007 and early 2010.[8]

Conflict over Nile water, while not inevitable, is very likely. Egypt’s considerable military forces are far better equipped than their African rivals, but conflict in this part of the world trends to be bitter and long-term. Conflict will not therefore be an effective solution to Egypt’s problems, which are largely it’s own making; because its government has failed to implement more effective use of water supplies (banning private swimming pools would be a start) and appears to have done nothing to stop the country’s suicidal population explosion.  It seems as if the short-sighted focus of the Egyptian government has merely been to stay in power, not to guide the country’s future, if conflict comes it will have been totally avoidable. The failure to talk to the African states about Nile water is inexcusable.

[1] Ashraf Badr – “Egypt to grant South Sudan $300m for projects”, 11 July 2010, Reuters,

[2] Samer al-Atrush – “Egypt refuses to make concessions on Nile water”, 12 May 2010, Middle East Online,

[3] “Egyptian President says Nile water will never go beyond national border”, 14 August 2010,,

[4] “Egypt says unilateral agreement on use of Nile water illegal and not binding”, 15 May 2010,,

[5] “Jonglei Canal project needs to be revised, South Sudan says,” 8 August 2009,


[7] Paul J. Block, Kenneth Strzepek, and Balaji Rajagopalan – “Integrated Management of the Blue Nile Basin in Ethiopia under Climate Variability and Climate Change Hydropower and Irrigation Modelling”, International Food Policy Research Institute Research Brief, Washington D.C., 2008

[8] John Vidal – “How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab”, The Observer, London, 7 March 2010

 Posted by at 7:30 am
Jan 272010
SANAA, 17 January 2010 (IRIN) – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Yemen received 77,802 new arrivals from the Horn of Africa in 2009, a 55 percent increase over 2008 and for the first time Somalis were not the majority nationality, the agency’s external relations officer Rocco Nuri told IRIN in Sanaa on 16 January.

The biggest change over 2008, he said, was that the number of Ethiopians making the perilous boat journey across the Gulf of Aden more than doubled to 44,814, while 32,988 Somalis reached Yemen’s shores.

“There are various push factors behind the increasing number of Ethiopians, such as conflict, famine, drought and lack of job opportunities,” Nuri said.

He added that the global financial crisis and subsequent rise in commodity prices “also played a role in pushing more people to leave their countries in search of better opportunities”.

Over 700,000 immigrants

There are more than 700,000 African immigrants in Yemen, the majority of whom are Somalis, deputy foreign minister Ali Muthan told a symposium in Sanaa on 12 January at the launch of a new initiative entitled ‘Supporting Yemeni Government and Civil Society to Meet Migration Challenges’.

He said that “out of the total number of African immigrants in Yemen, only 200,000 have refugee status”.

“The government has made tireless efforts to reduce the influx of Africans into its territory through contributing to enhancing stability and security in Somaliland,” Muthan said.

According to UNHCR, all Somalis arriving in Yemen are granted prima facie refugee status while non-Somalis wanting to claim asylum are required to apply at a UNHCR office.

Hazardous journey

For those escaping war, violence and persecution, the hazardous journey to East African ports and then across the Gulf of Aden in the hands of ruthless people smugglers only adds to their suffering, according to UNHCR officials.

“They walk sometimes for days or travel in risky conditions prior to reaching one of the main departure points in Somalia and Djibouti. Once a deal with smugglers is made, they are put on over-packed, rickety boats and are likely to be subjected to psychological and physical violence at the hands of smugglers, as well as being left with no water and food for days under a blistering sun,” Nuri told IRIN.

He added that smugglers often beat passengers to prevent them from moving and putting their small boats at risk of capsizing. Sometimes people were forced to jump overboard. “When a boat capsizes, many drown and the likelihood of finding the missing alive is very low,” he said.

According to UNHCR, at least 309 people drowned or did not survive the trip in 2009. However, this was less than half the 590 that died in 2008.

Themes: (IRIN) Migration, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

(c) IRIN 2010, reproduced with permission

 Posted by at 9:07 am
Jan 162010

Satellite Image showing vegetation growth in Ethiopia Sept/Oct 2008

By using NASA satellite images it is possible to identify problems with food production in the Horn.

FEWS NET identifies potential food insecurity by combining current observations with forecast models. One of the observations key to predicting food shortages is the view of vegetation from space, such as the image shown here. When poor vegetation matches up with resource-poor populations that might depend on a single crop or pastureland for survival, FEWS NET warns that the region may need food aid. The advanced warning gives governments and aid agencies time to plan a response before a full-fledged famine can develop.

This image, made from data collected by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite between September 29 and October 14, 2008, shows vegetation conditions at the beginning of the October-January rainy season. Areas where plants were growing more quickly or more densely than average are green, while less vigorous growth is brown. Average growth is represented in off-white. Overall, plants in Ethiopia were growing slightly more poorly than average. Spots of green fringe Ethiopia’s western border where rainfall was more plentiful, while streaks of brown run through the eastern half of the country.

© NASA 2008

Estimated food security conditions, 4th Quarter 2009 (October-December)

  • About 6.2 million people, particularly in the eastern marginal cropping areas, the pastoral areas of Somali region,, northern pastoral region of Afar, pastoral and agro pastoral area of Oromiya, SNNPR and most of Gambella face moderate to high levels of food insecurity and continue to require emergency food aid, although household food availability has improved starting in November 2009 with the start of the Meher harvest.
  • The Meher harvest is anticipated to be below-normal as a result of June-September rains which started late, performed erratically, and ended early in some areas. The poor rains have also affected the reproduction and productivity of livestock by contributing to shortages of pasture and water, mainly in the water deficient parts of Afar region.
  • Following the start of the Meher harvest, cereal prices are generally declining following the normal seasonal trend. However, they are still much higher than the five-year average and generally unaffordable for the rural and urban poor in both cropping and pastoral areas.

© US AID 2009

Karnon comment, taken with the recent appeal for aid for Ethiopians affected by drought it is difficult to understand the logic of virtually giving large areas of agricultural land to foreign companies, it would seem inevitable that there is going to be a struggle for water to irrigate at least some of these areas, and it is not clear what the consequences of this would be.

 Posted by at 5:57 pm