Cablegate: Somalia - Ambassador Hosts Humanitarian Roundtable

DE RUEHNR #2806/01 3511537
P 161537Z DEC 08





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: SOMALIA - Ambassador Hosts Humanitarian Roundtable

REF: A) Nairobi 2769 B) Nairobi 2429

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Ambassador Ranneberger hosted a roundtable
meeting at Embassy Nairobi on December 10 with some of USAID's
Somalia implementing partners. The discussion focused on the
increasingly challenging operating environment in which aid
assistance is being delivered in Somalia and the representatives
echoed many of the themes outlined in reftel. Emphasis was placed
on the unprecedented fragmentation of groups on the ground and the
complete unpredictability of the daily operating environment. Most
of our partners had either had one or more of their staff members
killed or abducted this year. Some USAID partners have been forced
to close life-saving operations. Participants in the meeting
included UNICEF, UNDP, WFP, International Republican Institute,
MedAir, Merlin, CARE, Mercy Corps and Interpeace. The exchanges
were frank and the organizations offered useful recommendations and
the Ambassador decided to hold these meetings on a more regular
basis. End Summary.

The Dilemma of Saving Lives

2. (SBU) The organizations represented at the roundtable echoed the
ethical and moral dilemmas in humanitarian assistance outlined in
Ref A. Aid agencies must determine the extent of risk they are able
to manage in the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Somalia.
The World Food Program (WFP) lost two staff members in the past
three months, and is in the process of determining its tolerance
threshold - how many staff killed will be the tipping point to force
the organization to close. Unfortunately, two of USAID's partners,
CARE and the International Medical Corps (IMC), have been forced to
close down operations in South/Central Somalia following threats
from al-Shabaab. While WFP and ICRC are temporarily taking over the
delivery of emergency food aid for CARE, assistance in other
critical sectors previously provided by CARE has come to a halt.
For example, UNICEF was relying on IMC to feed severely malnourished
children in Baidoa, with IMC forced to close, UNICEF is unable to
reach these children and has anticipated that children may have
already died because lack of access to critical care.

Walking on a Tight Rope

3. (SBU) Aid agencies feel their association with the political
process puts them at greater risk and compromises their neutrality.
This is particularly challenging for the UN, which is the largest
provider of humanitarian assistance and at the same time the largest
supporter of the political process. The UN representative explained
that the increased risk stems from the perception of the average
Somali that the political process is occurring outside the country
and excludes too many parties. Striking a balance between the
political process and humanitarian and development assistance is
becoming an increasingly difficult act for USAID implementing

Securing Aid Delivery
In an Insecure Environment

4. (SBU) WFP commented that at best, the combined efforts of the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the
Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS) might control 10 percent of the
territories in south/central Somalia. It is within this context
that WFP manages a massive food aid delivery program. While WFP has
the supply side fairly under control, especially with the new
European Union escort system established for food aid shipments, the
actual delivery is quite complex. The biggest challenge for WFP is
moving food out of the port of Mogadishu and to areas north of the
capital. WFP recently had 35 trucks looted on this route. While
AMISOM secures the port, it does not have the capacity to secure
anything beyond this area to assist in the delivery of aid. WFP
appealed to the US to pressure the TFG into allowing its contractors
to move with armed security escorts (Ref B). While WFP operated in
this manner in the past, the TFG banned armed security over a year
ago. A request was made to the TFG and acknowledged but there has
been no movement on the issue. WFP urged quick action in this
regard if the distribution capacity is to be maintained.


NAIROBI 00002806 002 OF 002

To Brand or not to Brand

5. (SBU) Many USAID partners have sought waivers due to the risks
associated with visibly marking their programs as being U.S.-funded.
While the US is the largest bi-lateral donor to Somalia,
particularly due to its large humanitarian aid package, few Somalis
are aware of this. Often U.S. representatives hear complaints from
Somali officials that no one is aware of the extent of U.S.
assistance. They agreed that the fact of U.S. support for Ethiopia
was less relevant than the widespread belief that Ethiopia is acting
at the behest of the U.S. government. Ethiopia's presence in Somalia
is opposed by the majority of Somalis. One participant noted that
in the context of the propaganda campaign launched by the hard-line
Islamists, symbolism plays a very big role and they are alleging a
Ethiopia-U.S. link to sway public opinion.

Risks of Minimum Monitoring

6. (SBU) USAID has been working in Somalia by "remote control" for
the past three years since staff have been denied travel to the
country. We rely on international NGOs and UN staff to monitor
activities. Now even USAID implementing partners are operating
through "remote control" meaning they have pulled out all expatriate
staff from south/central Somalia and have a minimum of national
staff employed. In many cases because of security, the national
staff are sequestered in their homes and rarely venture to office
compounds. In some instances, for example with the Center for Peace
and Dialogue (CRD), national staff have been forced to flee
Mogadishu and Kismayo altogether. Undoubtedly, accountability
issues will arise that the U.S. and others will have to address.


7. (SBU) Our partners offered some concrete recommendations,
agreeing that despite perceptions on the ground, the U.S. must
continue its efforts to support the political process. They said
that al-Shabaab is exploiting a vacuum that currently exists in
leadership and governance. They also believed that the U.S. should
encourage an Ethiopian withdrawal, along the terms outlined in the
Djibouti Agreement. They asked for help in drawing a distinction
between political and development assistance on one hand and
humanitarian assistance on the other, in order to preserve the
neutrality of aid workers. Our partners also discussed the idea of
using the NGO consortium to exert leverage against armed
anti-government groups. One participant recommended a greater focus
on programs in Somaliland, which can operate with minimal
disruption. They asked for U.S. assistance in outreach to Gulf
country donors and how to coordinate with Gulf-based NGOs.

8. (SBU) The participants welcomed the opportunity to meet with the
Ambassador and the Somalia Unit in addition to USAID. They shared
valuable perspectives from the ground and offered ideas on ways we
could better support their efforts. The forum was useful and we
will plan to meet on a more regular basis with our partners
operating inside Somalia.


© Scoop Media

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