Diplomatic Surge Needed to Stem Famine in Somalia: Enough Paper

Date: 
Sep 21, 2011

Contact: Matt Brown, mbrown@enoughproject.org, +1-202-468-2925

WASHINGTON – President Obama needs to lead an international diplomatic effort to open food aid corridors in Somalia and stave off the worst famine in the Horn of Africa in 20 years, according to a new policy paper by Ken Menkhaus for the Enough Project.

Menkhaus, a professor of political science at Davidson College and a specialist on Somalia, argues that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine needs to urgently be invoked in order to save the 4 million Somalis who are in need of emergency food aid.

“Unless the international response changes, the 2011 Somali famine will be to the Obama administration what the 1994 Rwandan genocide was to the Clinton administration – a terrible stain, an unforgiveable instance of lack of political will to push policy beyond incrementalism,” Menkhaus said. “We can and must do better.”

Many famine victims are in areas controlled by al-Shabaab, a Taliban-like Islamist militia that has rejected Western food aid at the expense of its starving citizens. In the areas controlled by the weak Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, corrupt officials and affiliated paramilitaries divert food aid, prey on famine victims and fight over food aid.

The U.S. and Islamic countries need to pressure the TFG and Shabaab to immediately allow access for food aid, the same kind of diplomatic full court press that the international community used to end the ethnic-based post-election violence that broke out in Kenya in 2008, Menkhaus said.

“Both Shabaab and the TFG must be put under the most intense diplomatic pressure the world can muster,” Menkhaus said. “The United Sates has to take a lead role on this initiative, and the U.S. leadership has to come from President Obama himself.”

Menkhaus’ policy briefing looks at a variety of possible solutions to the Somali conflict and its attendant humanitarian impacts.

“Thousands of Somali lives can be saved through bold diplomacy and united international pressure on the Somali combatants,” said Enough Project Co-Founder John Prendergast. “Sending additional humanitarian aid without dealing with access issues will do little to ameliorate the famine. This famine is caused by the policies and actions of the Shabaab and, to a lesser extent, units of the transitional government. While a diplomatic surge is being mounted, evidence regarding the use of starvation as a weapon should be collected and turned over to relevant bodies for prosecution.”

Read the full report: A Diplomatic Surge to Stop Somalia’s Famine.

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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 www.enoughproject.org.