Somalia aid staff fearful of US exit


Mark Huband in Mogadishu


The Guardian, 2 March 1993


SENIOR United Nations officials in Somalia yesterday added to criticism of plans by the United States to hand over control of military operations in the country to the UN at a time of worsening security and poor co-ordination between the UN and relief agencies.

UN staff have been ordered not to talk to the media since riots in Mogadishu last week led to officials reviewing plans to “relocate” non-essential staff, which led to inaccurate claims that the UN was planning a full-scale evacuation.

However, on condition of anonymity, a senior UN official in Mogadishu yesterday expressed the view of several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) by denying American claims that the 30,710-strong US-led force in Somalia had created a secure environment for the relief operation to be continued under the UN banner, possibly by May 1.

The Security Council is expected to debate a resolution outlining the mandate for the new UN operation in Somalia – called Unosom 2 – in the next few days. Details of the rules of engagement for an expected 20,000 UN troops, the budget and the exact dates of the handover from US to UN control will then be finalised.

“The US seems to be leaving with indecent haste,” the UN official said. “They haven’t established an environment in which it’s safe to deliver humanitarian assistance.” He also acknowledged that the relationship between the UN and the NGOs had to improve if the UN operation was to succeed. This soured last year when the UN was criticised for leaving Somalia during the 1991 fighting and for doing too little to avert the famine.

“We bailed out when we should not have,” he said. “Now, the relationship with the NGOs will have to improve if we’re to be the partners in development we are supposed to be. It will be a question of the UN getting closer to the NGOs.”

However, NGO criticism of UN preparations for the establishment of Unosom 2 is already mounting. Plans to employ up to 2,800 UN civilian staff are regarded as excessive and some staff are regarded by NGOs as ill-qualified. The UN official said yesterday: “Personally I don’t know what we could do with 2,800 civilians.”

Each Unosom 2 staff member will receive $87 per day mission subsistence allowance plus $600 per month hardship allowance on top of their salary. The UN will require hundreds of new buildings to house its staff. It already pays more than $1 million per year for houses in Mogadishu alone.

UN logistics suffer glaring inadequacies. Meetings with UN officials in Mogadishu often end because of power cuts – unknown in NGO offices – due to a lack of generator fuel.

The US has indirectly acknowledged the insufficiency of relevant UN personnel by offering 60 “political officers” to Unosom 2. The new UN special envoy, who will replace Ismat Kitani, is expected to be an American.

This, coupled with the retention of 5,000 US army and marine logistical officers as well as a US rapid reaction force stationed off-shore after the UN takes over, is presented as proof that the US is not deserting Somalia.

“We have no interest in running Somalia,” said John Hirsh, political adviser to Robert Oakley, who tomorrow leaves his post as US special envoy to Somalia. “We want the Somalis to sort these things out. I don’t think any foreigner can finally fully understand everything in Somalia. It’s a power struggle, and a vacuum. Our big theme is that the power struggle is legitimate as long as it’s by non-violent means.”

UN officials are aware that    the Somalis responsible for banditry and the warlords will put the UN to a much greater test than the Americans.

“There’s a lot more than Somalia being played out here. Now it will be a test ground for UN-US relations,” said another senior UN official.


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