Gunmen from Hizbul Islam head for Somalia’s southern port of Kismayu October 1, 2009. Rival Islamist rebels battled in southern Somalia’s Kismayu port on Thursday, killing at least 20 people and the fighting threatened to spread to other parts of the failed Horn of Africa state.
United Nations officials say Somalia has not been in such perilous shape since the central government collapsed in 1991 and is in desperate need of help.
But right now that help is being delayed, they say, at least partly because the American government is worried that its aid is going to feed terrorists.
American officials are concerned that United Nations contractors may be funneling American donations to the Shabab, a Somali terrorist group with growing ties to Al Qaeda.
American officials are increasingly concerned that the Shabab and their allies are working with Al Qaeda to turn Somalia into a factory for global jihad.
Some Somali-Americans have already joined the Shabab as suicide bombers, raising the prospects that one day men like these could exploit their American citizenship and return to the United States to wreak havoc.
The Shabab have been waging a vicious guerrilla war against Somalia’s transitional government, which has grass-roots support and foreign backing, but is hobbled by a weak and untrustworthy military.
While the transitional government struggles to establish itself, United Nations officials say they have no choice but to work with local Shabab commanders to distribute critically needed aid, like 110-pound bags of sorghum, tins of vegetable oil, plastic sheeting and medical supplies, in Shabab-controlled areas.
But are United Nations contractors actually helping the Shabab fight their war? Preliminary information from a continuing United Nations investigation indicates that some of the biggest Somali contractors hired by the United Nations World Food Program may be sharing their proceeds with the Shabab or their allies, or, at a minimum, turning a blind eye when militants steal sacks of American-donated grain and sell them on the open market to get money for guns.
“We know W.F.P. contractors have been diverting food to the Shabab,” said one official close to the investigation, who was not allowed to speak publicly. “And we’re talking about millions of dollars of food.”
World Food Program officials have been tight-lipped about the allegations. Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the agency in Kenya, said the World Food Program was conducting its own separate investigation and “taking immediate actions to increase security at W.F.P. warehouses and other distribution points.”
Because Somalia is so dangerous, especially for foreigners, it is extremely difficult for international aid agencies to closely monitor operations inside the country, especially since most of the agencies are based hundreds of miles away in Kenya.
Somali businessmen, with thin résumés and fat contracts, are given enormous leeway in how they carry out their multimillion-dollar aid duties. On top of that, there is no national banking system, so the United Nations is left with an informal money transfer network to move hundreds of millions of dollars of cash.
A former fetus, the “wordsmith from nantucket” was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1968. Adopted at birth, wordsmith grew up a military brat. He achieved his B.A. in English from the University of California, Los Angeles (graduating in the top 97% of his class), where he also competed rings for the UCLA mens gymnastics team. The events of 9/11 woke him from his political slumber and malaise. Currently a personal trainer and gymnastics coach.
The wordsmith has never been to Nantucket.