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UN staff’s performance in Somalia constitutes a crime against humanity. (By:-Rasna Warah).

One of the most frequent complaints I heard during my recent visit to Mogadishu was the lack of physical presence of United Nations staff in this war-torn city.

This sounded very odd to me considering that the UN declared a famine of “biblical proportions” in Somalia in July this year, and has been raising millions of dollars to save Somalis from starvation since.

In fact, the UN has claimed to have successfully distributed food aid in Mogadishu. So why is there so little UN presence there?

I certainly didn’t see any, and I was in the heart of Mogadishu during my four-day stay there. I hardly saw any UN cars in the city, and very few foreign aid workers.

The only foreigners whose presence could be seen and felt was that of Turks, whose government is actively engaged in rebuilding Mogadishu, and the African Union soldiers who are helping rid the city of the dreaded Al-Shabaab.

I had heard from various sources that most of the food aid that comes through Mogadishu’s port ends up in private hands because there is no effective monitoring of how and where it is distributed.

The mayor of Mogadishu, Mohamoud Nur, complained that there was no control over the aid that comes through the port because the local NGOs that collect and distribute it are not accountable to anyone. This had led to theft of food and other aid.

So I went to the port to see for myself, and sure enough, I saw UNICEF bags being offloaded onto a ramshackle truck that had no UN logo on it and no UN staff was present to oversee the operation.

I checked to see if there was a WFP office at the port (you’d think there would be, considering that millions of dollars of food aid comes through the port) but could not find any.
Recent reports indicate that cartels of local business tycoons control the food aid business in Somalia through shady NGOs, and that the UN is often complicit in these transactions.
Recently, a reliable source told me that a UN agency that has received millions of euros from a leading Western donor to clean up Mogadishu’s streets was using one of the NGOs implicated in the food aid scandal to manage the clean-up operation.
It seems everyone is profiting from the chaos in Somalia. Somali analysts I have spoken to tell me that UN staff based in Nairobi would like Somalia to remain unstable so that they can maintain their luxurious and relatively safe lifestyles in Kenya’s capital. Indeed, almost all bilateral and multilateral donor agencies have their Somalia offices based in Nairobi. Almost none have a functioning office in Mogadishu.

This means that much of the donor money given to UN and other organizations is spent in Nairobi, not in Mogadishu, where it is needed more.One senior European Union official admitted to me recently that the UN had probably slowed down Somalia’s recovery and that “if there is peace in Somalia, many UN staff will not retain their positions in Nairobi”. UN staffs are quick to point out that the UN policy is to evacuate international staff when things in a country get nasty.

However, international staffs are paid huge hardship allowances so they can survive under adverse conditions. Why is it that they are the first to leave when they are needed the most? Many books have been written about the UN’s failure in countries such as Rwanda – where even Kofi Annan proved ineffective when he was in charge of the UN’s peacekeeping operations.

The genocide in Rwanda and the turmoil in Somalia stand as testaments to the UN’s complicity in crimes against humanity.
One Mogadishu resident told me the UN is quick to run away from a crisis but is also very good at creating it. “First they said there the rains had failed and they needed aid for famine victims,” he said.

“Then the rains came, but even that became a problem. They said the rains brought malaria, and so Somalia needed more aid.”
When will this never-ending cycle of chaos end? It’s hard to tell, but I hope the African Union soldiers will show the UN a thing or two about how to bring about real peace and development.
This article was first published in the Daily Nation