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IN FOCUS | Famine in Somalia

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #31, 32 & 33, Vol. 1, No. 31, 32 & 33
11 October 2022


Famine in Somalia: Five reasons why

Today, Somalia is witnessing the onset of a famine. Attributing the crisis to droughts is an easy way out for the government and international community to wash their hands off tragic disaster unfolding.

Apoorva Sudhakar

The latest alert on Somalia’s hunger situation published by the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) and Somalia Food Security and Nutrition Analysis (FSNAU) for September projected that three areas of the Bay Region are likely to experience Famine (IPC Phase 5) by late 2022. The alert outlined that the areas at risk are experiencing drought, conflict, and high food prices that have weakened “people’s ability to raise livestock, grow crops, and buy enough food to survive.”

On 5 September, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths, in reference to the alert, said: "Famine is at the door, and today we are receiving a final warning."  The development is not unforeseen, and as Griffiths put it, there have been multiple warnings over the past few months and years. An earlier warning by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, said at least 7.1 million people were at the risk of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3), including 4.7 million in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), 2.1 million in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and over 213,000 in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).

In a related development, on 6 September, a UNICEF press briefing outlined that hundreds of children had already died in nutrition centres across Somalia, reiterating the looming famine across the country. The UNICEF Somalia representative said 730 children had died in food and nutrition centres between Jan-July 2022 but the numbers could be higher.

Griffiths opined that the current crisis had similarities with the 2011 famine, but the conditions today are far graver. A decade ago, the UN reported that nearly 260,000 people had died in the famine in Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012; of this, 133,000, or half the victims, were children below five. The famine, again, was predicted but not acted upon. The then UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia said that early warnings being issued during the 2010 drought did not lead to sufficient early action.

Today, a similar situation is unfolding.

Famine in Somalia: Five reasons why

The following are factors contributing to the current crisis.

First, failed monsoons and droughts. The alert highlights that the areas likely to be impacted are agropastoral. This is worrisome, given that Somalia has experienced four consecutive failed monsoons since 2020, with March-May 2022 being the driest months on record. The World Meteorological Organisation predicts that the upcoming October-December would also fail. The Horn of Africa is also predicted to undergo increased chances of below-average rainfall in early 2023, prolonging the drought and its impacts in 2023. Apart from crop failures, droughts have also impacted livestock; Relief Web outlines that between mid-2021 and June 2022, more than three million livestock died due to starvation, leaving pastoral communities with fewer saleable animals and dependent on purchasing food.

Second, the irregular levels of assistance. Assistance have not kept pace with the scale and severity of needs amid a two-year drought, protracted conflict, and record-high staple food prices. Only recently the UN secured 70 per cent of its USD 1.46 billion appeal, a sudden increase from the 18 per cent secured in June. But aid agencies believe the response to the appeal was too late. This is similar to the 2011 situation wherein the US relaxed sanctions on Somalia only after a famine was declared, for easier humanitarian access.

Third, militant actors and hindered access to impacted areas. One of the main challenges faced by humanitarian workers is al Shabab and the areas it controls. In early sept, the terrorist group killed 20 people and set fire to seven trucks carrying food supplies in Hiran region. The New Humanitarian cites UN estimates that at least 900,000 people live in places controlled by Al Shabab which tries to hinder aid workers and their relief measures, especially if they Western links. Oftentimes, the group taxes NGOs before letting them access the population in need of aid.

Fourth, instable governance. Between 2011 and 2022, Somalia faced multiple food security crises and a famine that was nearly averted in 2017. Simultaneously, the country also witnessed several political crises and corruption, the latest being the elections that were delayed after former President Mohamad Farmaajo refused to step down after his term ended in early 2021. This indicates that multiple governments have not been able to address the issue.

Five, the war in Ukraine. Somalia imports 90 per cent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. However, the war has led to staggered imports at high prices, leading to shortage of the same in Somalia. Further, the onset of the war had diverted the aid funds to Ukraine. In June, the UNICEF urged the world to widen its gaze from Ukraine to prevent a famine in Somalia, warning of an explosion of child deaths if the world failed to do the same.

The way forward

First, looking beyond droughts as a cause. Famine may have natural triggers but are prolonged by the failure of governments and humanity. Citing droughts or failed monsoons as the cause for the famine is an easier alternative than holding the government or international community accountable. The unfavourable environmental conditions are not limited to Somalia. Other countries like Ethiopia and Kenya are also undergoing severe droughts but have managed to avert the famine stage.

Second, addressing political differences to mitigate a humanitarian crisis. The current situation may have been mitigated had the government prioritised the crisis instead of being engaged in multiple powerplays. al Shabab, often considered an alternative to local governance bodies by the local population, would have ensured that aid, in cash or kind, reached the beneficiaries. Instead, the terrorist organisation perpetuated its bias against the West and kept the people starved of aid.

Third, negotiating with al Shabab. The government and al Shabab may also need to be open to negotiations to frame measures where the Somali population remains unaffected amid the conflict between the two parties.


21 September – 10 October

By Anu Maria Joseph and Apoorva Sudhakar


Anti-government protests over rising food prices

On 26 September, anti-government protests took place in multiple suburbs of the capital city Tunis. The protesters criticized President Kais Saied for failing to tackle the inflation and rising food prices. In a district in the outskirts of Tunis, police used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators who were blocking the roads. The protests were triggered after a local man died by suicide, after allegedly being harassed by the police for selling fruit without permission. (Tunisians protest against high food prices, BBC, 26 September 2022)


At least five died during clashes 

On 26 September, the Defense Post reported, a security source said at least five people were killed and 13 wounded in western Libyan town of Zaouia during a clash between rival forces. The fighting broke out between the group linked to the defense ministry and the other to the interior ministry after a member of one group was killed by the other over a fuel smuggling dispute, which is common in the region. The country has been going through a political crisis amid the clashes between the rival prime ministers Abdulhamid Dbeibah and Fathi Bashagha. (“Five Dead in Western Libya Clashes,” Defense Post, 26 September 2022) 


Amnesty International accuses Egypt of “stifling freedoms” ahead of the next COP27

On 21 September, weeks before the opening of the UN World Climate Conference (COP27) in Egypt, Amnesty accused the Egyptian authorities of “continuing to stifle freedoms”. This comes at the backdrop of the 2021 controversial launching of national strategy for human rights by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi which insists that education, health and electricity are more necessary rights than the right to assemble. The Secretary General of Amnesty International accused the authorities of using this strategy “ to cover up their continuing human rights violations, thinking they can fool the world before COP27” and called on the international community to “put pressure on the Egyptian authorities” to end abuses and impunity starting with the release of critics and opponents who were arbitrarily detained in Egyptian prisons. (“Amnesty accuses Egypt of “stifling freedoms” ahead of COP27,” Africanews, 21 September 2022)


UN Secretary General seeks report on sexual abuse allegations in UN-run camp

On 22 September, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an urgent report on the revelations of sexual abuse by aid workers in a UN camp in South Sudan. The allegations were revealed by an investigation by Al Jazeera and The New Humanitarian wherein survivors recalled experiences of abuse, including rape of minors, at the hands of aid workers from the World Food Programme, World Vision, International Organization of Migration, and Doctors without Borders (MSF) agencies. Guterres’s spokesperson said: “The Secretary-General is appalled by these allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse which causes irreparable harm to victims and their families.” (“UN boss seeks ‘urgent report’ after S Sudan sex abuse allegations,” Al Jazeera, 22 September 2022)

Rape so common, women no longer bothered, says UN

On 23 September, a United Nations human rights team said rape has become common in South Sudan that women are no longer bothered to report repeated sexual abuses. Besides, the victims lack access to medical and trauma care, including those who have been gang raped multiple times. Yasmin Sooka, the chairperson of the team said: “Just imagine what it means to be raped by multiple armed men, pick yourself up for the sake of your children and then for it to happen again and again and again.” The team is participating in meetings at the UN General Assembly to speak about the situation in South Sudan. (South Sudan rape so common women do not report it - UN, BBC, 23 September 2022)


Government rejects UN report on Tigray

On 21 September, BBC reported Ethiopia’s rejection of a UN commission report which claimed that Ethiopia’s national army had carried out large-scale killings in Tigray. Ethiopia dismissed the claims terming the report “incomplete, incoherent and unsubstantiated,” and said it was released with an intention to demonise Ethiopia. The government further said the report was “a manifestly political statement issued under the guise of an investigation report.” (“Ethiopia rejects UN report on Tigray atrocities,” BBC, 21 September 2022)

At least six killed in airstrikes in Tigray

On 30 September, BBC reported, an aid worker said at least six people were killed in airstrikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The TPLF has accused the Eritrean forces of carrying out the attack. The Eritrean government which is accused of fighting alongside the Ethiopian soldiers has not responded to the allegations. The Tigrayan authorities said air strikes were carried out “repeatedly” and destroyed many houses. The previous week, satellite images by a US company showed troops and heavy artillery were mobilizing along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. ("Fresh air strikes kill civilians in Ethiopia's Tigray," BBC, 30 September 2022) 

EU criticises movement of Eritrean troops into Tigray

On 22 September, BBC reported EU's criticism of the alleged movement of Eritrean troops across the Ethiopian border into Tigray. The EU foreign affairs chief called on all parties to forget military solutions and instead join efforts to benefit all populations. On 20 September, a spokesperson from Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said the Eritrean troops launched a full-scale offensive in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. He said: “Eritrea is deploying its entire army as well as reservists. Our forces are heroically defending their positions.” Previously, on 20 September, the US envoy had condemned the fighting and the Eritrean fighters’ crossing into Tigray, after the region’s spokesperson claimed that Eritrean forces were fighting alongside Ethiopian forces in Tigray. The US envoy to the region, Mike Hammer said: “They’re extremely concerned and we condemn it. The presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia only serves to complicate matters, and inflame an already tragic situation.” Both the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments have not yet commented on the accusations. (“EU criticises Eritrea's reported offensive in Tigray,” BBC, 22 September 2022, (“Eritrea starts big offensive in Ethiopia's Tigray region - TPLF,” BBC, 20 September 2022)


East African court upholds Maasai eviction

On 30 September, a East African regional court dismissed the case by the Maasai community against the Tanzanian government evicting them from their ancestral land. The East African Court of Justice upheld the government's decision to protect 1,500 square kilometers of land in the Ngorongoro conservation area around Serengeti National Park. The court said the Maasai community failed to prove that the eviction took place outside the park and doesn’t have evidence of violence and brutality during the evictions. The government says that population growth among the Maasai community is disturbing the wildlife. ("East African court upholds controversial Maasai evictions," BBC, 30 September 2022) 


At least 19 killed in farmer-herder fighting

On 21 September, Reuters reported a government spokesperson’s announcement that at least 19 people were killed and over 20 injured in clashes between nomadic herders and sedentary farmers in the southern Chad’s Moyen-Chari region. The news report explained that such clashes are common wherein the farmers accuse the herders of grazing animals on the latter’s lands.  The latest fighting took place across five villages over three days. (“At least 19 killed in south Chad in clashes between farmers, herders,” Reuters, 21 September 2022)

Opposition criticises Deby's appointment as President

On 10 October, General Mahamat Deby was sworn in as the president after a new 24-month transition period was approved in a national dialogue with various rebel groups. Deby would remain in power until October 2024 and will also contest the next elections. The dialogue faced several challenges including a boycott by opposition parties and rebels. The deputy leader of opposition party Les Transformateurs, threatening to establish a parallel government, said Deby's role as president was a case of democratic regression. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Albert Pahimi Padacke resigned from his position as Deby is expected to appoint someone new for the position. (“Chad appoints opposition leader, Kebzabo, as new PM,” Africanews, 10 October 2022)


27 Al Shabab fighters killed in US airstrike

On 21 September, the US military said 27 Al Shabab fighters had been killed in an air strike in the Hiran region. The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) said the deceased were militants attempting to overthrow the West-backed government in Somalia and implement stricter Islamic law. Reuters quoted from the AFRICOM statement: “The defensive strikes allowed the Somali National Army and African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) forces to regain the initiative and continue the operation to disrupt al Shabaab in the Hiraan region of central Somalia.” (“U.S. says it kills 27 al Shabaab militants in Somalia air strike,” Reuters, 22 September 2022)

Suicide bombing kills one soldier

On 25 September, Al Jazeera reported, one soldier was killed and six others wounded in a suicide bombing at a military base near the capital Mogadishu. It is not yet clear who is responsible for the attack. However, al Shabab frequently carries out attacks in the region. Al Shabab has been fighting Somalia’s government trying to establish its own rule. (One killed in suicide bombing in Somalia capital, Al Jazeera, 25 September 2022)


Ebola cases rise, 23 deaths, says WHO

On 27 September, the World Health Organization said 23 people died after the declaration of the Ebola Sudan strain outbreak in Uganda. Uganda is speculated to have 36 Ebola cases - 18 confirmed and 18 probable cases. The outbreak has now spread to three districts in central Uganda, raising a fear of further spread. The Health Ministry said: “The Ministry of Health Rapid Response Teams remain on ground to the confirmed cases.” East African countries have issued alerts following the announcement of the outbreak. The WHO says the Ebola Sudan strain has a lower fatality rate than Ebola Zaire, a strain that killed 2,300 in Democratic Republic of Congo between 2018 and 2020. (“Uganda Ebola cases rise amid 23 deaths - WHO,” BBC, 27 September 2022)


Catastrophic health crisis, says MSF

On 27 September, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), an international medical charity agency said there is a catastrophic health crisis in north-western Nigeria. It said an extraordinarily large number of children are suffering from acute malnutrition. It added, in 2022 alone, the group has treated nearly 100,000 children where 17,000 required hospital care. The humanitarian response towards the region had been poor, with greater attention is given to north-eastern Nigeria which has been going through a long-running Islamist insurgency. (Nigeria facing health crisis - MSF, BBC, 27 September 2022)


Ruling military in Guinea attacks ECOWAS president

On 22 September, the ruling military in Guinea launches a violent attack on the current president of ECOWAS ahead of a summit of the organization after the military accused the president of practicing “clown diplomacy”. Secretary General of the transitional presidency Col Amara Camara said: “The crude lie and the remarks which are similar to intimidation are nowadays retrograde practices which do not honor its author and tarnish at the same time the brand image of ECOWAS. We cannot bear this shame.” This retaliation came after the current President Umaro Sissoco Embalo warned the military openly about facing “heavy sanctions” if the military persisted on staying in power for three years publicly to French media RFI and France24. He reaffirmed that during a visit to Guinea he reached an agreement with the military to hand over power to elected civilians after two years, which Colonel Camara claimed to be a “lie”. (“Guinea junta launches attack on ECOWAS president,” Africanews, 22 September 2022)


Prime Minister says it will not respect ECOWAS sanctions on Guinea

On 28 September, the interim prime minister said Mali does not respect and will not apply sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS on Guinea over last year's coup. The previous week the ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Guinea's military government for delaying elections and a democratic transition after seizing power last year. The sanctions included freezing military government official's financial assets and a travel ban to other countries in the region. Mali's interim prime minister, Abdoulaye Maiga said: "Taking into account the solidarity and fraternity between Mali and Guinea, the transitional government has decided to break away from all illegal, inhumane and illegitimate sanctions imposed on (Guinea) and will take no action on them." (“Mali says it will not respect regional sanctions on Guinea,” Reuters, 28 September 2022)


Army captain overthrows coup leader Damiba

On 30 September, army captain Ibrahim Traore declared the overthrow of Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba who had led the military coup in January. Traore justified the decision claiming that Damiba was unsuccessful in addressing the Islamist insurgency in Burkina Faso. Traore further announced the closure of borders and suspension of political activities. The African Union and the Economic Community of West African States condemned the development, terming it unconstitutional. The development comes after 11 soldiers were killed in an attack on a convoy in the country's north on 26 September. (George Wright, “Burkina Faso unrest: Military officers remove leader Damiba," BBC, 30 September 2022, "Burkina Faso: Military officers remove President Damiba in a coup," Al Jazeera, 30 September 2022) 


Opposition wins the legislative elections

On 27 September, the National Electoral Commission’s (CEN) preliminary data showed the Independent Democratic Action (ADI), the opposition party, led by former Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada, won the legislative elections in Sao Tome and Principe. According to the CEN data, the ADI won the elections with a total of 36,549 votes. The Movement for the Liberation of Sao Tome and Principe\Social Democratic Party (MLSTP\PSD) led by the current Prime Minister Jorge Bom Jesus came second with 25,531 votes. Patrice Trovoada, the former Prime Minister and the leader of ADI claimed the victory with majority seats, announcing that he will head the government. (Sao Tome opposition wins legislative vote, Africanews, 27 September 2022)


Mozambique, Tanzania signs defense and security agreements to terrorism

On 22 September, the leaders of Mozambique and Tanzania jointly signed defense and security agreements aimed at fighting terrorism and crime along their shared borders. This agreement comes five years after a deadly insurgency broke out in northern Mozambique near the Tanzanian border, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of people. However, there has been the return to normalcy since then as life “is gradually returning to normal” after thousands of foreign troops from several African countries were deployed more than a year ago to quell unrest as said by the Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. During his visit to Tanzania, he visited the recovered port of Mocimboa da Paria, which was the de facto Jihadist Headquarters to hint at mounting counter-terrorism efforts to be undertaken jointly by the nations. (“Mozambique, Tanzania reach deal to fight terrorism,” Africanews, 24 September 2022)


Global Fund raises $14.25 billion to end HIV, TB and malaria in Africa

On 22 September, The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria raised USD 14.25 billion at a donor conference. It was the highest amount ever pledged for a multilateral health organization but fell from the goal of USD 18 billion after Italy and United Kingdom said their announcements would come later. The donor conference was held in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron who spoke at the public health partnership’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, together with leaders from US, Japan, Germany, Canada and the EU to announce new commitments to combat the diseases. He said: “I am happy to announce that we will allocate an additional 300 million euros to the Global Fund over the three years, which means that we will invest almost 1.6 billion euros between 2023 and 2025.” He further vowed to “continue our flight to lower the price of drugs” by investing 250 million euros over three years in international drug purchasing organization UNITAID. Due to the efforts of the organization the tuberculosis mortality rate fell by 21 per cent and that of malaria by 29 per cent over the years in the African continent. (“Global Fund raises $14.25 billion to end HIV, TB and malaria,” Africanews, 22 September 2022)

Ukraine foreign minister begins Africa tour 

On 4 October, Ukraine Foreign Affairs Minister, Dmytro Kuleba visited Senegal as part of his African tour. Kuleba met with Senegal’s Foreign Minister Aissata Tall Sall and signed several bilateral cooperation deals. Kuleba is said to be on a counteroffensive tour in Africa after Russia’s Sergei Lavrov visited the continent in July. Next year, Russia plans to host the second Russia -Africa summit in Ethiopia. (“Ukraine foreign minister begins Africa tour in Senegal,” BBC, 4 October 2022)

Half of the world’s terror victims in Africa, says UN official

On 6 October, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime told the UNSC that Africa is witnessing an increased threat of terrorism with millions being deprived of their livelihood due to illegal trafficking. The UN official said that nearly 3,500 victims of terrorism, or half of the victims worldwide, were in sub-Saharan Africa, outlining that the Sahel was “home to some of the most active and deadly terrorist groups.” The UN official said “illegal exploitation of precious metals and minerals” was an income for extremists, and therefore, fuelling extremist groups. She said: “We have established that illegally mined gold and other precious metals are being fed into the legitimate market, providing huge profits for traffickers.” (“Nearly half of world’s terror victims are African, with organised crime increasingly entrenched,” UN News, 6 October 2022)

About the authors

Apoorva Sudhakar is a Research Associate at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS.

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