The World Food Program (WFP), one of the U.N.’s biggest aid agencies, has a very nasty history in Somalia.
Back in 2006 just as Somali farmers brought their grain harvest to market, the WFP began the distribution of its entire years grain aid for Somalia. With thousands of tons of free grain available Somali farmers found it almost impossible to sell their harvest and faced disaster.
Thousands of angry Somali farmers gathered at WFP distribution centers across Somalia to protest, sometimes violently. In an attempt to calm matters the WFP promised an investigation which in due course announced that yes the WFP had done the Somali farmers wrong and promised they wouldn’t do it again.
Then in 2007 just as the Somali grain harvest began to arrive in local markets the WFP once again distributed its entire years grain aid, only this time with the Ethiopian army there to protect it. With a four year long on and off again drought since afflicting most of Somalia you could say the WFP helped put the nail in the coffin of Somali agriculture.
Small wonder then why the Somali resistance, “The Youth”, Al Shabab, has since kicked the WFP out of most of southern Somalia that they control. It was only a couple of months ago that the WFP had cut by 70 per cent the minimum survival food rations for the one million or more Somali refugees it had been feeding due to a “funding shortfall,” yet today they would have us believe that they are desperately concerned for the survival of the Somali people suffering from the drought.
The WFP is one of the very few aid agencies allowed to operate in the Ogaden next door to Somalia in Ethiopia. They run a few “show case” distribution centers and have provided little or no aid for four years to over 90 per cent of the Ogaden suffering from the “The Great Horn of Africa Drought”, the worst in 60 years. This is also the area where the Ethiopian government is fighting a decade long counterinsurgency against the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). The WFP’s cooperation in withholding food aid from the areas where the guerilla fighters operate is part of a classic counterinsurgency strategy, “if you can’t catch the fish, drain the lake”.
A couple of months ago a WFP team in the Ogaden was returning to their base and made the mistake of taking a short cut off of the Ethiopian-approved travel routes and came across an Ethiopian paramilitary unit carrying out their everyday practice of burning, looting, murder and mayhem in a village accused of being supporters of the ONLF. Apparently they tried to turn around but it was too late and the Ethiopian death squad opened fire, killing some of the WFP team and wounding the others. The wounded were trucked off to the local Ethiopian garrison town and thrown into the prison there.
Almost at once the Ethiopians announced that ONLF “terrorists” had “ambushed” the WFP team, “murdered” some, taken the rest “hostages” and that the Ethiopian military was in hot pursuit.
Two days later the ONLF launched an attack on the military base and prison holding the WFP captives and freed them and the other political prisoners detained there.
The Ethiopian military immediately brought in helicopter gun ships to pursue the ONLF and the freed prisoners but were unsuccessful and the WFP staff managed to make it to safety.
The ONLF subsequently delivered the freed hostages to the WFP expecting the truth of the incident to be told and the real criminals to be exposed.
To this day the WFP has remained silent about the details of the incident and has not condemned the murder of their staff by the Ethiopian paramilitary death squads. The freed staff’s families live in areas controlled by the Ethiopians. The message to many burnt villages, to many slaughtered families, keep ones mouth shut or your loved ones will meet the same fate. How would the world even know if you spoke out and your family was murdered, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and just about all the other aid agencies besides the WFP having been kicked out of the Ogaden. End of story.
While some 10 million Somalis living in the Ogaden in Ethiopia are the victims of a drought and food aid blockade the WFP remains silent, complicit in genocide.
World Food Program, angle of mercy or angel of death? You be the judge.
Thomas C. Mountain is the only independent western journalist in the Horn of Africa, living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org