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Reflecting on the International Committee of the Red Cross and South Africa’s humanitarian role in Somalia

SikhumbuzoThe Southern African Liaison Office (SALO) recently hosted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) at an open dialogue reflecting on their humanitarian experiences in Somalia. The ICRC has maintained a humanitarian presence in Somalia since 1982. However, since 1994, its humanitarian delegation has been based in Nairobi, Kenya due to the escalation of the civil conflict. The ICRC has also worked with the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS) in attempts to implement many of its humanitarian activities inside Somalia.

South Africa as an emerging power in the global south and a key state player in Africa has also been moderately engaged with Somalia, in attempts to strengthen its regional influence but also to provide humanitarian assistance that aims at nation building in Somalia. Accordingly, this blog arises from a SALO Dialogue with the ICRC and DIRCO and seeks to reflect on the key outcomes of that dialogue.

The ICRC’s international humanitarian mission primarily focuses on providing emergency aid and protection to people affected by armed conflicts. It also assist in the reconstruction of countries after an armed conflict. It runs extensive first aid, medical and basic health care programmes and also supports humanitarian projects that seek to help restore or improve livelihoods in communities weakened by crises. In addition, the ICRC also visits detainees of civil conflicts and undertakes to promote and strengthen respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL), primarily the protection of civilian and medical staff and infrastructure in situations of armed conflicts. It also assist in the reconstruction processes of states post-conflicts (ICRC, 12 April: 2016).

In the case of Somalia, the ICRC’s work is founded on the principles of international humanitarian intervention and thereby focuses almost entirely on humanitarian issues including natural disasters and humanitarian legal issues facing the Somali state. In a report released in 2012, ICRC noted that 450,000 farmers and pastoralists from all over Somalia had benefited from projects that were intended at promoting community self-sustainability (ICRC,13August:2013). Moreover, the principles of the ICRC’s humanitarian intervention are neutrality, independence, impartiality and confidentiality. In this way the ICRC engages in dialogue with all concerned parties in the Somali humanitarian crisis namely; the Somali government, armed militias and Al-Shabaab, which constitute the gravest threat to its humanitarian operations because some areas where ICRC operates are under the influence and control of Al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliated organization.

The Somali conflict is essentially a protracted conflict because for almost 20 years of civil war the country has fallen prey to war and its consequences and the situation has led to half a million deaths and close to a million refugees. The situation has been made worse by Al-Shabaab activities which continue to cause serious threats to stability and security concerns not only inside Somalia but also throughout the East Africa region (ICRC, 12 April: 2016). In addition to Al-Shabaab, frequent changes in the Somali government due to hostilities between the president and the prime-minister make it difficult for donor countries and non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) to conduct humanitarian operations as a result of leadership instability.

Hence, on the ground Somalia has typically been classified by the international community and the ICRC as a failed state because it has been without a functioning government for almost two decades with rival Islamic militias battling for control of the capital (Hoges, 2010). From this stance, the role of the ICRC inside Somalia has included assisting people affected by the on-going instability to make daily ends meet by providing them with the means of survival such as tools for connecting water, irrigation schemes and other cash-for-work infrastructure projects that aim at reducing local farmers’ vulnerability to extreme weather patterns. The ICRC also assists in the distribution of food aid and medical staff. Moreover, the ICRC, drawing from the principles of International Humanitarian Law provides training to the Somali civilian police and army. It also provides humanitarian support to the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS) (Jordi Raich, 12 April: 2016).

Turning our attention to South Africa’s humanitarian engagement with Somalia, one might note that South Africa first established humanitarian relations with Somalia in 2012. In this regard, South Africa has committed itself to capacity building in Somalia and has thus introduced in collaboration with the Somali government, the South Africa-Somali Assisted Project which is influenced by security issues and fears within Somalia (Ivan Vosloo, 12 April: 2016). It emerged in the dialogue that South Africa plans to reactivate this project in order to assist with constitutional review programmes for Somalia. South Africa has also committed itself to improving the role of women in Somalia by engaging and including them in dialogues that aim at nation building and in addressing the daily issues facing women inside Somalia.

In terms of governance within Somalia, the spokesperson for DIRCO said that South Africa supports federalism in Somalia and seeks to train officials on good governance and reconciliation. In addition, South Africa seeks to create a resource advisory service centre in Somalia in order to help assist in the training of local civilians. It also promotes information sharing and gathering between the two countries. All in all, given the estimated numbers that more than 40 000 Somali civilians live in South Africa, the country is committed to continued support and response to the demands of Somalia (Ivan Vosloo, 12 April, 2016).


Mr. Sikhumbuzo Zondi is a DST-NRF research intern at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA. The views expressed are his own, unless stated otherwise.

Bibliography
Hoges, Clemens, 18 May, 2010, Somalia the Perfect Failed State.
ICRC APPEALS, 2016: OPERATIONS.
ICRC, 13August:2013, The ICRC in Somalia Overview.
Raich, Jordi, 12 April, 2016, Head of Delegation for Somalia, ICRC.
Vosloo, Ivan, 12 April, 2016, Horn of Africa, Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO).

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