Thursday, November 17, 2011

Proliferation of NGOs and Competing Interests in Somalia

United Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesImage via Wikipedia
In areas of the world afflicted by clandestine warfare, the absence of effective and stable central governments empower non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to act at the sub-government level consequently emerging as a force to reckon with in the distribution of resources that include medical supplies, relief aids, and infrastructural developments. However, despite the contributions of these organizations, self-interest and competition have become the norm for many freewheeling NGOs devoid of accountability. A case in point is the impoverished, beleaguered, and war-ravaged nation of Somalia located in the Horn of Africa where the absence of an effective central government has been hampering the effective distribution of aid earmarked for regions beset by man-made and natural disasters that include civil war, disease, intra-clan fighting, piracy, drought, and locust invasions among other things. In Somalia, because the government has little presence in the country, NGOs have sprouted almost everywhere forming complex interactions that connect the public and private sector.

Somalia is located in a strategic area of the world making it a perfect spot for powers engaged in competing interests. The transmutation and collapse of the former Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War enabled the US and her allies to flex muscles. Since the collapse of the central government in 1991 when Major General Mohamed Siyad Barre was overthrown by a ragtag militia headed by General Mohamed Farah Aideed, this Horn of Africa nation has seen competing interests among foreign powers attracted to its strategic position. On the other hand, the rise of al-Shabab, a vicious theocratic extremist group with ties to al-Qaeda energized western nation’s resolve in the region. The West and the weak Somali government are for democratic governance and against al-Shabab emerging victor while al-Shabab and al-Qaeda want the establishment of a sultanate state governed by strict religious values.

Since western governments, the United Nations, and foreign-aid agencies cannot work directly in war-torn regions for fear of putting their employees in harms way, the only option is to let anyone willing to take the risk do the work for them (Mansbach & Rhodes, 2009). Too many people, including leaders of Somalia’s otiose federal government are reaping the fruits while many desperate civilians in need of food, water, and shelter continue to perish everyday. The European Union (EU) through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is responsible for the payment of wages for 550 members of Somalia’s parliament (UNDP, 2011).

Regardless of whether projects funded by western powers, the United Nations, and foreign-aid agencies succeed or not, changing trends in global politics since the end of the Cold War have opened many avenues for NGOs. Developed powers will do everything in their power to ensure their interests gain momentum even in the most hostile environments. NGOs of today relay their resources to major crisis spots of the world even before the arrival of the mighty cameras of CNN, ABC, NBC and other world news media (Mansbach & Rhodes, p. 216).

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the security situation in Somalia is so dire that the agency and its partners are taking advantage of every opportunity to deliver much needed aid to refugees and Internally Displaced Persons. Taking ‘advantage of every opportunity’ include NGOs who are willing to take the bullet. In an interview with a UN official regarding the proliferation of NGOs, Mansbach and Rhodes (2009) found that anybody can form an NGO these days without problems.

Competing interests in Somalia is multifaceted with one side being the US and her allies and partners, the Somali government assisted by the African Union troops known as AMISOM, fundamentalist al-Qaeda and its ally the al-Shabab extremist group, and the many NGOs working hard to making profit while delivering services. Competing interests and misappropriation of funds by NGOs will continue unabated for the foreseeable future in Somalia until the establishment of a stable government. In the case of Somalia, because NGOs are partners at the sub-government level, they will continue to provide the much-needed aid to some of the most affected parts of the country while in return pocketing considerable unaccounted for bounties.


Mansbach & Rhodes (2009). Global Politics in a Changing World, p. 216. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston. Retrieved from

UNHCR (2011). Country operations profile – Somalia. Retrieved from

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