Thursday, December 15, 2011Trade stopped months ago when Kenyan soldiers came here in pursuit of
al-Qaida-linked militants. Now thousands of unsold bags of charcoal are
stacked 15 high, and fishermen are prohibited from going too far from
the white sand shore.
That has left Somalis in this small seaside town dependent on
handouts from the Kenyan military, which again asked aid agencies to
step in during a rare food distribution Wednesday.
The Kenyans clearly realize that the ultimate success of their
mission in Somalia depends on improving the lives of residents. But
equally clear is that they did not plan on having to do it all
“Unless the humanitarians can help these people now, it might jeopardize our operation,” Maj. Solomon Wandege said.
sent troops into Somalia last October after a string of kidnappings and
attacks on Kenyan soil. Yet what was originally touted as a punitive
raid has become a long-term military commitment.
worried for years that insecurity in the failed state of Somalia would
spill across into northern Kenya. They used the kidnappings as a reason
to cross the border and advance into al-Shabab territory alongside a
Somali militia the Kenyans had largely trained and recruited.
Rains, or politics, quickly stopped their advance and for now Bur Garbo is as far as they have pushed along the coast.
in this town of mud and stick houses earn a little cash fishing or
selling charcoal to Arab traders at around $2 a bag.
Now the Arab
dhows have been replaced by Kenyan navy boats and the fishermen are not
allowed to go too far from shore. Al-Shabab insurgents are waiting just
across a creek, and the Kenyans are wary of boats going too far out.
Wandege said they have exchanged fire perhaps 10 times in the two months
that he has been in charge of the town.
On Wednesday, the Kenyan
soldiers unloaded dozens of bags of rice and tea, and women came forward
with plastic bags to collect some rations. A fighter from the
pro-government Somali militia sifted through the bags, picking large
clumps of mold out of one and throwing it on the ground.
(food) came from Kismayo, but now there is no boats,” explained town
elder Abdullahi Omar Bulgas, as his associates nodded their henna-red
beards around him. “It was worse, but now it is more worse.”
Kenyan soldiers expressed their frustration that international aid
agencies were not quicker to move into areas declared to be safe. The
need is immediate and overwhelming, and the Kenyan military is not
equipped to cope.
However, the head of the United Nations’ Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for Somalia said it’s not
their job to go in after military operations.
“We’re not in the
business of winning hearts and minds,” Kiki Gbeho said. “We assess and
the most vulnerable is who we target. Sometimes we have to make hard
choices but that’s the job.”
When a Kenyan army medic began seeing
a few patients in a dilapidated house whose crumbling walls were slowly
caving in, the area was rapidly swamped with scores of would-be
“I have never seen a doctor in this place,” said
27-year-old Sokorey Ahmed as she jiggled a sleeping, sweaty infant
against her chest and used the other arm to press against a sore
stomach. “I can never remember seeing one.”
She would only have been 7 years old when Somalia’s last central government dissolved into bloody clan warfare.
“We don’t even have enough malaria medicine to give these people.
Sometimes we go to their house secretly to give medicine instead of
being here because then they all come,” said Wandege as he looked over
the robe-clad women and children lilted up patiently in the sun.
“It is a real headache for us. Let’s move from here. They are going to think we can help them.”