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The blockade of Buloburte, a looming humanitarian catastrophe

by Hassan  Mao
Saturday, March 21, 2015

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After few years of fragile humanitarian improvement in Somalia, a mix of souring food prices, recurring drought and access constraints are having a tall on the people of Somalia, UNOCHA (2015). Nowhere else have those constraints been more evident than the strategic town of Buloburte which has been under stringentAlshabaab siege for the best part of the last 12 months. Bulo-burte, located 200 km north of Mogadishu has been one of the major strongholds of the militant group in Central Somalia. It’s also a strategic town, which links up several towns and regions in Central and Southern Somalia.In March 2014, after a brief fight lasting few hours in the outskirts of the town with the Djiboutian and the Somali National Army, Alshabaab abandoned their bases in the town, and the unsuspecting allied forces celebrated their liberation.

Fast-forward a year later. Now the town is in the midst of one of its worst humanitarian situation. Unlike the previous natural humanitarian crisis --common in the region -- this one is solely the making of both the poor judgment of Alshabaab and the ill-fated exertions of the Federal Somali government and their allies Amisom.  Since their ousting of the town, Alshabab hasn’t given up the town and carried out numerous attacks in the city including last year’s suicide car bomb that engulfed the lives of many government officials. Dissimilar to other towns in the hands of the government in the area, Alshabaab have pursued a blockade policy on Buloburte, in which they cut the two supply roots of the town (From Mogadishu and Beletweyne).

The rational behind Shabaab’s blockade on the town was said to force the allied forces into retreat and cut their supply roots, but as it turnout the allied forces with their superior resources had other options, that was use to use air supplies to their forces in the town. But the majority of the people living in the town don’t have the luxury of air supplies and have been trapped as a result. Officials in the town recently told some news outlets that vast amount of children in the town were malnourished (with some said to have starved) and the little food that eventually make into the town were five times the price of similar commodities elsewhere in the country. Out of desperate situation, a resident in the town said, they will happily have Alshabab back as long as the supply roots opened.

Recent report picture a glim reality on the ground and increasing desperation by the people with no supplies coming and the existing stocks running out. The people of Buloburte are mainly farmers and few herdsmen that wholly rely on the importation of essential commodities from Mogadishu and Beletweyne, they then export livestock and vegetables grown in the city and surrounding areas. But this once bustling trade has been halted by the siege of the town and residents turned into being dependent on ever-scarce handouts.

Who is to Blame?

The central government of Somalia, with the exception of few costly but limited breaks into siege, has been dormant on the issue of the blockade of Buloburte. The government since taking over the town hasn’t followed with credible local governance institutions. The AU mission on the ground can only liberate the town, but the subsequent institutional formation and implementation was down for the government in Mogadishu with the consultation and the blessing of the local community, apparently this hasn’t been done, with recent reports implicating the government appointed officials on corruption and the misappropriation of aid intended to the starving people of the town. The government (esp. the Ministry of interior), need to put things right where the previous process hasn’t succeeded.

It’s worth mentioning as well, local Shabaab operatives are assumed to be spearheading the blockade of the town with some of their families starving inside the town. Its clear to everyone that, if the intended blockade was to cut the supplies of the government forces and the AU mission, it hasn’t succeeded.  The allied forced have resorted to air to get their supplies from Mogadishu and Beletwyne. The only people suffering as a result of the blockade is the poor man on the streets, while both the Shabaab and the allied forces get their supplies uninterrupted.

Community leaders of Hiiraan inside the country and outside have also failed to propagate for the blockade to be lifted in Buloburte. In the noble Somali tradition, all the worrying parts respect traditional elders and throughout history whenever there have been challenges, people turned to the traditional elders for a solution.But in Hiiraan and Buloburte in particular, the voices of its prominent members have been largely silent throughout this blockade. Some parts of the country, traditional leaders have sat down with even Alshabab to find solutions for challenges like this, and if the central government (as in this case) is not forthcoming with amicable solutions, traditional leaders should find other alternatives to relief the situation and avoid unparalleled humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the town.

The Media: in an ideal situation, the private media (printed, broadcasted and Published) act as the fourth tier of governance. It brings attention to the hardships of voiceless and advocates for transparency. But in Somalia the media, though highly independent with their publications, are not vibrant in bringing key issues into the fore. Lacking bravery to break the siege and report on the perilous situation, the media has often been dormant with the Buloburte.

In summary, the situation of Buloburteis alarming and heading to a catstrophicstate.Thepeople of Buloburte are paying the price of a war that has nothing to do with them. The government that’s supposed to protect its people is failing them dearly, and Alshabab are not showing any mercy on the people they claim to fight on their behalf. The International community that’s happily bankrolling Amisom and the weak Mogadishu government are showing indifference to the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the town, while the media, the prominent members of the community and the traditional elders are all silent in the face of worsening humanitarian crisis. It’s the hope of this paper to raise the alarm of the plight of the people of Buloburte and create awareness that will lay the foundation on action been taken to improve the livelihood of the residents of the town and ultimately break the yearlong blockade.

Hassan  Mao
Researcher with Swedish International Development Agency:
Linkoping University
[email protected]


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