Last weekend, Al-Shabaab, an extremist Islamic group from southern Somalia, withdrew its forces from the capital city of Mogadishu. While this development is crucial to the endeavours of the country's Transitional Federal Government and international aid workers alike, it is too soon for Somalia to declare complete victory over the violent religious faction.
Al-Shabaab continues to maintain tight control over the economy of southern Somalia. It is estimated Al-Shabaab's income is between US $70 million and $100 million, comprised of tax revenues and extortion in the region.
Furthermore, due to the often corrupt nature of the TFG itself, many of Somalia's wealthy often prefer to invest and engage in commerce with Al-Shabaab. This is despite the fact that the TFG has been supported by millions of dollars in American economic aid. America's investment in Somali "democratic" government has thus been to little avail as its branches and factions are corrupt and divided.
In light of the famine currently decimating the Horn of Africa, the TFG has been rendered totally unprepared to affect the positive change in well-being that the African nation's nine million residents so desperately need.
At this point, World Vision and other aid charity commercials have taught us that this is where NGOs and international non-profit organizations are to pad quietly onto the stage of world politics. North Americans and Europeans are encouraged to give generously to fund the basic needs of developing-world citizens whose systems of governance are in crisis.
And rightly so-- because of such aid, from private sources and governments alike, the UN and the US Agency for International Development have been able to provide temporary shelter and sustenance for the 100,000 Somalis who have flooded the capital in the past week.
The 2.2 million citizens in need in the centre and south of Somalia, where Al-Shabaab continues to have the most influence, are at a disadvantage, to say the least. An economy exists (at least in theory) to produce what people need and give it to the people who ask for it.
But as long as international aid workers fear venturing to the south for fear of aid diversion at best or violent retribution at worst, especially in a region where the economy is in the hands of a tyrannical few who intend to use any material resource available to advance their own political means, the economic system of distribution needed to effectively administer aid in a country stricken with famine fails to exist. Couple that with a government paralyzed by corruption and limited by its temporary nature, southern Somalis will continue suffering.
International aid organizations need not enter quietly into the "performance" that is international politics. They can charge into the scene with a protagonist's assertion to drive governmental corruption offstage. But in order for international aid to be able to even take a step towards mitigating the effects of famine in Somalia, opposition to the alleviation of hunger, whether it be in the likeness of people or infrastructure, needs to be eradicated -- or at least managed.
If the political actors with which NGOs share the stage continue to remain hidden in shadows of corruption and inefficiency, the swift departure of an extremist group or two means nothing. Al-Shabaab's exit may have signaled the end of a scene, but the successful alleviation of poverty in Somalia is what will conclude the performance.