Relief SCENE:Drought
Aid For Sale
Looted, Stolen and Re-Sold Food Widely Available in Mogadishu
By MOHAMED ODOWA 09/14/2011
WFP maize in a Mogadishu warehouse
©Somalia Report
WFP maize in a Mogadishu warehouse

As humanitarian aid flows into Somalia in increasing quantities to feed over three million people suffering the effects of a famine that the UN says has killed tens of thousands, allegations of widespread aid diversion have been rife.

Local militias and government soldiers have raided camps, killing Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as they make off with food aid, and World Food Programme contractors have faced accusations of skimming maize off the top for sale on the local market, most notably in an article published last month by the Associated Press.

Somalia Report deployed a team of journalists to spend several weeks looking into the issue, which is particularly pertinent given that the UN and US sent a peacekeeping force into Somalia during the 1992 famine to secure aid being looted by warlords (a repeat of such actions is extremely unlikely).

Looting from camps

The direct theft of aid from camps is well-documented and impossible for the Transitional Federal Government to dispute. There have been over half-a-dozen cases of armed men, often in government uniform, shooting IDPs and stealing. The government claims that, for the most part, these looters are freelance militia or members of militant Islamist group al-Shabaab in uniform, although it has admitted to several cases where its own men were guilty.

“The government has a zero tolerance policy towards corruption or crimes against food aid. Several people have already been convicted and sentenced for looting in Bakara Market,” the government said in a statement after the AP story, also denying there was any evidence aid diversion was taking place on the scale AP journalist Katharine Houreld reported.

Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali announced the creation of a special force to protect aid deliveries and distribution in camps. According to IDPs, though, they are still not receiving any protection.

“We do not receive enough aid to feed our children even though it is widely seen and sold in the open market,” Abdiyow Aden, an IDP from Bakol region, living in Mogadishu’s Tawakal camp, told Somalia Report.

Early this week, IDPs in Waberi protested against militias stealing aid after a government soldier opened fire in the camp, killing more than ten people.

“The theft of aid is continuing more than before,” Mahad Mohamoud, an elderly man in the Waberi camp, told Somalia Report.

A foreman at a camp, who wished to remain anonymous, said that militia had been hired to protect camps, but they were the very people who had previously been stealing aid.

“The militias do not belong to a certain warlord - most are affiliated to clans dominating the area where the camp is located,” he told Somalia Report on condition of anonymity. “If you do not hire them, IDPs and aid are in danger.”

Camp administrators are also accused of getting in on the act. Another source in a camp said that up to half of ration cards intended for IDPs are withheld, and the aid sold on.

“I came here last week and got nothing,” Batulo Nasir, who said she left her two children dead by the road as she trekked to a camp in Hamar Jajab, told Somalia Report. “Some people who run the area told me they will help me but so far there is no action.”

Independent analyst Omar Abdulle says that the sheer scale of the hunger means that soldiers and camp leaders are being driven to steal aid, for personal use or sale.

“The troops’ families are also in need of food,” he told Somalia Report. “Even on the frontline, Somali military forces may loot food aid because of the scale of the humanitarian crises in the country.”

Alleged contractor theft

WFP contractors are also accused of diverting aid even before it reaches camps, with dozens of activists, IDPs and local traders lining up to deliver accusations, most of which cannot be verified. One of the most popular accusations is that a group of government and business individuals from the Warsangali sub-clan are operating under an umbrella called Warsan Star. Somalia Report was given a list of names of these people, and others, but is withholding it due to a lack of any real evidence of involvement.

The WFP says it has distributed over 13,000 metric tons of food to Somalia since July, with around 40,000 metric tons expected to be delivered in the coming months, to feed 1.9 million people. The AP believes a significant amount of this aid is being diverted before it reaches the intended recipients, a claim many local activists believe to be true, with some even saying over 50% of aid goes missing after it arrives in Mogadishu’s port on vessels that are escorted by the European Union’s anti-piracy naval force.

“Aid is stolen after its shipment from the port to the IDP camp,” Abdulahi Mohamed Osman, an activist and local aid coordinator, told Somalia Report.

Bille Abdi Hussein, a shopkeeper in the KM4 area, said traders were encouraged to profit from stolen aid.

“A few months ago a friend of mind, whom I do not want to name, came to me and informed me that if I had $15,000 I could make a booming business here in Mogadishu,” he told Somalia Report. “You have to go to WFP sub-contractors and their stock-keepers whenever they are in the capital. For example if you tell them you need to get 40 sacks of maize, then stock keepers may take the money from the dealer.”

Aden Qoley, aid coordinator at the interior ministry, told reporters in Mogadishu this week there is evidence food aid is not being managed properly.

“Instead of to IDPs, food aid goes into the hands of traders through irresponsible people,” he said, criticizing senior government officials for not tackling the problem.

Food aid is delivered to a store on Haw-Tako Road (shot taken secretly with mobile phone)
©Somalia Report
Food aid is delivered to a store on Haw-Tako Road (shot taken secretly with mobile phone)

Locations where aid is sold

What is clear is that aid is being sold in large quantities in stores around Mogadishu.

A Somalia Report correspondent observed aid being sold by local traders in Hamar Weyne and Hamar Jajab districts. Our correspondent witnessed three trucks carrying food aid marked with the WFP stamp arrive nearby the Afar-Irdod police station in Hamar Weyne. The food, consisting of 50-kilogram sacks of maize and five-liter containers of oil, was divided amongst four stores.

A businesswoman who requested to be called Sahra Yusuf told Somalia Report that the food was bought by Hamar Weyne traders from areas near the KM4 junction.

“Here, the buying and selling of food aid has never been secret,” she said. “It has been going on for years.”

Some key locations where aid is sold (non-exhaustive) follows:

A cluster of stores consisting of six wide rooms, next the Ex-UK Embassy building in Hamar Jajab district. It is close to the sea port, and locals say that shortly after vessels have delivered aid, five or six trucks turn up at the store laden with WFP aid. Businessmen in the area say one truck goes for $6-7,000.

Opposite Afar-Irdod police station in Hamar Weyne there are three stores. One is always open for the sale of WFP maize and oil. Abdi Karin, who rents the store space, says he can sell once sack of maize for $21.5. A container of cooking oil costs $30.5 in Hamar Weyne market.

On Haw-Tako road, also near the police station, there are two stores which store looted aid, next to Hotel Muno. More than 300 sacks of WFP food aid were seen on sale recently, according to a local businessman.

According to Hamar Weyne trader Ismail Hashi, it is easy to get your hands on stolen aid for a good price – particularly food looted from camps, which needs to be got rid of quickly. The aid normally changes hands under the cloak of darkness.

“It is for sale, it is open to everybody,” local businessman Muse told Somalia Report. “WFP sub-contractors, camp leaders and government administrators in Hamar Weyne are aware of this.”

The AP had this to say in its article:

The AP found eight sites where aid food was being sold in bulk and numerous smaller stores. Among the items being sold were corn, grain, and Plumpy'nut — a specially fortified peanut butter designed for starving children.

Security for the WFP convoys is provided by a mix of district authorities, transport contractors and the local NGOs who receive the aid. Monitoring for the WFP is carried out by PBI2, and other NGOs involved in the process carrying out their own monitoring.

Despite all these layers, aid is still being diverted, although WFP spokeswoman Challiss McDonough said that the only recorded case it had of theft was looting at a food distribution point on August 5, but said the organization treats “all and any allegations with the utmost seriousness and will deploy all means available to recover the losses and will hold those responsible to account.”

All contractors are thoroughly screened to ensure theft does not happen, she said.

“Since July 2011, WFP has begun again to work with seven former WFP cooperating partners in Mogadishu,” she told Somalia Report. “All partners are subject to strict screening to prove they have a history of providing the services required and the ability to perform the job specifications.”

A bag of locally produced maize goes for around $40, and many of those traders who do not engage in practice of selling food aid are angry, feeling it distorts the market.

“I’m feel bat that traders resell looted or stolen aid in the markets, because such business undermines not only the dignity of the other independent traders but the local economy,” Nuro Abdullahi Ahmed, a businesswoman based in Hamar Weyne district told Somalia Report.

IDPs, who often sell food aid, collect prepared maize
©Somalia Report
IDPs, who often sell food aid, collect prepared maize

Muddying the picture

Separating the aid that has been stolen and that which has been sold by IDPs can be difficult. Monetization of aid is a phenomenon that has been recorded in every area worldwide where aid has been distributed, and is driven by the needs of IDPs to buy basic goods not provided in food deliveries. Aid agencies accept this, although none of them will reveal their estimates of what percentage of aid gets onto markets in this manner.

“WFP has zero tolerance for any food misuse and takes all reports of our food for sale on markets very seriously but there are often legitimate and understandable reasons for some food being sold by beneficiaries,” said McDonough. “For example, a beneficiary may need to buy medicine or soap. WFP does not have a percentage for this but believes it to be very small indeed compared to the vast amount of food that reaches those in need of food assistance.”

For example, Somalia Report followed up on a tip that looted aid was delivered from a warehouse behind the Nasa Hablod hotel to markets in Seybiyano and Hamar Weyne, especially a shop called Geedi in Seybiyano. However, our correspondent found 20 sacks of maize for sale (at $21 each), which traders around the store saw they saw being sold to the store by individual IDPs looking to cash in.

Tony Burns, operations director for local NGO SAACID, which delivers wet food to IDPs through feeding kitchens in Mogadishu, said he believed the majority of the aid on the market was sold directly by IDPs, and that the scale was exaggerated. He believes less than 1% of aid is being diverted.

“There has always been a strong barter trade in donated food - families need more than food, so they sell some or all for cash to buy other goods and services,” he told Somalia Report. “Concomitantly, the marginalised in Somali society cannot secure food for long periods, as it will be looted by militias – so they sell food for cash, which can much more easily be hidden.”

“If people have to travel any distance to collect food, they will need to sell it, as they cannot risk it being stolen on the way home,” he added. “These reasons are much more likely for food to be in the markets than diversion.”

Burns said the amount of aid reaching the market from IDPs would shoot up in the coming months.

“If you think you have seen food in the markets now, wait for a few weeks,” he said. “The recipients of the WFP distributions in the coming weeks will sell a lot of what they receive.”

Specific allegations

SAACID was one of the organizations named in the AP report as being involved in the theft of aid. The AP cited eight businessmen as saying they bought food from WFP contractor, Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur, known as Enow. They also said that Enow’s wife, Khadija, was the head of SAACID, implying that he was using his contacts to get aid from the organization.

However, Enow has been suspended by WFP since early last year – his only contract is drilling boreholes for the AU peacekeeping mission - while Khadija has not been country director of SAACID since 1997. AP later issued a correction about Enow contracting for the WFP.

Khadija has not had any formal links with the organization - other than registering SACCID International in the US in 2008 and doing small-scale fundraising as a favor - since 1997, when she quit as country director, Burns said. Raha Janaqow has been country director since Khadija left.

Enow also issued a statement saying his company DEEQA Construction & Water Well Drilling Co. Ltd had not been involved with WFP since March 2010 and that the AP’s accusations the businessmen had paid money into his Dahabshiil account to secure stolen aid were untrue.

“The 'Mogadishu warehouse' operated by DEEQA (not mentioned in the AP story) is empty of food, and has been so for 16 months,” he said. “The allegation that I am selling WFP food from warehouses around the city is therefore baseless. Indeed, DEEQA's only warehouse in the Abdiaziz area of Mogadishu was destroyed during fighting in the city and looted - even its roof was taken. DEEQA does not have any other food warehouse in Mogadishu.”

Yet accusations against SAACID and Enow persist. The agency's name was mentioned by four traders Somalia Report spoke to, all of whom said there was a clan-based mafia linked with the aid agency running aid theft (which could suggest malicious rumors spread by rivals from other clans). The site behind Nasa Hablod hotel was mentioned in the AP report as one of the hotspots for stolen aid to be sold, but Burns says this and the other claims are nonsense.

Maize being prepared at SAACID warehouse
©Somalia Report
Maize being prepared at SAACID warehouse

The site behind Nasa Hablod is a grinding and milling site, where SAACID has a temporary warehouse for the milled corn meal, before it goes on to the kitchen sites, and the land does not belong to Enow, but the government, Burns said (the AP reported that Enow was selling aid from the warehouse, not that he owned it).

“The allegations have no substance at all,” he said. “Most of it is the recycled 2010 allegations that the UN has retracted. SAACID monitors our district partners, who implement the programme. DRC has monitors at all our sites and warehouses on a daily basis. WFP’s third-party monitors regularly visit our kitchen sites and warehouses.”

“How many layers on monitoring do you need to have to accept that the program is delivering the agreed outputs? If we were not delivering, the best indicator for diversion would be the recipients themselves," he said. "They would be demonstrating and making it abundantly clear to everyone that we were stealing food. “

Janaqow also rejected the accusations, saying she has no links whatsoever with Enow.

“I’m very disappointed with the AP story in which it was stated that SAACID has been involved in stolen food aid,” she told Somalia Report. “Such a story was not exhaustive, and shameful.”

SAACID gave Somalia Report full access to its warehouses, administration offices and feeding sites in Mogadishu, including its main warehouse and the second grinding warehouse behind the Nasa Hablod hotel. The storekeepers said they had over 21,000 sacks of maize and over 4,000 containers of cooking oil. The warehouse behind Nasa Hablod transports wet food to 16 sites across Mogadishu, and carries 2-3 days of stock.

Somalia Report, while admittedly on an accompanied and organized visit, saw no signs of irregularities. Equally, people living around the area were not able to provide any evidence, often confusing the movements of trucks carrying food aid along the road between the sea port and KM4 with trucks supposedly taking aid from the warehouse.

SAACID said companies with direct WFP deals were responsible for transporting both wet and dry maize, and that it had nothing to do with the movement of aid. SAACID signs a WFP Way Bill to confirm receipt of stock from companies, then hires independent truckers to take wet food to the feeding centers, it said. Our correspondent trailed several trucks, and once again was not able to find any hard evidence of aid theft.

Specific allegations were also made against Ahmed Makaran, Commissioner of Waberi district in Mogadishu, but he denied any wrongdoing.

“We are not involved in the corruption and stealing of food aid intended for the drought-stricken people; instead we support them and carry out nightly routine security patrols around the camps in our district,” he told Somalia Report.

We will not publish other names accused of wrongdoing due to a lack of evidence, and the refusal of those implicated to respond to the allegations.

Mohamed Shiil also contributed to this report