US Patriot Act kept Somalia starving
When war-torn Somalia was ravaged by a drought-induced famine last year, which killed tens of thousands and displaced over a million people, international media was quick to blame the Islamist Al-Shabaab for blocking humanitarian assistance from reaching its zone of control in southern Somalia.
But according to Ken Menkhaus, professor of Political Science at Davidson College in North Carolina, the United States’ counter-terrorism laws played an equally central role in obstructing assistance from reaching famine victims in desperate need of aid. Menkhaus said humanitarian organizations suspended food aid delivery to drought- struck areas controlled by Al-Shabaab for fear of violating the USA Patriot Act.
Congress passed the Act in 2001 as part of its response to the Setp. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and under it, anyone who provides material benefits, even if unwittingly, to a designated terrorist group, could face the most severe penalties.
Given that Al-Shabaab is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., humanitarian groups were fearful that an accusation of ‘aiding terrorists’ could damage their entire organization. Thus many reached the conclusion that they were too vulnerable to operate in Al-Shabaab-controlled areas.
The U.S. could have issued a waiver, protecting relief agencies from counter-terrorism laws; similar waivers have been issued for relief agencies in southern Lebanon and the West Bank of the occupied Palestinian territories, where Hezbollah and Hamas operate respectively. But in the case of Somalia, Menkhaus believes the U.S. administration did not want to give its Republican opponents any political leverage on the eve of upcoming presidential elections by appearing too “soft on terrorism”.