What's Happening Now: Somalia, Kakuma, and Dadaab Today
Conditions in Somalia have not improved since the onset of war in 1991. The advocacy group Refugees International issued a report in April 2008 that identifies Somalia as currently the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa. The civil war in Somalia disrupted more than just social and political life; agriculture and food distribution in the country were also destroyed, resulting in widespread famine. Starting in 1993, the United Nations and the United States organized various humanitarian and peacekeeping interventions in an attempt to restore both political and economic stability (operations known as UNOSOM I & II and UNITAF). Various leaders in Somalia saw these foreign interventions as possible threats to their power, however, and attacked troops until they withdrew. As a result, little in the humanitarian aid effort was accomplished.
As of today, Somalia has not yet succeeded in establishing a strong national government. The Transitional Federal Government, Somalia's internationally recognized government, published a founding charter in 2004. Despite foreign support, it has failed to win much national backing. One difficulty lies in the increasingly fractured state. Since 1992, clans and regions throughout Somalia have declared autonomy and demanded self-governance, making united support for the federal government extremely difficult. Jubbaland, which includes the Middle Jubba Valley, is one region which supports the TFG. Another barrier was the rise of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU, also UIC), a group seeking to establish Sharia law in Somalia which managed to bring stability to part of the country in 2006. Ethiopian concerns about an ICU government led to an Ethiopian invasion in support of the Transitional Government in late 2006. The ICU, in turn, resented what it saw as foreign intrusion and has blamed ongoing conflict on the Ethiopian presence in Somalia. The TFG has failed to re-establish rule of law since the fall of the UIC, and - having also largely failed to deliver on its promises of human rights and effective humanitarian aid - is widely seen as illegitimate by its own people. Instead, large-scale natural disasters (drought, the 2004 tsunami, and torrential flooding in 2006), ongoing human rights abuses, extreme levels of poverty, and the 2006 escalation of warfare have left many more thousands seeking refuge.
Though thousands of Somali Bantu have been resettled in the United States and elsewhere, thousands remain in refugee camps with many more hundreds pouring in each day. Severe flooding displaced 450,000 persons in January 2007 alone, though the majority of refugees arrive in camps like Kakuma and Dadaab, Kenya, due to continuous violence. Since January 2006, Dadaab alone has seen 300-400 arrivals per day, and by 2006 Kenya held its highest number of refugees in a decade. The camps, some of the oldest and largest such structures in the world, are struggling to meet the needs of the swelling population.
Kakuma and Dadaab provide food, water, education, medical facilities, and social services to Somali Bantu refugees. Due to recent floods and droughts in Kenya, however, assistance is more difficult to provide, and disease has run rampant throughout the camps. Somali Bantus living within the camps have little chance of employment, making them totally dependent on foreign assistance. Thus, refugee camps provoke some resentment from local Kenyans who, suffering from the same economic ills, are often living in worse conditions than those in the camps.
In recent months, funding has been partially cut for both Kakuma and Dadaab, compounding an already serious food and supply shortage. This has put a priority on food and water, leading to many community and social programs getting cut. A major concern is for the many now-idle Somali Bantu youth, who run an increased risk of drug abuse or militia associations.
Despite this hardship, Somali Bantus are continuing to gain resettlement status in countries around the world. International organizations have remained committed to the Somali Bantu plight and are continuing to work to deliver basic necessities and a place of refuge for all who are in need.
For more information on current Somali refugee conditions please see: