This blog is on hiatus. My apologies.
The United Nations’ World Food Programme was suspended in Somalia yesterday after government troops kidnaped its leader.
The kidnaping came just two days after the program had restarted for the first time since June.
The WFP had been given permission by Mogadishu’s mayor, Muhammad Umar Habib, to distribute food through local mosques.
Mr. Habib is close with Somalia’s prime minister, who is currently in a power struggle with the president, Abdullahi Yusuf.
Control of food aid is seen by Somalia’s leaders as crucial to winning the support of the people.
Uniformed and heavily armed Somali soldiers stormed the United Nations compound in Mogadishu today, arresting Idris Osman, the head of the UN World Food Programme for Somalia.
The UN has been given no explanation for the incident and is halting food distribution in Mogadishu.
However, spokesmen for the program have in the past praised the former government of Somalia, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), whose supporters are fighting a guerilla war against the current government.
Nine people were killed elsewhere in the capital today in fighting between these insurgents and government troops.
The ICU was a confederation of conservative Muslim judges that had set up some social services in the early 1990s when Somalia lacked any central government.
They also set up Sharia law.
With Eritrean help, the ICU formed powerful militias that in the summer of 2006 took over Mogadishu and surrounding areas from the secular warlords that had ruled it.
The US funded the warlords, saying that the ICU was affiliated with al-Qaeda.
The World Food Programme has contradicted this view, saying after the ICU’s victory last year, “There may be extremists among them, but overall they’re providing relief for suffering people.”
Last December, the ICU was driven from power by Ethiopian soldiers encouraged by the US government. Many Somalis feel that they are now occupied by Ethiopia.
Since being driven out, ICU supporters have been fighting an Iraq-style insurgency in Mogadishu against the current government.
In the north of the country, Somaliland has its own militia, which is locked in battle with semi-autonomous Puntland.
Puntland is the home of Somalia’s president, Abdullahi Yusuf. It has huge potential oil reserves in the Nogal and Darin basins. Mr. Yusuf led it to quasi-independence in 1998.
Mr. Yusuf is currently wrangling with his prime minister over which foreign investors to give Puntland’s oil exploration rights to, among other disputes.
Transparency International says that along with Myanmar and Iraq, Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world.