Aid in a state of exception : A sociological analysis to international aid agencies active in Somalia

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This master thesis commences with the general observation that the safety of humanitarian and development aid workers is not something given in Somalia. Aid workers have been attacked, kidnapped and killed, sometimes with the consent of local authorities. This points to a certain incompatibility of interests between international aid agencies and Somali local authorities, be they warlords, district commissioners, or insurgents as al-Shabaab militants. It also suggests that there is no such thing as a separate non-political ‘humanitarian space’ within Somalia, but instead, that international aid agencies are part of the context in which they work – with all of its dynamics. With these notions in mind, this thesis questions how international aid agencies interact with Somalia’s dynamics of conflict. To what extend does the presence and practices of international aid agencies affect conflict dynamics? Using a sociological framework introduced by Pierre Bourdieu, the underlying mechanisms of this interaction will be traced back to three guises of capital: 1) economic capital, 2) social capital, and 3) cultural capital. Through building on the experiences of aid professionals that have worked in or on Somalia, it concludes that international aid agencies excel in having economic capital, while relatively lacking social and cultural capital. International aid agencies have the economic capital to pursue their projects: they can rent cars, housing and finance other operational necessities. They can hire Somali staff, consultants, and armed guards. However, aid workers suffer from a lack of social capital. They face resistance when mingling in Somalia’s social structures. And due to the cultural transformative character of their interventions, the mission of international aid agencies is lacking local acceptance. Although bringing relief and emergency assistance to alleviate human suffering, aid is often perceived as foreign meddling. This endangers the safety of aid workers and their operations. Simultaneously, international aid agencies are regarded as a resource to compete for: aid has been confiscated, aid workers kidnapped for ransoms and aid agencies bribed for access to project sites and blackmailed for nepotistic means. To overcome these challenges, international aid agencies hire security companies, pay local insurgents and involve local authorities in economic operational processes such as hiring cars. However, through these emergency measures – taken in a state of exception – international aid agencies become involved in conflict itself. Operating without having to deal – quite literally – with actors that thrive on instability and conflict, without endangering humanitarian principles as staying neutral, impartial and independent, and without ‘doing harm,’ is impossible in Somalia. International aid agencies are part of the violent conflicts that afflict the country. By so, international aid agencies face a Samaritan’s dilemma: their very existence can prompt insurgents and local authorities to generate the condition that attract aid, while suspending emergency food assistance can place thousands of famine-affected people in a truly dire situation.
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