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U.S. cash flushes just fine in Somalia

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Yesterday it was announced by the State Department that the United States will provide an additional $105 million in aid to famine-stricken East Africa (we had previously contributed $405 million to fight drought in the region). Vice President Biden’s wife has just returned from a humanitarian visit, where she visited a camp of starving refugees and met with Kenyan leaders who are dealing with an influx of famished Somalis. Said Jill of her trip,

One of the reasons to be here is just to ask Americans and people worldwide, the global community, the human family, if they could just reach a little deeper into their pockets and give money to help these poor people, these poor mothers and children.

And another U.S. official: “Hundreds of thousands of kids could die.”

Somali Militiaman

This is madness. The United States has funneled untold millions of dollars into Somalia over the years, and the situation is exactly the same: the country is so war-torn that aid we send doesn’t get to the children it’s supposed to help. According to Transparency International, Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world. The U.N.’s top humanitarian officer in the country admitted that aid reaches only 20 percent of needy Somalis, although in the capital, he said, the situation is better; there aid reaches about half the city’s inhabitants.

But there’s a deeper problem—one that the U.N. official doesn’t see, even though he’s surrounded by the data. It shouldn’t be that 50 or 60 or 70 percent of Somalis are considered perpetually “in need,” to be propped up by colonialist aid from the U.S. and Western Europe. In fact, it is exactly that dependent relationship that has rendered Somalia helpless in the face of drought. (Compare it with Texas, for example, where a majority of the state’s crops have been severely damaged by a record drought.)

The question arises then, what if we didn’t send the aid? To be frank, we don’t know the answer to that—the European Union and other countries also send substantial amounts to Somalia, but no one really knows how much food gets to refugees. All that Jill Biden can say is, “There is hope if people start to pay attention to this.”

Somalis don’t need another 20 years of U.S. handouts. They need a civil society and the opportunity to enter into exchange with the developed world. As easy as it is for America to throw money at their problems, that kind of aid can’t really help.

For more on Acton’s solution to global poverty, visit, where you can sign our Statement of Principles and hear from people who have made a difference in Africa.

Kenneth Spence


  • It is madness that 12 million people are on the brink of starvation.  It is madness that 30,000 children died last month for lack of nutrition and basic medical supplies in the souther region of Somalia.  It is madness that 600,000 children could starve to death in the coming months due to the major relief organization running out of food. It is a perversion of our own humanity that war lords and pirates can dictate the life and death of so many of their countrymen.
    I doubt there is a person who could disagree that the solution is far more complicated than money.  There is the short term crisis that needs to be tended to immediately for our own humanities sake as well as the long term political and military needs.  Safe passage needs to be provided for any relief effort done and our leaders need to do this soon.
    It is true that Somalia needs more than a “hand out” in the long term, but right now their hands have been cut off and they need a savior.  Bono said it best when he said “we should not let the complexity of the problem absolve us from the responsibility to act”.  I flush my money down the drain on many perishable things everyday.  If I am willing to take a risk on the purchase of a movie, why not at least a similar risk on someone’s life.  
    It is too easy to sit at this distance and talk what should have been done 20 years ago (and much should have been done) and what needs to be done over the next 20 years. We must act now.  We may not get the best bang for our $500 Million buck, but our own humanity can’t afford not to take that risk. Let’s get these people aid today and tomorrow we implement long term stradegy.

    • Roger McKinney

      Your zeal is admirable, but it needs to be married to wisdom. Of the additional $105 million in aid the US supplies, probably $80 million will go to perpetuate the chaos by supporting Al Shabab and Al Qaeda.

      In fact, lots of research has shown that most aid goes to prop up the murderous dictators who have caused the problems in the first place.

      The only way to help the victims is to get them out of Somalia to a nation with a decent government and feed them there. Sending more money to Somalia will only make the problem worse.

      I know it sounds cold hearted, but you’re assuming that the aid will do some good and no harm. It will actually do more harm than good.

      • “Your zeal is admirable, but it needs to be married to wisdom.” Well put, Roger. As Acton says, “connecting good intentions with sound economics”

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