A Thoughtful, Analytical Approach to NGO Security

Somali 'Green Zone' won't improve aid worker security

AU soldiers guard port in Mogadishu
Photo by David Axe Some rights reserved.

A couple of days ago Peter at The Road to the Horizon asked me what I thought of the proposal by the UN envoy to Somalia for a Baghdad-style Green Zone in Somalia. Since I don’t know all the reasons the UN might want a green zone I’ll stick to the question of whether or not a green zone type base would enhance aid worker security in Somalia.

So do I think a Somali green zone could make humanitarian staff safer? No, at least not appreciably so and certainly not cost effectively.

Here is why:

Soldiers required: A Somali green zone would require competent armed troops to protect the perimeter and man the gates. Who would do this? The Somali army is virtually non-existent and lets face it, foreign troops aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms in Somalia. Even if a troop-contributing nation could be found there would still be the issue of feeding the perception of a link between military forces and humanitarian assistance.

Attack magnet: A green zone would become a magnet for attacks just as the original Green Zone was. Even if groups like al-Shabab decided to give up attacks on aid workers they are still going to attack the soldiers manning the facility. Every deluded suicide bomber and wannabe Jihadist would be drawn to this symbolic target.

Exclusivity: It won’t protect Somali aid workers who do most of the direct implementation. After a long day of work in the field they’ll still be returning to their family homes… outside the green zone.

It won’t protect field staff: Ibrahim Hussein Duale and Mohamud Omar Moallim were both killed while they were working in the field. A green zone wouldn’t have saved them. Nor would it protect any other staff going to do actual implementation in the local communities.

It will be a prison: While a green zone might provide some protection to international mangers and such but they will still be almost as cut off from the ground reality of Somalia as they are now in Nairobi.

Culturally inappropriate security: A green zone would not do anything to increase local acceptance of foreign aid organizations. In order for NGO security measures not to risk reducing acceptance they need to be culturally and socially appropriate for the local context. Giant HESCO Bastion barriers are just not part of Somali culture tradition.

It’s a money sink: The problem with protective security measures is that they quickly become obsolete in the presence of a determined attacker. Build thicker blast walls and they will build bigger car bombs. Each escalation requires more spending on security measures.

All in all I think a green zone would isolate and reduce the acceptance of international aid staff, blur the line between military and humanitarian response, waste money and do nothing to make aid workers safer.

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