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Millions of people are facing the peril of famine in Somalia and South Sudan, and the situation is expected to worsen as the drought and violence fuelling the crises widen, cautioned senior United Nations officials who have just returned from the area.

Speaking to journalists in New York, John Ging, from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that situation in Somalia was “very fast moving” with more than 6.2 million people in need of food and water, and at risk for cholera and measles.

“My overall impression of the response in Somalia is that the needs are moving very quickly, escalating, but the response is currently keeping pace with those needs. That does not mean that we should be complacent, but it does mean that we have the right team on the ground doing an outstanding job,” said Mr. Ging, who led a team that also included representatives from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The visit by the so-called emergency directors’ group was meant to ensure coordination among all those involved and to mobilize all the support possible for both countries.

Donors have funded 70 per cent of the $825 million humanitarian appeal for Somalia – which is “unprecedented,” according to Mr. Ging.

The financial support follows the collective failure in 2011 to stop an earlier famine in Somalia, the senior UN official said, and is today seen as a strong message from the international community to work with the Somali Government to prevent a reoccurrence.

In addition to humanitarian aid, families are also receiving more cash-for-work as part of a project led by UNDP and partners. UNDP’s Mourad Wahba said the project is part of an effort to help families “take it into their own hands to decide how aid should be spent.”

The scale-up on the funding side in Somalia is in sharp contrast to the situation in South Sudan, where only about 27 per cent of the $1.6 billion appeal has been met.

“That really leaves our operations very vulnerable at the scale and needs that are required,” said Mr. Ging.

The scale of the needs in South Sudan is bigger – with 7.5 million people in need, roughly half of them displaced within the country and as refugees in neighbouring countries.

In addition, South Sudan is now considered one of the most dangerous places for humanitarian workers. Since the latest outbreak of violence in South Sudan, 82 aid workers have been killed – nine just in the past month.

The face of the famine, however, is a woman with her child, according to Ugochi Daniels, Chief of the Humanitarian and Fragile Contexts Branch at UNFPA.

“In both countries, we have over 200,000 pregnant women who are affected. Because of the impact of the drought, men stayed behind on the farms and to tend livestock. Women are the ones walking with children,” Ms. Daniels said, underscoring the risk for sexual violence and protection concerns.

In South Sudan, sexual violence against girls and women is particularly grave with much younger children and elderly women being attacked.

Manuel Fontaine, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Operations, noted that more than 200,000 children in Somalia already face severe malnutrition which is expected to worsen as rains dry up over the coming months.

He also expressed concern about cholera, noting an increase in cases of 700 per cent from the same period last year in the Horn of Africa nation.

Briefing Room

Somali government introduces 5% sales tax to boost revenues

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The Somali government has launched an aggressive tax collection campaign. The administration has imposed a five percent sales tax as part of efforts to win billions of dollars in international debt relief. However there are concerns on whether the country’s powerful businessmen pay up.

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Hunted and hated, Somali tax collectors gird for battle

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MOGADISHU, Feb 16 (Reuters) – Ahmed Nur moves through the Somali capital of Mogadishu with a bodyguard of six men, a pistol in the waistband of his baggy trousers. He speaks of his work in whispers; seven of his colleagues have been killed in the last three years. But Nur is no intelligence operative. He’s a tax collector.

Now the central government’s imposition of a five percent sales tax last month, part of its efforts to win billions of dollars in international debt relief, have put him at the heart of a showdown with the country’s most powerful businessmen.

So far, the government’s efforts have been slowly working; domestic revenue was up to $141 million in 2017 from $110 million in 2016, said Finance Minister Abdirahman Duale Beileh.

But much more is needed before the government is self-sufficient, a key step toward accessing about $4.6 billion in international debt relief. The final amount is still being assessed.

Somalia has been wracked by civil war since 1991, and the cash-starved, U.N.-backed government in Mogadishu is desperate to claw in the revenue it needs to pay staff and provide services like security.

The military, which is supposed to fight al-Qaeda linked insurgents, is in tatters and a combination of corruption and cash shortages mean soldiers rarely receive their $100 per month paycheques.

“People ask for security services prior to paying tax. But the government cannot deliver the required services to the public unless tax is collected,” Nur confided to Reuters in a restaurant, glancing over his shoulder. “It is like the egg and chicken puzzle.”

Some progress was made last year: tax agreements have been reached with airlines and telecoms companies, and an income tax exemption for parliamentarians has been reversed.

“These are important measures and show the strong commitment of the authorities to reform,” said Mohamad Elhage, who leads the International Momentary Fund’s Somalia work.

Debt forgiveness would give the government access to credit that could be used to fund services, binding Somalia’s often quarrelling federal states closer together.

It could also wean the government off cash from donors such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which often have diverging agendas that can destabilise Somalia’s fragile politics.

“Increasing our revenue is a very important benchmark for the road map to clear the (debt) arrears,” said Beileh. “Our objective to cover our expenses is very important.”

Achieving that will depend, in part, on men like Nur.
TAX COLLECTION ON THE FRONTLINE

Somalia’s al Shabaab rebels are known for their ruthless efficiency at collecting tax and spy networks that track profits. Businessmen misstating their profits are likely to get a terse reminder to pay the difference or face a bullet; tax collectors who cheat the movement could be executed, a former al Shabaab enforcer told Reuters.

Al Shabaab were not available for comment.

As an agent of the U.N.-backed government, Nur cannot dole out amputations or executions. If a businessman refuses to pay up he can theoretically be arrested, if he has no powerful friends to protect him. But often, they will simply prevaricate, said Nur.

That’s what many businessmen are doing in the face of Somalia’s new tax. Mogadishu port has not unloaded a commercial vessel for nine days, port authorities told Reuters on Wednesday, as businessmen refuse to pay the new levy.

Trader Aden Abdullahi complained that he was already paying for port services and customs, and paying the Islamic tax of zakat to the poor. He can’t afford another five percent, he said.

“We see this idea as intentionally or unintentionally direct economic war on Mogadishu traders,” he said, shaking his head in disapproval in his wholesale grocery shop.

“The other problem is that the rebels tax us and I am sure they will also raise tax if the government raises tax.”

Some Somalis also say they are reluctant to pay up to an administration that many consider corrupt and inefficient. Almost all of Somalia’s budget goes on paying its politicians and civil servants; ordinary citizens see little being spent on improving public health, education or infrastructure in their bullet-scarred city.

“We pay various taxes by force. There is no beneficial return from the government. We do not even have roads and I have been paying these taxes at gunpoint for the last ten years,” 40-year-old minibus driver Hashi Abdulle said, referring to money extorted at government-controlled roadblocks.

But Minister Beileh says that criticism is outdated and citizens are confusing private extortion with public taxes. The government is putting reforms in place, he said, like trying to work out how to issue individual tax numbers and empowering the ministry of finance to take the lead on tax collection.

“People are used to dealing with … individuals, individual offices, individual soldiers, illegal tax collectors who did not belong to government,” he said.

“Changing that culture is also becoming a challenge … We are trying to close all the loopholes.”

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; writing by Katharine Houreld; editing by Giles Elgood)

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Briefing Room

Somalia Foreign Minister Wants IGAD Open Borders After The Government Rejected

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Looks like Somali Foreign Minister didn’t get the memo when he was talking to Africa 24 TV.

Minister Ahmed Awad agrees with IGAD Free Movement Proposal “We’re comfortable (with the open border) in fact we encourage it, we welcome the region’s borders to be open, the economy of the countries in the region to be integrated. Somalis & Somalia will benefit very much from such open border” Foreign Minister Awad said, while last Monday Somalia said it would not sign a deal with IGAD member countries that will allow free movement of citizens.

 

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