Conducive Conditions: Livelihood Interventions in Southern Somalia

Working Paper 193
Abigail Montani
Nisar Majid


Biographical Notes
Vernacular terms

1. Introduction

  • 1.1 Introduction to the context
  • 1.2 Introduction to ICRC
  • 1.3 Introduction to Save the Children

2. Case Study: Save the Children-UK in Belet Weyn, Somalia

  • 2.1 Evolving programming directions
  • 2.2 Programming in Belet Weyn
  • 2.3 Building a livelihoods approach
  • 2.4 Managing the local political economy dynamics

3. Case Study: ICRC Community Intervention Project in Southern Somalia

  • 3.1 New programming directions
  • 3.2 CIP in southern Somalia
  • 3.3 Meeting the demands of providing livelihood support
  • 3.4 The possibilities and limitations of the programme design and execution in view of a broader political perspective

4. Conclusion

  • 4.1 Preconditions for livelihoods programming
  • 4.2 Assessment and livelihood programming
  • 4.3 Project implementation
  • 4.4 Impact and evaluation
  • 4.5 Conducive conditions required for livelihoods programming


  • Figure 1. Somalia, major food economy groups and areas, prepared by the Food Security Assessment Unit of FAO (FSAU-FAO)
  • Box 1. SC-UK emergency seed distribution


This Working Paper considers interventions by two organisations, in light of the working paper theme of linking livelihood approaches with recent work in the area of political economy. Save the Children-UK (SC-UK) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) work in southern Somalia and aim to support livelihoods within a situation of chronic conflict and political instability (SCCPI).

This paper describes the context in which the two organisations work in terms of the livelihood systems within southern Somalia, political economy themes as they relate to southern Somalia and programming possibilities in the area. The authors critically review two livelihood support programmes as case studies. These case studies aim to draw out the ways in which and to what extent the programmes of SC-UK and ICRC support livelihoods. How, and to what extent, the analysis of the political economy informs decision making by the two organisations is also explored.

The review of SC-UK's work in Belet Weyn highlights the ways in which the Agricultural Support Project (ASP) aims to push staff development and community participation to the forefront of programming decisions in an effort to move from 'free' seed and tools distributions to a sustainable agricultural project. The review of the ICRC Community Intervention Project (CIP) emphasises the challenges inherent in the change of programming that the CIP presents to ICRC. These challenges include the targeting of beneficiaries and facilities, the use of cash in the context of political instability, and the influence of leadership structures and conflict dynamics.

The concluding section draws out the differences and commonalties in the approaches of the two organisations. Evidence from both case studies highlights the important role of contextual preconditions in terms both of the changing nature of the working environment in southern Somalia and the characteristics of particular organisations. The use of political economy information can be most clearly associated in the case studies with decision-making on the logistics of programme implementation, and is embedded in day-to-day action rather than in reference to a clearly defined model.

Finally, information about the strengths and weaknesses highlighted in the case studies is used to indicate the 'conducive conditions' required for livelihoods programming in SCCPI.

1. Introduction

This Working Paper considers interventions by two organisations, Save the Children-UK (SC-UK) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in southern Somalia. Both organisations work in a situation of chronic conflict and political instability (SCCPI) and have, in different ways, tackled the concept of supporting livelihoods within this context. Responses from both organisations have looked beyond the 'traditional' forms of relief aid in responding to humanitarian crises. The paper aims to describe the interventions and discuss them in the light of the Working Paper theme of linking livelihoods with political economy approaches. By illustrating actual interventions by operational organisations, the paper aims to give insight into the issues facing organisations when implementing programmes that attempt to provide principled support to livelihoods in a SCCPI. The achievements and limitations of these specific interventions in meeting the challenges posed are reviewed in case studies. Comparisons of the programming approaches of the two agencies follow the case studies.

Neither SC-UK nor ICRC has used a particular 'livelihood' model to design, implement or evaluate the programmes illustrated as case studies in this paper. Both organisations have stated that support to livelihoods is an objective that the programmes aim to fulfil. This paper aims to illustrate in which way and to what extent their programmes do support livelihoods. Neither SC-UK nor ICRC has explicitly referred to a 'political economy approach' during interviews or in documents pertaining to the programmes in question. Both organisations include some analysis of the political economy in programming decisions. This paper aims to explore to what extent this is the case, and how the information informs decision making.

1.1 Introduction to the context

1.1.1 Southern Somalia

Southern Somalia's last decade can be defined as chronically politically unstable. Since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in January 1991 Somalia has been without a central government. 1991/2 saw the collapse of the state, inter-clan warfare, widespread banditry and looting, displacement and famine. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis lost their lives during this period; large-scale refugee flows were generated together with internal displacement. Much of Mogadishu was destroyed and widespread damage was inflicted on agricultural infrastructure.

The United Nations Operation for Somalia (UNOSOM) was active in the country between 1993 and 1994. While some humanitarian needs were met by the international community during this period, the peace operation was drawn into armed conflict with the Somali National Alliance (SNA) and failed to bring about national reconciliation. 'When the UNOSOM forces departed from Somalia in March 1995, it left the country still divided, without a central government, and with an economic infrastructure mostly still in ruins' (Menkhaus, 2000:1.1). Since 1995 much of the population of southern Somalia has remained vulnerable to poor food security and has access to limited if any health care. Chronic problems of armed clashes and lawlessness exist in both urban and rural areas.

The establishment of a Transitional Government (TG) in August 2000 was the product of lengthy dialogue and negotiation. The hope of attracting substantial foreign aid has not materialised. 'Most Western donors have adopted a "wait and see" approach and made aid conditional on signs of "effective government"' (UNDP, 2001:54). The administration currently does not exercise any influence over most of the country, it attempts to govern on the basis of minimal financial resources and relies on support from the business community in Mogadishu. This support is waning as merchants consider that their investment is not yielding expected results. The importation of large quantities of Somali shillings has been to the detriment of the value of the currency and caused hyperinflation. The prospects for the success of forthcoming reconciliation talks in Nairobi between the TG and rival faction leaders are considered to be poor (The Economist, 2002:27).

While the early 1990s saw relatively cohesive armed factions, the splintering of factions from the mid-1990s means that most conflict is now within rather than between major clans (Menkhaus, 2000:1). Conflicts tend to be local in character rather than protracted and widespread. There are pockets of stability and there are geographical areas that, while generally unstable, have periods of stability. Somalia's political and economic conditions are dramatically different today from those of the early 1990s when 'state failure translated into chronic and destructive civil war' (ICG, 2002:2). Unlike the situation in northern Somalia were the self-declared secessionist state of Somaliland has managed to provide a generally peaceful and lawful environment, the south has seen more localised efforts to re-establish rule of law in which clan elders, businessmen and the sharia courts play a role.

1.1.2 Political economy of war themes as they relate to southern Somalia

Working in Somalia organisations engage with a system that is characterised by unequal distribution of power and resources. Le Sage (1998) states that, 'orthodox explanations of the war in Somalia overstate the influence of clans and environmental stress and understate the economic stratification of society and the role of self-interested elites'. Competition between the militia factions since 1991 has served to perpetuate long-term patterns of alienation and exploitation. While aid organisations aim to target less advantaged sections of the population and attempt to alleviate the negative economic impacts that exist within a stratified system, access to such groups is not without contact with and consent from those who hold positions of power. Mitigating the effects of extremely uneven distribution of aid is not a straightforward process but is one where humanitarian response and the design of programmes should include an analysis of the production and distribution of power, wealth and destitution. Such an analysis should include the potential for programming itself to exacerbate conflict (see Le Billon, 2000). Information gathering is a major challenge; those profiting politically and economically are highly unlikely to advertise the fact, least of all to a potential or actual source of such profit. Menkhaus (2002) notes that, 'unwillingness to assess implications of a war economy may also be characteristic of external actors'. As one example he notes that aid agencies can be quick to dismiss claims that food aid is diverted by warring parties.

The challenges faced by international organisations in Somalia during the early 1990s were extreme. Looting and diversion of relief aid was widespread. Many prominent businessmen in Mogadishu began to make their fortunes in the war economy of the early 1990s. The large-scale UN, ICRC and International non-governmental organisation (INGO) presence in Somalia in 1993/4 made profits in procurement, transport services, diverted food aid, weapons, and scrap metal available (ICG, 2002; UNDP, 2001; Menkhaus, 2002). Insecurity during this period promoted the now well established use of armed protection by aid agencies working in Somalia.

The business class has, more recently, become an independent political force in southern Somalia. Wealthy merchants and entrepreneurs have considerable influence. In 1999 in Mogadishu leading businessmen outflanked militia leaders from their own clans by refusing to pay them taxes, instead buying directly the backing of individual militia fighters. The businessmen then financed their own security forces and judiciary. The management of judiciary was 'subcontracted' to local sharia courts (ICG, 2002:3; Menkhaus, 2000:4-5). Even outside of Mogadishu businessmen are now capable of acting independently of militia. The ICG report (2002) that the international community may have played a part in reducing the power of the militia and faction leaders and the decreased political affiliation along factional lines since the mid-1990s. 'In the past, large aid flows provided warlords with funds, and international mediation efforts gave them political legitimacy. In the absence of external recognition and resources, warlords have seen their influence dim' (ICG, 2002:3-4).

Recent analysis (ICG, 2002; Menkhaus, 2002) suggests that merchants, now more independent from factional affiliation, have moved into more 'legitimate commerce' than was the case in the early 1990s. This may in turn suggest that the necessary dealings that organisations have with businessmen are less questionable than was the case in the early 1990s. Lack of a state monopoly on security and the necessity of safeguarding trade convoys and businesses have created opportunities for private services that provide security. International aid agencies continue to employ armed security personnel to protect both stocks and staff. The militia and ex-militia employed by organisations would not generally be considered as stakeholders in a return to a system of law and order and can resort to extortion and threats against their employers. They tend, however, to be more strongly affiliated to the burgeoning 'security companies' than to active service in militia factions.

The benefits of economic growth are unevenly distributed in southern Somalia and there are sharp variations in local living conditions and income. The generation of wealth by entrepreneurs in transit, protection, money-transfers and telecommunications companies masks the living conditions of the majority of Somali households. The US$ is currency of choice for major business transactions and savings although Somali shillings continue to be used in Somalia. Wealthy sections of society who have access to remittances and hard currency are much less affected by the recent major injections of new Somali shillings than small-scale agriculturalists and poorer sections of the population in general. While analysis of webs of social and economic entitlements and interactions that structure and sustain livelihoods should be present in the programming decisions of agencies, disentanglement from that complex is not a possibility unless it informs a case for disengagement.

1.1.3 Livelihood systems in southern Somalia

This Section has been adapted from Le Sage and Majid, 2002. A useful starting point for an analysis of livelihood systems in Somalia is the Household (Food) Economy research undertaken by the Food Security Assessment Unit (FSAU) for Somalia.1 This food security early warning and information unit has been collecting food security related information on Somalia for over five years. In that time it has been using the Household (Food) Economy Approach (HEA)2 to categorise and describe different population groups in the country. Over twenty different food economy groups have been identified and described throughout the country. Each of these food economy groups fall into one of five broadly defined 'livelihood systems': pastoral, agro-pastoral, riverine, fishing (coastal) and urban.

FSAU has well developed information on pastoral, agro-pastoral and riverine systems - these are described in more detail below. FSAU also has more limited information of fishing and urban groups. The ICRC projects described in the case study are found in pastoral, agro-pastoral and riverine areas. The SC-UK project is located in a riverine area with some extension into agro-pastoral groups. Further details on the riverine are given in the SC-UK case study.

Pastoralists. In general pastoralists derive the majority of their food needs from the purchase of cereals, sugar, and oil. Milk and milk products comprise a significant additional food source. Income is mainly obtained from the sale of livestock and livestock products. Poorer wealth groups, with their smaller herd sizes, obtain a significant amount of food/income from activities such as petty trade, bush-product collection and casual labour. Intra-community gifts to the poor, such as lactating livestock, food and cash, are also common. The long, dry jilaal season is usually the most difficult time for pastoralists and their animals, when energy needs are high (during the search for water and pasture), and milk production and livestock prices low.

In general, pastoralists have been considered the least vulnerable to food insecurity over recent years due to a combination of political and natural circumstances, including the politico-military strength of the pastoralist clans and the mobility of their livestock-based assets. These generally positive trends have been interrupted by drought conditions and two bans on livestock imports from Somalia in recent years.

Factors undermining pastoral livelihoods include:

  • Restricted grazing mobility due to insecurity
  • Population expansion and sedentarisation
  • Lack, and breakdown of, traditional (or other) pastoral environmental management systems
  • Poor livestock health care systems in an unregulated drug market
  • Conflict-induced asset depletion
  • Increasing commercial and communal debt
  • Poor terms of trade in some areas due to distance from markets
  • Border closures and trade disruptions - livestock import/export bans
  • Unregulated trading system, provides limited returns to producers
  • High rates of expenditure on social services and production inputs (e.g. livestock drugs and treatment)

Factors sustaining pastoral livelihoods include:

  • Increased sales of animals even during times of poor terms of trade
  • Mobile assets, useful in times of conflict and drought
  • Temporarily decreasing the household size and consumption burden by sending children to live with better-off relatives
  • Increasing commercial and communal borrowing
  • Rural-to-urban migration to seek employment opportunities
  • Increasing reliance of poorer households on the generosity of their kin
  • Increased exploitation of natural resources - collection/production of firewood, charcoal, aromatic gums

Reaching and working successfully with highly mobile pastoral communities, regardless of the security context, is notoriously difficult. Interventions in this sector are therefore generally limited to livestock health programmes and some water interventions. Education and some income diversification in localised areas are also beginning. ICRC interventions in pastoral areas are focused on the rehabilitation of water-related infrastructure.

Agro-pastoralists. Typically, agro-pastoralists derive the majority of their food from their own crop production, own milk production and some purchase. Income comes from the sale of livestock and livestock products, the sale of crops, and for poorer groups a variety of petty trade, casual labour and collection of bush products. Intra-community redistribution is also important for poorer groups.

In general, agro-pastoral households in Somalia have been considered the most food-insecure populations in recent years. Their vulnerability is due to a combination of natural and man-made factors. Agro-pastoral populations in southern Somalia primarily come from politically and militarily marginal clans, and have been amongst the greatest victims of violence since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991 (Besteman and Cassanelli, 1996). Combined with poor rains and harvests, the resulting asset losses (of both food stocks and livestock) and displacement have resulted in large-scale food deficits.

Factors undermining agro-pastoral livelihoods include:

  • Poor rains and consecutive seasons of crop failure
  • Conflict-induced asset depletion of fixed and immobile assets (e.g. land)
  • Trade disruptions due to conflict and border closures
  • Physical isolation from ports and services in Somalia's main urban centres
  • Lack of security from violence and economic exploitation, especially for weaker social groups
  • Increasing commercial and communal debt
  • Crop pests, disease and bird attacks
  • Decreasing levels of assistance from international aid agencies

Strategies sustaining agro-pastoral livelihoods include:

  • Sales of household food stocks and livestock assets
  • Seasonal migration to urban areas for employment
  • Intra-community social support
  • Increasing commercial and communal borrowing
  • Selling part of a herd in order to buy fodder to keep the remainder alive
  • Slaughtering new born calves in order to protect the mother
  • Reduction of food consumption to below minimal nutritional levels for short periods of time

Interventions focusing on this group include the distribution of seed and tools and agricultural extension activities and livestock and human health programmes. As within livelihood groups, activities in the water sector have provided a point for intervention. ICRC interventions concerning agro-pastoral populations have focused on water and vegetable production.

Riverine farmers. Riverine farmers normally get the majority of their food and income from the production of irrigated food and cash crops. Poorer groups often have good casual labour opportunities on other farms, and also engage in petty trading and the collection of bush products. This group tends to have very small herds or no livestock at all. Riverine resources, such as fruit trees, wild foods and small bank-side plots can be important assets.

This group has suffered for two main reasons in the last ten years. Firstly, in many areas, riverine groups are politically marginalised, vulnerable to discrimination by well mobilised and well armed pastoralist militia who regard agriculturalists as belonging to a lower caste. In some areas, riverine groups have been forced off their former land holdings when mutually beneficial alliances have not been created with their neighbours. Secondly, heavy flooding, such as the El Nino floods in 1997 combined with the decrepit irrigation infrastructure, creates a constant risk.

Factors undermining riverine livelihoods:

  • Lack of available land or secure tenure
  • Lack of capital for land preparation, labour and fuel for water pumps
  • High production costs and low market prices for produce
  • Lack of access to and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure
  • Lack of protection from seasonal flooding
  • High market costs for fuel
  • Lack of security from violence and economic exploitation

Strategies sustaining riverine livelihoods:

  • Community labour to rehabilitate and maintain irrigation infrastructure
  • Petty trade
  • Casual employment - particularly agricultural labour
  • Temporary migration to urban areas to seek employment
  • Fish and wild-food consumption and sales

Investment in such riverine infrastructure as canals has been a significant input by the aid community in secure areas. These types of interventions are relatively visible, are seen to target a marginal group and to assist national-level food production and therefore food security. This type of intervention is often combined with agricultural extension and irrigation management training. Interventions concerning the riverine group are detailed in both the ICRC and SC case studies.

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1 The FSAU has a network of Somali professionals based in-country who collect and interpret a wide variety of data and information, including rainfall, crop production, livestock conditions, and market prices. Their reports are further analysed in Nairobi and disseminated in different forms to the aid community.

2 The term and methodology originate with SC-UK, and is now often referred to as Household Economy Analysis. Simply put, food economy groups comprise individuals and communities who (i) share similar methods and patterns of accessing food, income, and (ii) are at risk to similar events that may undermine this access.