Ambassador Tony Hall Confronts Congress About Cutting Aid to Somalia
Loop 21 interviews Alliance to End Hunger executive director about Somalia's crisis.
Somalia is facing its worst famine in over 60 years, displacing hundreds of thousands of its residents, who also are fleeing violence and terrorism from the motley gangs and tribes wreaking havoc throughout the battered country. Meanwhile, the United States, which was once a major supplier of food and humanitarian aid to Somalia, is now considering significantly cutting their emergency food aid budget, which would cripple an already hobbled nation.
Ambassador Tony Hall, the executive director for the Alliance to End Hunger, a D.C.-based non-profit that organizes around food insecurity issues domestically and internationally, has been pushing Congress to invest more goodwill and resources abroad, especially in Somalia. Loop 21 spoke with Hall, who’s also a former congressman representing Ohio and ambassador to the United Nation’s World Food Program, to gauge the current situation and see what the U.S. can do to help fix it.
Loop 21: Congress is considering cutting emergency international food aid by 75% in fiscal year 2012. Is that due to a lack of perspective on Congress' part? Or is the U.S. in a dire enough economic situation that these cuts are warranted?
Tony Hall: Yes, the U.S. is serious about cutting [the budget] but many [legislators] haven't seen these poverty programs and how they save lives. [These programs] help the U.S. by helping to build the image and the amount of goodwill. Aid packages have the U.S. insignia on them. Refugees know who is helping them. Also, it makes economic sense because in the long run we're building trading partners. Lastly, it's in our best security interests, because people who are hungry and poor and living in turmoil are more susceptible to the violence and anger that militant groups like Al Shabaab perpetuate.
Do you foresee a time when the central government could be restored?
I wouldn't call myself an expert on those particular matters, but no, I don't see any chance soon of a central government coming about. The country is run by terrorist groups.
Kenya is now limiting the number of Somali refugees it will take in. How does this bode for Somali refugees?
Kenya is right to be concerned. Refugees will certainly make a new life in Kenya, because there is no life for them to go back to. As soon as they go back, terrorist groups subject their families to violence. Until that changes, they will stay in Kenya. But a cultural clash is also inevitable and even if the Somalis are peaceful it will lead to a change in the Kenyan way of life. Taking on 400,000 to 500,000 new people, who are all Muslim, are of a different culture, and speak different languages is a huge challenge. Additionally, aid camps will establish schools there. New businesses will be started. Most of these refugees are farmers who are entrepreneurial and will make use of the new opportunity.
We have something similar here in the U.S. There are thousands of Mexican residents escaping border towns to come here, and our doors aren't exactly open to that. Is our calling on Kenya to accept more Somalis a bit hypocritical?
Well, there are similarities when you consider that violence in both cases is a precursor to the residents fleeing. But in Somalia's case, we're dealing with both violence and the drought. It's one thing to send in peacekeepers as long as the population is self-sufficient. It's a whole other thing when the population has no means of survival, no crops, no farms, and there's no end in sight.