Al-Shabaab, Gatekeepers, and the Ethics of Humanitarian Aid

By Keith Krehbiel
2015 | Case No. ETH1 | Length 4 pgs.
Following decades of civil strife among warring clans, and exacerbated by the worst drought in decades (2010-2012), millions of starving dislocated Somalis resided in crowded camps throughout the country. Humanitarian aid organizations made good-faith efforts to distribute food and medical treatment and supplies to those who suffered most. Almost always, however, these nongovernment organizations (NGOs) were thwarted by so-called gatekeepers, who, backed by military force, required that all aid be delivered first to themselves and only thereafter to the intended recipients, under conditions the gatekeeper set. This case summarizes the tactics used by the gatekeepers of Al-Shabaab (a cell of the radical Islamic group Al-Qaeda) in Somalia and the corresponding risks that the United Nations and NGOs had to confront.

Learning Objective

The purpose of this case is to provide a situational context for discussions on making ethical decisions under conditions in which application of different methods or theories are likely to prescribe different courses of behavior. The case also provides an opportunity to compare and contrast normative (moral) and positive (descriptive) modes of decision-making.
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