Somalia's Volatile Politics and the Ethics of Engagement

By Keith Krehbiel
2015 | Case No. ETH2 | Length 4 pgs.
The case expands its companion case, “Al-Shabaab, Gatekeepers, and the Ethics of Humanitarian Aid” (ETH-1), from the level of individual-within-organization to the level of organization-within-political system. The dire need for humanitarian assistance to Somalia’s hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) was confounded by the presence of a government that seemed hopelessly weak. Weak governmental institutions created a power vacuum largely filled by Al-Shabaab, a jihadist group with geo-political and religious ambitions. The conditions insisted on by Al-Shabaab gatekeepers and their senior leaders (shura) resulted in the eviction of several NGOs from Somalia. Their reluctant exit left many other humanitarian aid organizations to contemplate whether “negotiating with terrorists” was worth it when such negotiations perpetuated the system of corruption, oppression, and physical danger.

Learning Objective

The case is conducive to class discussions about long- versus short-term costs and benefits of “dealing with the devil” or refusing to do so (implicitly, a utilitarian approach). With either of these options, a secondary theme is whether humanitarian aid organizations have a moral responsibility to take positive actions to change corrupt systems—in this instance by facilitating the development of stable and responsive political institutions (arguably, a Rawlsian approach).
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