Al-Shabaab, the militant group which controls large parts of Somalia, has vacillated on whether it will allow Western groups to bring aid into the famine-stricken country. Now, in a deeply illogical move, it is banning a common type of food: samosas. Although the militants did not give an official reason for the food ban, locals believe that al-Shabaab believes that the three-cornered snack is anti-Islamic, because it too closely resembles the Trinity.
Now, anyone caught cooking, buying or eating samosas (known in Somalia as sambusas) can be punished.
The militants seemed to recognize the extent of the drought crisis when they lifted a ban on foreign aid, imposed in 2009, for any group that did not have “political” aims. But recently, they rejected the UN’s declaration of famine in parts of southern Somalia and denied allowing foreign humanitarian groups into their areas.
“We say [the UN declaration] is totally, 100% wrong and baseless propaganda,” said a spokesperson for al-Shabaab last week. ”Yes there is drought, but the conditions are not as bad as they say. They have another objective and it wouldn’t surprise us if they were politicizing the situation.”
The UN will begin airlifting food into the capital, which is controlled by a weak African Union-backed government, soon. Members of the Somali government are accusing al-Shabaab of blocking the aid’s progress into Somalia. The U.S. is also currently legislatively blocked from providing aid to Somalia because of al-Shabaab’s prohibition, although many are criticizing the State Department for not taking the necessary steps to override these barriers in a crisis like the famine.
People are fleeing from the al-Shabaab-controlled areas in an attempt to access this foreign aid, but meeting with violence on the way. As I wrote in a piece yesterday, women are vulnerable to rape and robbery, and children are still dying of malnutrition. The situation is grim, and al-Shabaab’s new ban on a common food shows how little concern they have for the people of their country, who are in serious danger.
You can find out more about how to help the UN get aid to the devastated citizens of Somalia here.
Photo from Oxfam East Africa via flickr.