Somalia : British Embassy in damage control after bias claims raised by local communities

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MOGADISHU, Somalia | British ambassador to Somalia Kate Foster called a crisis meeting in response to Garowe Online’s coverage of the abrupt decision to suspend the embassy’s support to a critical development project in Galmudug. The ambassador’s decision to end assistance to the ongoing Galkayo-Hobyo Road Project incensed local communities and raised charges of regional bias in how the embassy funds development projects in Somalia.

Speaking to trusted sources privy to the meeting, Garowe Online can reliably report that during the meeting, a response strategy was drafted to guide how the embassy counters the charges of favoritism raised by the local communities. As part of this response strategy, the embassy adopted the line that supports to the project was suspended since the current phase of the Somali Stability Fund (SSF), a multi-donor Somalia-focused development program dominated by the United Kingdom, was coming to an end.

In her communication with the outgoing Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, the ambassador relied on this response strategy to deflect arguments raised by local communities. According to insiders, a vital element of this response strategy was the notion that SSF could not monitor the use of the pledged road construction equipment since the completion of the road project would ‘go beyond the duration of SSF II.’ Per these insiders, the total cost of the equipment was estimated to be $1.3-million

Communities leaders who contacted Garowe Online characterized the ambassador’s response as “misleading,” since an agreement was previously reached between the local community and the Somali Stability Fund, which stipulated the construction equipment will be under the control of the Ministry of Public Works of Galmudug State. These community leaders who spoke anonymously with Garowe Online emphasized issues about asset management were raised by the ambassador as ‘disingenuous’ and indicative of a policy of obscurantism adopted by the embassy in response to legitimate concerns.

The embassy also informed the Prime Minister’s Office the African Development Bank would provide the necessary support to complete the remaining 100-km. When contacted by Garowe Online, local community leaders dismissed the ambassador’s promise as a diversion. They repeated their earlier claims that the decision to suspend the project unilaterally has irreparably harmed the image of the United Kingdom who they allege has an unofficial policy of locking Galmudug and Hiirshabelle regions from development funds.

UK Embassy response

As part of its commitment to journalistic integrity and fairness, before publishing this story, GO reached out to the British embassy to respond to specific allegations, including the nature of the crisis meeting called by the embassy, the outreach to the Prime Minister’s Office, and the response strategy drafted to rebut Garowe Online’s report on the story. The embassy would not confirm or deny the statements made by Garowe Online but provided additional information.

A spokesperson for the British Embassy, Daniel Johnson, said in an email to Garowe Online that · SSF has been in close discussions with the Galmudug State President over recent months on areas of SSF support and updated the Office of the Somali Prime Minister.

“Both [Offices of Galmudug president and Somali PM] are aware of this decision and the rationale behind it,” he said, adding that phase two of the project will finish by the end of 2021.

“Expenditure cannot be incurred on a program after its end date. The UK has coordinated with other donors who may be better placed to support this important work,” said the spokesperson.

He stated that ADB would support the completion of the road.

In its response to Garowe Online, the embassy provided a list of projects it has supported in Galmudug, including “supporting 35 communities to build their response to conflicts and climate-related shocks, helping 10,000 people with emergency humanitarian support and helping Galmudug double its revenue collection to $1.3-million.”

Community leaders contacted by Garowe Online dismissed the embassy’s rebuttal as “self-incriminating” and that it “vindicates the views of locals in Hirshabelle and Galmudug that the UK, like other Western donors, only provides superficial and insignificant support while shutting both regions from accessing meaningful development projects.”

“To use SSF duration as the reason to backtrack commitment made over year-and-half ago is wrong,” said a community leader. He continued to say "If the Ambassador gives the go-ahead today, there is still ample time to acquire and deliver the equipment since the procurement process is already complete."

Additional investigation made by Garowe Online revealed an outreach made by the embassy to the Galmudug administration to issue a statement defending the embassy’s position. Per our understanding, the request by the embassy was not well received within certain quarters of Galmudug authority and prompted a fiery internal debates with some senior officials interpreting the embassy’s outreach to pressure Galmudug as overreaching and a pressure tactic to hide the facts.

GAROWE ONLINE 

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