Jaspars, S., Adan, G.M. and Majid, N. (2020) Food and Power in Somalia: Business as Usual? A Scoping Study on the Political Economy of Food Following Shifts in Food Assistance and in Governance’. London: Conflict Research Programme/LSE.


Food and power in Somalia have been intimately linked for decades. Ranging from land grabs and the manipulation of food aid to looting and diversion of aid – and entangled in the geopolitics of the so-called War on Terror – food has played a role in Somalia’s political economy. The political economy of food has been examined for the 1990s, but less so for the famines of the 2000s. This study examines how the political economy of food has changed in the past 10 to 15 years, with shifts in governance and in aid. The research team interviewed long- term aid workers, businessmen and women, government officials, and displaced people in May and June 2019 in Nairobi, Mogadishu, and Baidoa.

The political economy of food in Somalia in the past 15 years presents both change and continuity with earlier years. Food assistance and governance systems have changed; these include the change from food aid to cash transfers, the rise of Al-Shabaab, and the establishment of the Federal Government of Somalia. This has led to changes in practices and an increase in the number of actors involved – including business and government authorities – as well as both a diffusion of and a shift in power. With the shift to cash transfers and vouchers, more and new smaller traders have become involved and benefited from food- aid logistics. At the same time, however, control over food resources remains within the hands of a business and political elite (mostly from Somalia’s dominant clans), and groups like the Rahanweyn and minorities continue to be marginalised and are increasingly displaced. Small traders and retailers remain dependent on a few large food traders and importers for their supply. Former food-aid contractors continue to exert power over trade and transport because of their control of fuel supply (petroleum). They are also involved in food imports and continue to benefit from aid because of the security and accommodation they provide to the international community.