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Keywords:

  • counter-terrorism;
  • humanitarianism;
  • neutrality;
  • Somalia;
  • stabilisation;
  • state-building

Somalia today is the site of three major threats: the world's worst humanitarian crisis; the longest-running instance of complete state collapse; and a robust jihadist movement with links to Al-Qa'ida. External state-building, counter-terrorism and humanitarian policies responding to these threats have worked at cross-purposes. State-building efforts that insist humanitarian relief be channelled through the nascent state in order to build its legitimacy and capacity undermine humanitarian neutrality when the state is a party to a civil war. Counter-terrorism policies that seek to ensure that no aid benefits terrorist groups have the net effect of criminalising relief operations in countries where poor security precludes effective accountability. This paper argues that tensions between stabilisation and humanitarian goals in contemporary Somalia reflect a long history of politicisation of humanitarian operations in the country.