Mission vs Safety: OCHA Somalia and the Baidoa Raid


This case provides students with a window into the reality of international humanitarian work, specifically the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA was responsible for coordinating international responses—among governments, NGOs and UN agencies—to humanitarian emergencies. In July 2009, al-Shabaab militants overran the United Nations Common Compound in Baidoa, Somalia, and expelled representatives of agencies that Shabaab deemed political. But this meant that, under UN rules, international UN humanitarian personnel were obliged to leave as well—although they did not want to.
The case chronicles the experiences of two OCHA officers in Baidoa at the time—Birgitt Hotz and Cedric Petit. Students will read about their experience when rebels seized the compound—and their reaction to the expulsion. They will then follow deliberations at OCHA-Somalia headquarters in Nairobi, where Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Bowden must decide whether to return international humanitarian staff to Baidoa, where they oversee the wellbeing of some 6,000 refugees. Among elements to weigh is the fact that al-Shabaab is on the US terrorist watch list; that the security situation in Somalia is tenuous; and that humanitarian need is greatest when conflict is most acute.
Use this case to start discussion about the challenges of providing humanitarian aid to areas of conflict; international development; crisis management; and the world of international humanitarian assistance. The case allows students to gain insight into the challenges facing those who work in dangerous situations in order to provide help to the most vulnerable—refugees and internally displaced persons, and to better understand the frontline realities of such work. Humanitarian agencies set themselves a high bar: to be neutral, impartial and independent. Ask students to consider what this means when working in a conflict zone.
This case can be used in a class/course about aid to lawless societies; humanitarian organizations; multinational organizations or public sector management.


This case was written by Nancy Zerbey with Kirsten Lundberg, Director, for the Case Consortium @ Columbia. The faculty sponsor was Senior Lecturer Dirk Salomons of the School of International and Public Affairs. (0912)

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