Somalia: Ruination


May 18, 2011: In the last week, Al Shabaab has been pushed back from several key buildings and neighborhoods in Mogadishu by AU peacekeepers and TNG (Transitional National Government) soldiers. This has been happening all year, and at this rate, al Shabaab will be expelled from the city by the end of the year.  Meanwhile, the fighting has become increasingly bitter. The Islamic radicals will desecrate the bodies of any soldiers or peacekeepers, if the corpses are not immediately retrieved. This desecration only angers the peacekeepers and troops, causing al Shabaab to lose more ground.

While the Islamic radicals are losing ground throughout Somalia, the TNG is still corrupt, divided and disorganized. This is all too common throughout Somalia. If the TNG can't get organized, the chaos and fighting will continue has it has for two decades. The power struggles within the TNG are getting worse. The senior TNG leaders are unwilling to hold new elections (or, actually, selections) for members of parliament. This would lead to the selection of new TNG senior leaders. Those jobs come with access to lots of money and perks, all courtesy of foreign aid. Currently, TNG officials are trying to stop at least 40 members of parliament from travelling to Kenya, where discussions about new elections are taking place. Foreign aid donor nations are protesting this resistance to new elections, and attempts to use democracy to deal with corruption (an approach that may not work in Somalia, but it doesn't hurt to try.)

The Islamic radicals, especially the largest such group, al Shabaab, are not much better off. Al Shabaab brings peace, but not much economic improvement. Al Shabaab imposes a growing list of religious lifestyle restrictions that make it harder to earn a living. The growing list of restrictions (like banning tobacco and alcohol) are very unpopular. Al Shabaab also runs something of a police state, constantly looking for TNG or AU spies, and executing them. Moreover, the rebellions throughout the Arab world this year have cut off funding for al Shabaab, because some of the Arab dictators provided weapons and cash to al Shabaab. The Islamic radicals in Somalia now have to spend more time raising money.

Kenya and Uganda have become more aggressive in seeking out Islamic radicals in their midst. This is because al Shabaab has threatened to make terror attacks in those countries. There has been some Islamic radical activity in Kenya and Uganda, often carried out by local Moslems who were radicalized with the help of al Shabaab. Islamic radicals throughout the region have promised revenge attacks for the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2nd. But, so far, nothing.

The piracy problem is getting worse, mainly because no one is willing to shut down the pirate bases in Puntland. There is so much ransom money coming in (currently over $20 million a month), that there is no shortage young men (especially teenagers) willing to risk their lives to find, board and take control of large cargo ships and tankers. This has attracted al Shabaab, which always needs cash to keep going. But the clans that established relative peace up there (and called it Puntland) are not willing to give up the sweet deal they have with the pirates. So al Shabaab mainly extorts cash from foreign aid groups and the few businesses still operating on their turf. This outlaw attitude is shared by most people in the TNG, and two decades of this extortion and plunder have destroyed more than has been built. The country (at least the part south of Somaliland and Puntland) is being reduced to ruins.

May 16, 2011: In Mogadishu, an al Shabaab bomb killed five AU peacekeepers. This stalled, but did not stop, the AU advance.

May 12, 2011: Off the coast, Somali pirates, using a captured Iranian coastal cargo ship, attacked a Danish warship in the early morning. Once the pirates realized their mistake, it was too late to get away. Four pirates were killed by the Danish sailors, while 24 other pirates surrendered. The sixteen crew of the Iranian ship were freed unharmed.

In Mogadishu, AU peacekeepers began another offensive against al Shabaab.

May 11, 2011: In Puntland, a pro-al Shabaab warlord and several hundred armed followers seized the coastal town of Gal Gala. The Puntland government has been fighting warlord (and arms dealer) Mohamed Atom for years. It's the kind of divisive behavior that has kept southern Somalia in turmoil for decades. Mohamed Atom and his allies have joined forces with al Shabaab to try and take control of Puntland. But so far the Puntland militias have been too powerful. The seizure of Gal Gala is more of a media stunt than anything else.






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