May 14, 2012: Over a hundred Somali clan, religious, and business leaders met in Mogadishu to approve a new constitution and finalize details of elections to be held by the end of the year. Al Shabaab is using persuasion, and terror, to try and influence men likely to be part of the new parliament. Meanwhile, the clan leaders are having a difficult time agreeing on the details of a new constitution.
Nearly a year of peace (and a lot less violence) in Mogadishu have improved confidence enough for people with money to invest in rebuilding the city. New construction can be seen all over the place. At the same time, two decades of unrest has resulted in two million Somalis taking refuge in Yemen and even more in exile in Kenya and the West.
As more merchant ships travelling past Somalia adopt the use of armed guards, ships have been able to reduce their speed. This often pays for the guards, and then some, as reducing speed can shrink fuel costs on large ships by over $40,000 a day. This slowdown tempts more pirates to attack but so far no attacks on ships with armed guards have succeeded. Without armed guards travelling at top speed and zig-zagging made it difficult for pirate speed boats to get close enough to board. Pirates have never been able to board a large ship travelling at more than 33 kilometers an hour, and many large ships can do over 40 kilometers an hour and will do just that while in pirate waters. There are over a hundred security firms, most of them British, offering armed guards for the 40,000 merchant ships that transit pirate infested waters each year.
The use of armed guards remains quasi-legal because most maritime nations are unwilling to recognize the practice. These nations fear lawsuits if they actually acknowledge and regulate the use of armed guards.
Budget cuts have forced Britain to reduce its year-round participation in the anti-piracy patrol. There will be a British ship on hand only about half the year.
May 11, 2012: In Mogadishu several attacks, apparently with grenades, left several people wounded. These operations were amateurish and ineffective, indicating al Shabaab is having difficulty holding onto competent and dedicated people.
May 10, 2012: For the first time in over a year pirates seized an oil tanker. The attack took place off Oman, and the ship seized was carrying over $100 million worth of oil to Indonesia.
For the second time this year the leader of al Qaeda (Egyptian Ayman al Zawahiri) has released a video in which he urges al Shabaab terrorists to keep fighting, as guerillas if need be, despite recent defeats. After a string of setbacks in the last year, al Shabaab is much reduced in size and capabilities and is largely trying to defend what little territory it still holds.
Al Shabaab not only has fewer men but less skilled ones at that. An example of that could be seen today in El Bur (Central Somalia) when three al Shabaab men died as a large mine they were planting in a dirt road went off because someone did not know what they were doing.
In the southwest Ethiopian troops killed 17 al Shabaab gunmen and caused many more to flee. The al Shabaab men were setting up roadblocks and robbing supply trucks. The Ethiopians had received complaints from aid agencies and merchants about this and responded by sending out several units with orders to clear the roads and run down any al Shabaab groups they encountered.
May 8, 2012: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked peacekeepers at night, using mortars and machine-guns. Two rebels and seven civilians were killed. The AU peacekeepers suffered two wounded.