Morale: Gratuity Violence


June 21, 2009: In many parts of the world, wars, usually civil wars, are fought by poorly paid (or unpaid) militias of irregulars. The troops usually find a way to get paid. Extortion and looting are popular methods, although it sometimes escalates to robbery and kidnapping. There are other problems. The gunmen sometimes get into disputes over how to distribute the loot. Such an incident occurred in Mogadishu, Somalia, in early June. A group of government gunmen (er, soldiers) were manning a checkpoint, and extorting a fee from each vehicle that passed. There arose a dispute over how to distribute the loot, which escalated to a gunfight. After it was all over, three gunmen, and a civilian bystander, were dead, and several more people were wounded.

Somalia is something of a worst case when it comes to this kind of extortion. These checkpoints are a major source of income for the members of many clans. The armed men manning the checkpoints will often beat or kill people who do not give up enough cash or other goods. The checkpoints are also a major expense item for the foreign aid organizations that bring 45,000 tons of food into the country each month, to feed over three million starving Somalis. The aid trucks coming in from Kenya often have to get past over a dozen checkpoints before they arrive at the refugee camps, or other food distribution points. Sometimes, the men at the checkpoints are not content with a bit of cash, but will grab some of the food as well. Aid groups have to put up with this extortion, as they know some of the local warlords are willing to make it impossible for the food aid to get in at all. This is self-destructive, as the gunmen often subsist on the free food. But such illogical behavior is the basic cause of the chaos and violence in the first place.


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