Somalia: Life, and Death, Goes On


December 18, 2007: There's a certain sameness to this land. Somalia is a big place, with a population of ten million. About 20 percent of those people depend on foreign aid to survive. Only a few thousand people are involved in any kind of combat on any given day. About ten percent of the population is armed. Most Somalis go about their clan based lives of farming, fishing and fighting. Battles, usually over real estate, have defined Somali life for centuries. The few towns and cities have an additional asset to fight over, taxes from markets.

Somalia has had religious leaders become political ones in the past. It lasts for as long as a few key clerics live, then it goes away. Currently, the Islamic Courts is a clan coalition that is losing, and is desperate to get back some of what has been lost. Case in point is Mogadishu, where the clan that was long dominant, and allied with the Islamic Courts, is being forced out. The Ethiopians are helping, and making a big difference. The Ethiopians may not be quite as scary as the Somalis, but they are trained soldiers and pretty effective. The Somalis can't beat the Ethiopians in a battle, and the Ethiopians have no problem with chasing the civilian supporters of the Islamic Courts out of town. Now the Islamic Courts fighters operate from makeshift, or formal, refugee camps outside of Mogadishu. These are increasingly the scene of fighting, as Ethiopian troops, and their Somali clan allies, go after the civilians who support the fighters. This is classic Somali warfare. If the fighters can't protect their families, they will quit fighting. There are actually very few Islamic Courts fighters still at it, but it's enough to keep the foreign media busy. Several explosions or firefights a day is just about right for a busy reporter.

Meanwhile, up north, a French reporter was pursuing another story, the one about the people smuggling, that gets Somalis out of the country and into Yemen (thence Saudi Arabia, Europe and so on). This is a big business, and the gangsters running it did not like the attention. So they have kidnapped the reporter, about a day after he arrived, and are demanding $70,000 ransom. Problem solved. The Somalis can be very efficient when they want to be.

Uganda is sending new troops to replace its 1,800 peacekeepers, who have been in Mogadishu for nine months. The Ugandan troops have basically guarded the airport, and not much else. Uganda can pull its troops out, Ethiopia cannot afford to until the Islamic Courts are destroyed. That's because the Islamic Courts have pledged to take part of Ethiopia (the southern Ogaden province) that has long been a point of contention between Ethiopians and Somalis. The Islamic Courts also want to crush Ethiopia because it is a Christian nation (the ruling class, and about half the population have been Christian for nearly 2,000 years). The Ethiopians just want the Somalis to leave them alone, as does Kenya, which has suffered raids by Somalis for centuries.

Meanwhile, up north, U.S. warships helped persuade pirates to free a Japanese tanker and its crew, over a thousand kilometers to the south, an Italian cargo ship, moving towards the Kenyan port of Mombassa, was apparently seized by pirates.


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