Somalia: The Price of Prosperity


February 1, 2008: Rival clans continue to battle in Mogadishu. It's a low level war, with Ethiopian troops, and their local allies, driving out the families of those clans that oppose them. But the exiles, living in makeshift camps outside the city, still harbor gunmen who continue to raid, steal and fight. The biggest worry the Ethiopians have is someone in Mogadishu with an 82mm mortar, who fires 5-10 shells a week, at various targets. The mortar is apparently not using a forward observer, because the shells are not landing close to any particular target. The mortar crew appears to be firing "in the general direction" of their target. An 82mm mortar weighs 90-100 pounds, so a vehicle is likely being used to move it around. It is being moved, because the ten pound shells only travel about four kilometers, and shells have been landing over a wide area in the city. The mortar might even be mounted on the back of a truck, but it could be broken down into three parts and carried. The many militias in Somalia stole mortars, artillery and heavy machine-gun from the army when the national government collapsed in 1991. Smugglers from Yemen and Kenya have supplied ammo for these heavy weapons ever since.

Some of the Islamic radicals of the Islamic Courts militias, and their al Qaeda allies, are apparently operating in Mogadishu. This accounts for the use of roadside bombs and anti-vehicle mines. There are not many of these attacks. Very few compared to Iraq or Afghanistan, but they are carried out to catch the attention of foreign and local reporters now operating in Mogadishu. Islamic radicals are adept at manipulating the media, and setting off a few bombs at the right places is all part of that.

Some of the fighting in Mogadishu is the usual squabbling over money. For example, the new troops (from the transitional government clans trying to take over the city) sometimes go freelance. A few of them will set up a checkpoint in a neighborhood, and demand a fee to let vehicles pass. Men from the neighborhood, who used to run that scam, are not happy with this sort of thing, and will sometimes get their guns and start shooting.

While about ten percent of the Somali population are refugees, and dependent on foreign food aid to survive, about half the population is prospering. Agriculture and herding still brings in money, and many merchants operate by paying a local warlord to protect business activities. The big problem is that most Somalis are more interested in fighting to protect these narrow, local interests, than to establish a national government and rule of law.

January 31, 2008: European navies have set up a regular escort service, to protect ships carrying food, and other relief supplies, from Kenya to Somali ports. The Danish navy will relieve the French in February. A small warship, usually a frigate, is adequate for these escort duties. Since the escorts became available, the maritime insurance companies have lowered their rates for the relief aid ships, saving the UN, and other organizations, lots of money.

Meanwhile, Kenya is suffering a recurrence of tribal fighting. Five tribes comprise about two thirds of the country's population. For decades, the Kikuyu (the largest minority, with nearly a quarter of the population) dominated. But in recent presidential elections, a candidate from an opposition coalition (led by the Luo tribe, that comprises about one-eighth of the population) won. The current Kikuyu president tried to change the numbers, got caught, and this set off widespread fighting between Kikuyu and other tribes. In the last five weeks, this has killed nearly a thousand people, and caused over a quarter million people to flee their homes. With a population of 35 million, there is now a possibility that Kenya could fall into the same chaos that Somalia, and so many other African nations, have.

January 28, 2008: In the southern port of Kismayu, two foreign aid workers were killed by a roadside bomb. There has been clan fighting in Kismayu, and it's uncertain who targeted the foreign aid workers (who are usually left alone for obvious reasons, as these people, and the freebies they bring, go away if you attack them.) The Islamic Courts militias, however, are more inclined to attack all foreigners, including those supplying food and medical aid. In addition, some warlords demand bribes from relief groups, for "protection" from the warlords own men. If you don't pay, or don't pay enough, you get attacked.

January 26, 2008: Pirates seized a foreign fishing boat off the northern statelet of Puntland. Foreign fishing boats still operate off the Somali coast, usually after paying a fee to a local warlord for protection. Sometimes the protection doesn't work, and a rival warlord seizes a fishing boat.




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