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.