In the south Kenyan peacekeepers reported multiple encounters with al Shabaab in the last week which resulted in over 80 dead Islamic terrorists and nearly twenty casualties (mostly wounded) among the soldiers. Kenyan troops have been patrolling the Somali side of the border, in cooperation with anti-terrorist local militias, since 2011. This has reduced but not eliminated al Shabaab and Somali bandit activity in Kenya. The 22,000 peacekeepers, along with about as many Somali soldiers and pro-government local militias, have al Shabaab on the run in the rest of the country. But actually destroying the Islamic terrorist organization has proved more difficult. The widespread corruption and unemployment (largely caused by the corruption) provide a steady supply of angry young men willing to “defend Islam”, improve their economic prospects and engage in some traditional mayhem. Despite the increasing likelihood of an early death al Shabaab leaders have adapted. They operate in smaller units, no longer congregate in large groups for any purpose and try to establish cells (small groups of Islamic terrorists) in cities to carry out high-profile (lots of media coverage) attacks. To help counter this the United States has quietly sent in more UAVs and electronic monitoring aircraft to help locate the more dispersed al Shabaab members. The American UAVs will still use missiles to attack any senior leaders they locate but otherwise the Americans are just providing information for the peacekeepers and other security forces to act on.
Despite growing opposition from Somalia, the UN and foreign aid groups Kenya is moving forward with its month old decision to close two major refugee camps and send all the Somali refugees back home. The Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya has become the largest refugee camp in the world since it was established in 1991. Containing over 330,000 Somalis it was built outside the town of Dadaab. The population in the area is largely ethnic Somali but the camp is unpopular because it disrupts more than benefits the locals and has become a base for criminal gangs and Islamic terrorists. The other camp, Kakuma, is in the northwest and has some 150,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia. Like Dadaab it has become unpopular with nearby Kenyans and for the same reasons. The UN is trying to convince Kenya to keep the camps open but faces accusations of repeated broken promises and tolerating bad behavior by refugees. In 2015 Kenya also sought to expel all (over 600,000) legal and illegal Somali refugees in the country. The expulsion threat came in response to ever more horrific al Shabaab attacks inside Kenya, including an April 2015 massacre of 148 Christian students at a university. The UN halted this expulsion by making a lot of promises it did not keep. Now the UN says it will help with refugee camp security and moving more of the refugees back to Somalia. The UN offers this as an alternative to closure of the camps and expulsion of all the Somalis back to Somalia. These assurances are not very convincing because they have been made before and the UN quietly failed to deliver every time. In Somalia politicians and al Shabaab agree that Kenya should stop mistreating Somalis in Kenya if only because this mistreatment is used by al Shabaab for recruiting. The Kenyan government recognizes this problem and talks about curbing violence against Somalis in Kenya but controlling popular hatred of and hostility towards murderous Somalis is even more difficult. The local Kenyans vote while the Somali refugees don’t. Thus the continuing al Shabaab activity in Kenya reminds every one of the centuries of Somalis raiding into Kenya. It’s an old problem that does not lend itself to quick or easy solutions. Refugee officials have always had problems maintaining security in the Somali refugee camps and a growing number of foreign aid organizations are withdrawing from some camps because of the chronic violence. Kenya believes that it tried to deal with the refugees for 25 years and found it is not worth the effort, especially in terms of many Kenyans who have been victims of Somali violence since the refugees were allowed in. The Kenyans also note (and the foreign media does not report much at all) that the UN and other foreign aid groups tend to be corrupt and full of people who are more interested in getting rich than in protecting Kenyans from unruly refugees. The Somalis in the camps also complain about the corruption but little is done to even recognize this problem much less do anything about it.
One of the few things most Somalis, Kenyans and even many aid workers can agree on is the role of corruption in creating and sustaining the violence in Somalia and the refugee camps. To put that into perspective take a look at corruption in the region. Corruption is measured each year by an international survey. The results are presented using a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The two most corrupt nations have a rating of 8 (North Korea and Somalia tied at 167th place) and the least corrupt is 91 (Denmark). A look at this index each year provides a reason for unrest in many countries. While there is less corruption in the developed countries, in many regions it is very bad. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. Kenya currently ranks 139th (in a tie with neighbor Uganda), Ethiopia 103rd, Djibouti 99th and Eretria 154th (tied with Yemen across the Gulf of Aden). The UN is not ranked but if it were it would be closer to the bottom (most corrupt) than top of the list.
Corruption not only makes groups like al Shabaab possible (as a promised cure for corruption) but also makes it easier for al Shabaab to survive. Islamic terrorists need cash to keep going and al Shabaab has survived in large part because it was easier in this part of the world to deal in outlawed good. In Africa that usually means drugs or valuable (and portable) minerals and gems. But in Somalia it has been outlawed wildlife products. This includes ivory, rhino horns and other parts of wild animals that find many eager and wealthy buyers in the Middle East and East Asia.
May 24, 2016: In Mogadishu police cornered and killed an armed (with a pistol and bombs) al Shabaab man. The police would have preferred to take this fellow alive and question him about what al Shabaab was up to. But like so many Islamic terrorists this one was convinced that surrender was not an option.
May 15, 2016: In Mogadishu police raided an al Shabaab hideout and although no arrests were made they did seize seven laptop computers that had been fitted with explosives. Al Shabaab increasingly hides explosives in consumer goods, the better get these weapons past security and into military bases or government facilities. Normally airport security deals with laptops with explosives by having them turned on, scanned and exposed to an explosives detector. But airports in Africa often don’t have this degree of security.
In central Somalia (Hiran) al Shabaab attacked a village guarded by soldiers and peacekeepers and were repulsed. There were apparently no casualties as the Islamic terrorists quickly realized the place was protected and retreated. In rural areas al Shabaab gets by via looting villages or unarmed travelers.