Somalia: Fundamental Problems


November 25, 2019: Somalia and Libya are the two most dangerous areas for foreign aid workers to visit and work in. Foreign aid groups, especially those that send foreign medical specialists in to provide care for desperate locals, have organized “International SOS” to collect and compile safety data on countries where foreign medical specialists or foreign aid workers, in general, might be called on to help. This ranks potential aid destinations from safest to most dangerous. A bit less dangerous are Afghanistan and Venezuela followed by Iraq and a lot of African nations. Risks measured include general safety (infrastructure and prevalence of diseases), crime rates and the attitude of locals towards foreign aid workers. Somalia is one of those places where foreigners coming to help are seen by many Somalis as potential victims more than helpful outsiders.

Despite the violence and hostility to outsiders, the economy continues to grow and local entrepreneurs adapt to the violent environment. Somalis running the cell phone companies, for example, operate a popular and essential service. That means anyone threatening the cell phone companies is generally disliked, and that often leads to local clan militias grabbing their guns and defending the local cell phone infrastructure from attack. Foreigners, however, no matter how useful they are, are considered fair game. This includes foreign aid, which is plundered energetically by most Somalis. These attitudes limit how far the Somali economy and “civil society” (generally peaceful and law-abiding) can develop in Somalia.

Meanwhile, al Shabaab becomes less of a threat and more part of the local bandit and warlord problem. Somalia is cursed by clan rivalries and the popularity of banditry and warlordism (more ambitious banditry). All this is nothing new and has been the norm for centuries. There is no easy or popular solution for these fundamental problems.

November 23, 2019: Foreign aid groups are trying to raise money to aid about half a million Somalis hurt by recently floods. Most of these Somalis lost their homes or saw them damaged. It is difficult raising aid money for Somalia because so much of it never gets to those it was intended for. Corruption and extortion by bandits, Islamic terrorists and local officials greatly deplete aid efforts. Floods are second to frequent droughts that make life difficult for Somalis. The third curse is the corruption and tendency to attack foreigners, even those supplying needed economic or food aid. In southern Somalia, the al Shabaab extortion recently became worse as the government cracked down on the illegal charcoal export business the terrorist group had long profited from.

November 19, 2019: In the south (Middle Juba) an American airstrike killed a wanted al Shabaab member. There was a similar attack in the same area on the 12th, killing one al Shabaab member who also had links to al Qaeda. Such attacks are common and have been regularly eliminating Islamic terrorist leaders and specialists. This is the result of the U.S. deciding that their most valuable contribution to Somali peacekeeping is intelligence on al Shabaab activity and airstrikes (usually via missile armed UAVs) that kill key Islamic terrorist personnel or destroy key assets (training camps, bomb-building workshops). So far in 2019, there have been more than fifty airstrikes against al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) targets in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. That’s more than the 47 for all of 2018.

The SOCOM (Special Operations Command) and CIA intelligence gathering operation have local facilities in Djibouti (where the aircraft and some SOCOM personnel are stationed). There is a smaller satellite facility in Mogadishu, where a heavily guarded compound houses CIA and SOCOM operators who organize and run local intelligence operations and distribute information to peacekeepers, Somali military and trusted local allies. Details of how the intel collection operation works are kept out of the news but it does explain why al Shabaab targets Somali and foreign intel officials whenever possible. The intel and airstrike operations have been very effective and are one reason why there are now so few al Shabaab attacks in general and a growing list of al Shabaab defeats and retreats. This is a pattern that is by design not chance. Al Shabaab does not mention this sort of thing in their online propaganda but among themselves, it is a major topic of conversation and frustration.

Somaliland and Puntland are where most of the ISIL activity is but that ISIL group is barely surviving because of a combination of local enemies (clan militias) and the airstrikes. Since 2015 ISIL has been trying to take advantage of local (Puntland and Galmudug) clan feuds to establish a presence in Puntland. This began in October 2015 when an al Shabaab faction declared that it was now the local branch of ISIL. The ISIL members up there were largely former al Shabaab men who wanted more violence or whatever. ISIL was more daring and dangerous than mainstream Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda (which al Shabaab associates with as well as seeks to destroy) but is also self-destructive. ISIL considers any other Islamic terror group a potential enemy if the other group does not recognize ISIL as the leader. Between local militias, the UAV attacks and internal disputes ISIL has moved to the bottom of the threat list for Somalia. More and more of the airstrikes are taking place further south against al Shabaab targets.

November 18, 2019: Fighting in the northern statelet of Somaliland resulted in al Shabaab claims to have occupied the town of Sanaag. Somaliland officials deny this. Sanaag and some nearby towns have sought in the past to establish their own state called Khaatumo. Somaliland militia hunted down and killing those separatists but some people in the area are more receptive to al Shabaab than to the Somaliland government.

November 15, 2019: A UN investigation of a January Islamic terrorist attack in the Kenyan capital concluded that the attack was organized, financed and carried out by Somali refugees or ethnic Somali Kenyans. Somali violence, both from al Shabaab and clan disputes, is less frequent throughout Somalia but persists in northeastern Kenya, mainly in the counties (provinces) of Mandera, Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Marsabit that border Somalia. Occasionally the violence extends to cities elsewhere in Kenya. What is keeping al Shabaab active here and not elsewhere in Somalia is the lucrative smuggling operations the Islamic terrorists dominate along the border. In addition to bordering Somalia, there are several other reasons for all the Somali violence in this part of Kenya. First, there is the pervasive corruption in Kenya (and Africa in general). Al Shabaab takes advantage of the police corruption in Kenya, where the largely Christian police are particularly brutal towards Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis. Similar attitudes are directed at the Somali refugees. That brutality and discrimination make Kenyan Somalis reluctant to cooperate with police in finding al Shabaab terrorists or smugglers. About 76 percent of the Moslems (four million people) in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya is largely (80 percent) Christian with a Moslem minority (12 percent of the population) that has been known to harbor Islamic terrorists. Most Kenyan Moslems live in coastal cities like Mombasa (where about a third of the 1.1 million population is Moslem). A lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live in northeastern Kenya and that is a problem when most of the soldiers and police are Christians and non-Somali. Al Shabaab exploits this friction to continue recruiting in Kenya.

November 14, 2019: Kenya and Somalia agreed to resume diplomatic relations and restore direct air flights. Diplomatic relations had been disrupted back in March because of the dispute over the maritime boundary. This was all about both nations claiming a 100,000 square kilometer offshore area that may contain oil and gas deposits and definitely contains valuable fishing areas. An international tribunal will decide this issue.

October 30, 2019: In the south, across the border in northeast Kenya (Wajir County) al Shabaab attacked a police station holding two recently arrested al Shabaab members. RPG rockets were used for the nighttime raids and two of the 16 police at the station were wounded. The attackers did not free the two prisoners but killed them and left. It is unclear why the prisoners were killed. The police station is about 13 kilometers from the border.




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