Somalia: Creative Chaos



August 11, 2021: The government protested UN and AU (African Union) plans to greatly reduce or eliminate the current 19,400 strong peacekeeper force. This process is supposed to start by the end of 2021. In January the United States completed moving most of its 700 troops out of Somalia to other parts of East Africa. Two months later the AU announced plans to do the same or at least greatly reduce the number of peacekeepers in Somalia. Soldiers from five AU countries (Uganda, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti) comprise the current force that costs about $200 million a year. That money is provided by the UN via contributions by the U.S. and EU (European Union). The UN approves the size and duration of the peacekeeper force annually. The peacekeepers have been in Somalia for fifteen years at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far nearly a thousand peacekeepers have been killed and at least 4,000 wounded or injured. About a quarter of those were so badly wounded that they received disability payments while families of the dead received a lump sum in death benefits. Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world.

The first AU peacekeepers arrived in March 2007 and these 8,000 troops were supposed to be gone within six months. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000, most of them soldiers plus a few thousand police, trainers and administrators. The peacekeeper force made some difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. That peacekeeper force is due to leave because the best it can do is reduce the violence and disunity, while UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the limited foreign aid.

Because of the threat of peacekeeper reductions or elimination, the Somali army, which is about the same size as the peacekeeper force, has been particularly active and effective this year. If the peacekeepers go the army will have to face all the fighting alone and current assessments conclude that the army might not survive that for long, and instead fall apart because of casualties, desertions and a lack of new recruits. The Somalis have been saying this for nearly a decade but the AU and UN are fed up and the major donors needed to support the peacekeeper force have warned that they will reduce or eliminate contributions because of the continued corruption and ineffectiveness of the Somali government.

Foreigners with lots of experience in Somalia tend to agree that the best example of a failed state has long been Somalia. A lot of Somalis reluctantly concur. In part that's because the concept of a "Somali Nation" is a very recent (the 1960s) development. It never caught on in Somalia although it is still popular with a declining number of foreign aid donors and UN officials. Same could be said for the Palestinians. Sudan is accused of being a failed state, but it isn't in the same league with Somalia. Sudan has had central government of sorts, on and off, for thousands of years. Not so Somalia. Another common problem with failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which is why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. Tribalism has kept most African and many Arab nations from making much economic progress. The top failed states tend to be African, Moslem or both. Somalia is unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from clan animosities and severe warlordism that has existed in northeast Africa for thousands of years. In this region a few coastal cities served as secure enough places for foreigners to come and trade. The clans of the interior never considered large port cities, like Mogadishu, suitable to rule all of what is now Somalia. The only time Somalia was united was for about a century when Italian and British colonial forces pacified and occupied Somalia in order to halt Somali raids on offshore shipping and the larger British colony in Kenya. Somalis had long seen raiding neighbors, including other Somali clans, as a right. Somalis were also traders. In effect you could describe them as a tropical version of the Vikings. The Scandinavian Vikings eventually settled down, after centuries of raiding and trading, and formed some of the least corrupt and most affluent nations on the planet. Somalis are still stuck in Full Viking mode.

The Somali failed state process can be currently seen in the unresolved dispute between regional politicians and the existing president whose term of office ended in early February 2021. The regional leaders don’t trust the current president or each other. Regional leaders of Puntland in the north and Jubaland in the south refused to attend the last national conference called by the president to work out the problems because they insisted, he no longer had the authority to do so because his term had expired.

August 11, 2021: In central Somalia (outside Beledweyne) a minibus was hit by a roadside bomb, killing eight passengers and wounding five. Al Shabaab is the usual suspect in situations like this because these Islamic terrorists have been doing a lot of this in the area over that last few year.

August 8, 2021: Foreign ministry negotiators from Kenya visited Mogadishu and worked out an end to months of disrupted diplomatic relations because of disputes over maritime boundaries and mutual accusations of interference in each other’s internal affairs. This agreement may yet fall apart because Somali president Farmajo, illegally remaining in office since his term expired in February, threatens to oppose the agreement if prime minister Hussain Roble travels to Kenya to affirm the agreement. Farmajo is accused of trying to stay in power by sustaining chaos rather than dealing with it. Roble has presided over government ministries seeking to do their jobs despite presidential opposition. The army is performing well, as is the foreign ministry and doing so despite Farmajo’s efforts to interfere. This is an old problem in Somalia, where many leaders prefer chaos because it provides more opportunities to do what they want and get away with it. Laws are to be exploited, not enforced.

Back in the United States the government added five African Islamic terrorists to the list of global terrorists and subject to travel and financial sanctions. Two of the five belonged to the Somali al Shabaab. Ali Rage (or “Ali Dhere”) is in charge of planning and carrying out terror attacks in Somalia and Kenya while Mohamed Abdikadir (or “Ikrima”) was in charge of operations and logistics.

August 7, 2021: Three of the federal states tried to conduct local elections and concluded that the process was incomplete. There were local complaints of vote rigging by powerful local leaders and politicians.

August 6, 2021: Turkey has pledged another $30 million in foreign aid, to be paid out at the rate of $2.5 million a month. Since 2015 Turkey has contributed nearly $120 million to Somalia as well as providing military trainers who created a commando force that the current Somali president used to forcibly remain in power after his term of office ended in February. The presidential elections were supposed to be held in late 2020 but have been delayed several times.

August 5, 2021: In central Somalia (Galmadug) al Shabaab accused an 89-year-old man of insulting the prophet Mohamed and executed him by firing squad. This is the second such execution in Galmadug since 2015.

August 3, 2021: At least eight Iranian gunmen sought to emulate Somali pirates by boarding the tanker Asphalt Princess off the UAE coast but failed to take control of the ship. The crew locked themselves in a safe room and disabled the engines. The Iranians were unable to gain control of the engines and were adrift. They left the ship early the next morning as warships closed in to free the ship and capture the pirates. The Iranians apparently planned to take the tanker to an Iranian port and demand large fines for non-existent violations. This is another version of the tactics the Somali pirates used from 2007 to 2012. An international anti-piracy patrol off Somalia was soon formed and quickly ended the ship hijackings during the last nine years. The pirates are still operating off Somalia and Yemen but now concentrate on robbing smaller ships rather than trying to hold them for ransom. Owners of the smaller ships usually will not or cannot pay ransom. A smaller international anti-piracy force has been formed for the Iranian threat and commercial ships are warned that they security methods they used off Somalia should be used when they pass near Iran. That’s why the Asphalt Princess knew what to do if pirates got aboard.

August 2, 2021: Down south, across the border in Kenya’s Mandera county, two al Shabaab attacks over the weekend left three Kenyans dead and five wounded.

August 1, 2021: The U.S. has resumed its airstrikes against al Shabaab targets in Somalia. The first one took place on July 20th, followed by others on the 23rd and 30th. Before July the last such attack was at the end of January. Since early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia, there have been about 170 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) members. In 2020 there were fifty of these airstrikes, the most in one year in the previous decade. For 2021 there have been ten UAV airstrikes so far, with seven of them occurring in January.

July 31, 2021: In the northeast, neighboring Djibouti is responding to an uprising in Ethiopia that has spread into Djibouti. The Ethiopian rebellion began in late 2020 with a revolt by soldiers in the northern province of Tigray. While Ethiopia is often described as the oldest Christian state in Africa, that claim has to be qualified. Yes, Ethiopia has been a nation-state for thousands of years, nearly as long as Egypt. Unlike Egypt, Ethiopia avoided becoming anyone’s colony. Having resisted Islamic, Turkish and European conquest Ethiopia remained largely Christian for two thousand years and managed, since the 1960s, to go from monarchy to communist dictatorship and then democracy. Despite all that there were still religious (mainly Moslem) and ethnic (mainly Somali) minorities that still triggered armed rebellions.

The current Tigray rebellion is more political than tribal or religious. The Tigrayans are Christian and ethnically related to the ethnic majority that has long ruled Ethiopia. The current violence is more of a family feud than religious or tribal unrest. The Tigrayans have some real grievances but so do most other minorities in Ethiopia. The danger is that some of the other minorities might decide the join the mayhem even at the risk of destroying Ethiopian national unity.

July 30, 2021: In the south (the port city of Kismayo) a bomb placed on the bus carrying football (soccer) players went off, killing five passengers and wounding twelve. Al Shabaab was blamed because they consider football un-Islamic.

July 25, 2021: Elections have again been delayed again with no date given for when they will begin. The “election cycle” was to have begun today with elections in the five federal states ( Puntland, Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Southwest State and Jubaland) where there was to be four days of voting to select eight senators from each federal state for the upper house of parliament. Not all the states were ready but some went ahead anyway. The election cycle ends on October 10 with the presidential election. Somalia has not held a proper (one man, one vote) election since 1969, when the results of a March vote were disputed and that was resolved in October when Siad Barre, a 59-year-old army general led a coup that established a leftist dictatorship that misruled the country until 1991 when the government collapsed and Somalia fell into a state of anarchy that, after three decades of effort, it has still not recovered from.




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