Somalia: December 27, 2003



Somalia continues to be the poster child for failed states. Clan based warlords continue to rule most of the country, and their undisciplined gunmen amuse and enrich themselves by looting and raping among other clans. 

The chaos has led to criminal organizations setting up shop. Smuggling, piracy, gunrunning and anything that will bring a warlord some extra cash is showing up. The UN is concerned about the gun running, but is only talking about punishing the other countries that are caught allowing their citizens to do business with Somali criminal organizations. The UN knows it would not be able to raise another force of peacekeepers for Somalia, not after the problems they had ten years ago. The US has an anti-terrorism operation in Djibouti, just to the north of Somalia, and from there, American commandos have been seen operating inside Somalia. But these efforts have apparently not discovered any extensive al Qaeda operations. Several al Qaeda suspects were grabbed in Somalia a month ago, and several more arrested in Kenya. But the violence and disorder in Somalia is apparently not attractive to al Qaeda, and the ability of American commandos to enter the area at will is a further discouragement. 

The warlords often have peace deals with neighboring strongmen, if only to prevent an escalation of fighting that could threaten their own power. But there are land disputes and blood feuds, as well as squabbles over economic issues (like who has the right to put up roadblocks and collect fees from passing vehicles.) Although by now everyone recognizes that gun battles are counterproductive, they still break out, escalate and then peter out when there are so many casualties that either one, or both sides back off. One of those battles broke out on December 16th and 17th, 430 kilometers north of the capital. The fight over land use, and who killed who in past battles, left nearly fifty dead and twice as many wounded. The lack of medical facilities meant many of the wounded would eventually die. This particular fighting, between the Marehan and Dir clans also caused several thousand people to flee the area, and looting caused the destruction of hundreds of homes, as well as crops and farm animals. 

Most foreign aid groups restrict their operations in Somalia. Only after careful negotiations with warlords is aid, usually food or medical, sent in. In the north, two areas (Somaliland and Puntland) have established fairly stable local governments and aid workers can operate freely. But for most of Somalia, aid work is a life and death situation for the aid workers. There are a few things the warlords respect. One is money. The fourteen small companies, that handle the transfer of money from Somalis working overseas, are generally left alone. These companies are actually the largest employers in Somalia, if only because they handle the transfer of $750 million a year and hire a lot of clerks and armed guards. These financial services companies have used their relative immunity from warlord greed to branch out into related activities, like trade and communications. The transfer companies have their own trade group, the Somali Financial Services Association (SFSA) and, as such, are the only truly national organization in the country at the moment.

Since late 2002, Kenya has hosted peace talks between the various factions. There has been some agreement, but not enough to declare a national government. Too many warlords are still putting their own interests ahead of Somalia's.



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