Somalia: Getting Paid


December 27, 2007: Somalia has become one of the most extreme examples of social disintegration on the planet. Bandits are increasingly targeting relief workers, either to extort them, or kidnap them. While most Somalis realize the relief workers are there to help, there are still many heavily armed and bad tempered Somalis who see the foreigners as a source of income. These Somalis traditions of warlordism and opportunism are not easily cured. A century ago, a British colonial official observed that, when dealing with this type of Somali, the best approach was to; "shoot on sight, shoot first, shoot to kill, and keep shooting." Little has changed. Even in "quiet" parts of Somalia, bandits still do what they please. In northern Puntland, one such gang kidnapped two foreign medical aid workers (two women, a doctor and a nurse), and are holding them for ransom. There is some law and order in Puntland, so the security forces are in pursuit. But the way things work in Somalia, the kidnappers expect to be paid, and will kill their captives if a ransom is not forthcoming. Recently, a French journalist was kidnapped in the same area, and held for eight days until an $80,000 ransom was paid. After news of that got around, Somali gangsters took a different view of unarmed foreigners.

U.S. naval forces off Somalia have been ordered to be more strict with pirates. Details of the new rules of engagements were not released (lest the pirates figure out how to exploit them), but the announcement was apparently intended to intimidate the pirates. U.S. naval intelligence has collected a lot of information on the Somali pirates, and is trying to take apart the pirate organizations, without getting involved with the fighting inside Somalia.

Mogadishu is still the scene of fighting between rival clans, one side aided by Ethiopian troops. In the last two months, about a quarter million people have left Mogadishu, mostly members of the clans that are losing the battle for the city. The Ethiopian troops are aiding factions that agree to pacify the city, and not conduct raids into Ethiopia. The expulsion of clan militias from Mogadishu has led to more banditry outside the city, as the displaced clan gunmen look for other sources of income (they used to control major market places and commercial neighborhoods, which were heavily "taxed.") Now the gunmen prey on trucks carrying foreign aid, or other goods. The trucks must either pay cash at a dozen or more roadblocks, or risk being robbed. Some trucks travel in heavily guarded convoys, which enables them to get past some roadblocks for free, while strongly defended ones require some negotiation and payment.

Burundi sent a hundred troops to join the 1,600 Ugandans already in Mogadishu, with another to follow in the next three weeks. But Burundi will not send another 800 man battalion unless other African nations honor their commitment to establish a 8,000 man peacekeeping force in Mogadishu. Ethiopia says it will withdraw its several thousand troops if the full UN force ever shows up. That is still in doubt. The African nations who are supposed to send peacekeepers, know they cannot fight the Somali irregulars as effectively as the Ethiopians (who have been doing it successfully for centuries.)


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