The Somali pirates are driving up the price of Tuna. Indian ocean tuna fishing is a $6 billion a year industry, with hundreds of boats working off the east coast of Africa. Pirates will seize the fishing boats, even though they these vessels bring a smaller ransom than the larger merchant vessels. But ransoms as high as a million dollars have been paid for tuna fishing boats. This has driven up the coast of insurance, and many boats avoid the increase by staying away from the Somali coast. This has caused the catch to decline about 30 percent in the last two years. This has caused a major recession in the ports in the region that supply the fishing boats with fuel, other supplies and services. Many of the pirates feel it is their patriotic duty to go after the tuna fishing boats, which are destroying the tuna stocks off the coast by overfishing. Since there is no Somali government to regulate the fishing, the large boats (up to 6,000 tons) take all the tuna they can get. Populations of some fishing species have already collapsed, and will take a decade or more (if ever) to revive. The smaller Somali fishing boats can't compete with the larger fishing ships from Europe and East Asia.
January 25, 2009: Ethiopia has completed the withdrawal of its troops from Somalia. Already, other nations in the region are asking Ethiopia to send its troops back in. Ethiopia is the only one in the region (if not in Africa, with the possible exception of South Africa) who can handle the Somali gunmen. Somalis and Ethiopians have been neighbors, and at war with each other, for centuries. While the Ethiopians have learned how to deal with the Somalis, they would rather not. It's a nasty business, and these days you get accused of war crimes if you are too good at it for too long.
Several hundred heavily armed members of al Shebab, the al Qaeda sponsored Islamic radical group, seized control of Baidoa, long the headquarters for the Transitional National Government (TNG). For the TNG and al Shebab, control of anything is largely symbolic. The TNG represents an attempt by the traditional Somali power brokers to get along with each other and form a government. That didn't work. Al Shebab represents the efforts of one Islamic radical faction to take over the entire country and establish an Islamic dictatorship. That won't work either, if only because there are several other factions of Islamic radicals competing with al Shebab. And if the Islamic radicals are too successful, the Ethiopians (who have made no secret of this plan) will come back. And then there are the U.S. and NATO commandos up north in Djibouti, who are also up to something. But they are not holding any press conferences about it, unlike al Shebab, which loves to tell the world what it's doing, or thinks it's doing, or plans on doing.
The U.S. and Kenya have come to terms on a deal whereby Somali pirates captured by U.S. forces, will be jailed and prosecuted in Kenya. The U.S. will provide money, and other assistance, to reimburse Kenya for their efforts. Most other nations, with warships patrolling the Somali coast, do not have any arrangements to deal with captive pirates. Those ships have been told, in effect, that they can kill pirates, but not take them alive.
The anti-piracy patrol is working. While there were twelve ships taken last November, and two in December, none have been taken in January. The pirates currently hold ten ships, having received ransom for, and released six ships this month. The pirates are trying to come up with new tactics, to get around the constant presence of the foreign warships. But so far, the anti-piracy patrol has been able to counter new pirate tactics.
January 24, 2009: In Mogadishu, a suicide car bomber set off his explosives before reaching his target (the African Union headquarters), and killed 15 civilians and wounded over two dozen.
January 23, 2009: In Somaliland (one of two self-proclaimed statelets in the north, to the west of Puntland), police have arrested several dozen Islamic terrorists and seized ten shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. The men, and weapons, came from Eritrea (which, with Iran, is supporting Islamic terrorist groups in Somalia). There were three suicide bombings in Somaliland last October, which prompted the local government and tribal leaders to go after Islamic terrorists (who normally would be tolerated if they did no harm locally.) Al Quaeda has put more money and men into Somalia. The results have been disappointing, because the Somalis are difficult to control, and very dangerous if you anger them. It's like herding cats (if you can imagine cats armed with automatic weapons and nasty tempers.)
January 22, 2009: The UN has announced that it will halt food aid to Somalia unless the attacks on the aid effort stop. This includes the extortion of money from food aid trucks by hundreds of roadblocks. But the worst danger is the random attacks on food aid operations personnel, both transportation and distribution. The UN supervised program is currently distributing 57,000 tons of food to 2.5 million people in central and southern Somalia. The food reaches the country via ship, which, for the last few years, has been accompanied by a warship, to prevent seizure by pirates. But once ashore, the food is increasingly stolen by bandits and warlords, who then sell it in the markets, or even take it to neighboring countries (if the prices are sufficiently higher.) It's unknown if the UN would actually halt the food aid program, but it's unusual for them to even threaten to do so.
The UN is also trying to get Kenya to stop sending Somali refugees back to Somali. Kenya accepted 60,000 Somali refugees last year, and have had no end of problems with them. Somali gunmen try, and often succeed, in using the refugee camps as rest areas. Worse, the Somali gunmen sometimes do some looting in Kenya, instead of going back to Somali to steal. So Kenya has told the UN to stuff it, and is turning away most Somalis trying to flee into Kenya.