Somalia: The Big Bully Beatdown

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March 16, 2009: The fighting in Somalia is coming down to a battle between traditional Islamic practices (the mystical Sufi form) and the more radical Wahhabi version, imported from Saudi Arabia and concentrated in the al Shabaab group. Wahhabi Moslems consider Sufi to be a heresy (Wahhabi tends to consider any form of Islam other than theirs to be heresy). Al Qaeda is heavily influenced by Wahhabism. The traditionalists were behind the formation of the Islamic Courts, and currently control the Transitional National Government (TNG). It's not unusual for religious leaders to play a prominent role in Somali politics. It's happened before when secular leaders were not up to the task. New ideas and practices imported from across the Gulf of Aden in Arabia is also a common part of Somali culture. In fact, many aspects of Somalia culture were imported from Arabia. So Wahhabism is just another cultural artifact that came over, and landed with uncertain results. Along with Wahhabism came al Qaeda, violent intolerance, suicide bombers and the generally self-destructive tactics that have led to al Qaeda failing everywhere it tried to take up residence.

Kenya now has arrangements with the European Union, as well as the United States, to try and, if convicted, incarcerate Somali pirates captured by the international anti-piracy patrol. Since World War II, international law has eliminated most of the traditional practices for dealing with pirates, largely on the premise that traditional piracy was gone forever. This proved to be incorrect.

The showdown between the moderate Moslems, as represented by the Islamic Courts (who currently control the government,  such as it is), and the Islamic radicals (al Shabaab) is basically about traditional Somali practices (the Islamic Courts) and the new ideas (al Qaeda and the effort to conquer the world for Islam). However, al Shabaab does represent one practice found often in Somali history; being a bully.  Somalis are big on intimidation and getting their way. That's the main reason why Somalia has had no government for the last 18 years. The Islamic Courts, now in control of the government, are imposing Sharia (Islamic) law throughout the country (or wherever they control the population). Al Shabaab also is imposing Sharia, but favors a much stricter form, which is less popular. But al Shabaab is also more ruthless, having been accused of murdering four more moderate clerics recently.  

Off the north coast, the pirate attacks continue, but are much less successful because of all the foreign warships. The U.S. has also brought in a large (40,000 ton) amphibious ship, carrying helicopters, landing craft and a thousand marines.

March 15, 2009:  Al Shabaab and Islamic Courts gunmen fought for control of the town of Wabho, north of Mogadishu. Eleven people died, most of them Al Shabaab, and the radicals retreated. But al Shabaab are bringing in reinforcements, for another try.  The new government is massing gunmen in Mogadishu, in an attempt to restore order to the city.

The Somali economy has survived without a government since 1991, but has not thrived. A third of the population survives on foreign aid, mainly free food. But this is imperiled by the chronic crime. More and more of the food aid is being stolen. The only businesses that can survive are those that obtain the protection of a warlord. Many merchants and professionals are not able to work with this (often because warlords don't want to deal with a bunch of businesses, and eliminate competition by not protecting a large number of suppliers of goods and professional services. That means most of the lawyers and technical specialists have fled the country. Even many medical personnel have gone, frightened by the violence and lawlessness. Thus the Somali economy has become very basic, but evolved so that it can thrive in a violent and unpredictable environment.

March 12, 2009:  Al Shabaab gunmen in Mogadishu again attacked Burundi peacekeepers. One al Shabaab man was killed.

March 8, 2009: Al Shabaab has warned Kenya to not interfere with its gunmen operating along the border. This is a seemingly bold, but typically Somali, attitude towards Kenyans. In this case, Kenya has a lot of powerful allies, like the United States, and is not that intimidated. But the Somalis militants are violent and unpredictable, so the Kenyans are braced for anything. For the last two years, Kenya has officially closed the border, but Somalis continue to use it (for fleeing as refugees, or smuggling both ways).

March 6, 2009:  For the eighth time in the last six months, Somali pirates attempted to seize a ship off the Kenyan coast, in this case 480 kilometers east of Mombassa. One of those attacks succeeded, and a Saudi tanker was seized. Since then, crews of large ships headed to and from the southern tip of Africa, are on high alert as the pass Kenya and Somalia.

March 5, 2009: An Egyptian ship, held two months by pirates in Puntland, was released after the payment of a million dollar ransom. The pirates still hold ten ships, while random negotiations continue.

 

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