Somalia: Herding Cats


October 15, 2009: The Somali pirates who seized a Spanish tuna boat last week, are demanding that two of their men, who were captured by a Spanish warship (while going, via speedboat, from the captured tuna boat to shore), be released before negotiations can begin for the captured tuna boat. The Spanish are refusing to go along with that, and are threatening to use commandos to rescue the tuna boat and its 36 man crew. The Somalis, and their supporters, claim that the fishing boats are illegally plundering Somali fishing grounds. But the tuna boats are way off the coast, in international waters. In fact, the pirates are now, according to Interpol, run by criminal gangs. Most of the ransom money goes to gang leaders and middlemen (the negotiators and, foreign specialists and those who deliver the cash). The average pirate, who took the ship, walks away with about $10,000. Many other pirates receive a monthly salary, to keep them going in case they get lucky. The gangs have bought better equipment (GPS, satellite phones, night vision devices, higher quality weapons and, speedboats, outboard engines,  boarding gear) for the pirates, but the Somalis involved are mainly cheap labor. Some of the key people in the gangs are foreigners from the large criminal gangs (often run by Indians or Pakistanis, as well as local Arabs) based in the Persian Gulf. The anti-piracy patrol of foreign warships have foiled an average of ten attacks (on merchant ships) a month so far this year. Fewer ships are being taken, but the pirates are still a big threat. Ship owners end up paying an average of seven million dollars for each ship taken. The ransom is less than a third of the cost, the rest goes to lawyers, negotiators, payments to crews and their families and so on.

Al Shabaab is increasingly applying Sharia law in areas they control. This is most visible in the public floggings, executions and amputations of hands and feet of thieves. Many Somalis appreciate this attempt to restore order, but Somalis on the receiving end belong to large families, which now seek revenge from the Islamic radical groups. This is a major reason why it is so difficult to maintain order in Somalia. Al Shabaab is increasingly running into factionalism and violence among their followers. Running any organization in Somalia is like herding cats; big, nasty cats armed with automatic weapons.

The  Transitional Government has been recruiting policemen and soldiers for the new security forces (with cash for equipment and salaries provided by foreign aid) in northern Kenya, among the many ethnic Somalis (including refugees) living there. Al Shabaab has threatened violent retribution against Kenya unless the recruiting stops. Kenya has refused to comply, and nearly 200 men have been recruited so far.  Foreign trainers are moving recruits to camps in Djibouti, where months of instruction will, it is hope, produce disciplined and loyal police and soldiers. Past attempts at this had failed, as the trainees eventually turned into bandits or gunmen for warlords.

October 13, 2009: Twice in the last few days,  French marines fired on  speedboats full of Somali pirates, who were threatening a French tuna boat some thousand kilometers east of the Somali coast. Some 60 of these marines are stationed on ten French tuna boats. Dozens of large European tuna fishing ships are operating in the area, and at least one Somali pirate mother ship is in the area as well.

October 11, 2009:  An American Somali was arrested by Kenyan border guards, because the American was suspected of attempting to join al Shabaab.

October 9, 2009: In Mogadishu, unidentified gunmen killed an al Shabaab leader and two bodyguards and a civilian, in a drive by shooting in a crowded market. No one took credit for the killing. In Uganda, the Transitional Government Defense Minister was arrested by soldiers, who did not recognize him and believed he was a Somali warlord. The Somali Defense Minister (who was also a warlord) had come to visit kin, and was soon released.




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