Some al Shabaab groups are now ordering all adult men to grow beards. Previously, the Islamic radicals have banned soccer (football), bras, ringtones and entertainment in general. But al Shabaab has also reduced crime and brought order (of the sort normally found in religious dictatorships). These restrictions are not imposed in all areas of southern Somalia (where al Shabaab operates), but only in those towns where the Islamic radicals feel they have the locals intimidated sufficiently that they will not fight back. In most of the south, al Shabaab control is still in dispute. Resistance is growing, in a pattern that has repeated itself frequently over the centuries. When the Islamic radicals attempt to impose their lifestyle on a large population, resistance builds until the Islamic radicals are all killed, forced out of power or driven away. That's already happening in parts of Somalia. But that does not help much with the large problem in Somalia. That is, too many warlords and clan leaders are unwilling to compromise and cooperate in forming a national government.
The number of people trying to escape Africa, via the Gulf of Aden smuggling route, increased 50 percent this year, to over 70,000. Most of these people are from Somalia or Ethiopia, and are seeking work in the Persian Gulf or Europe. Somali and Yemeni smugglers also move illegal good across the route. In the last decade, some smugglers have branched out into piracy. But that's a hit or thing, while the smuggling is steady money. But the smugglers are now earning, overall, less than a third of what the pirates are taking in. If you want to take a chance, to get spectacularly rich, piracy is the way to go. The anti-piracy patrol has slowed the pirates down, but, as long as there are safe havens for the pirates in Somalia, ships continue to be taken and held for ransom.
This year, the Ethiopians fleeing to Yemen are the majority (about 40,000), while the Somalis are no longer the majority (30,000 went to Yemen this year). Somalis have an edge when they land in Yemen, as they are automatically given refugee status, thus legalizing their presence. All other nationalities must apply, at the UN run refugee camps, for asylum status. If you don't get it, you are sent back. So most non-Somalis just keep going once they land in Yemen. Yemeni refugee camps currently hold about 150,000 Somalis.
In Mogadishu, there is still occasional gunfire between Islamic radicals and AU peacekeepers, but no more serious efforts by the Islamic radicals to advance. Everyone seems to have concluded that the professional soldiers from Burundi and Uganda are not going to be run out of town by the armed irregulars of Hizbul Islam and al Shabaab.
The UN has been unable to muster much direct support (as in peacekeepers, trainers or even a lot of cash) for the Transitional Government. Memories of the hostile experience UN peacekeepers had in the early 1990s are still quite vivid. And the current problems AU peacekeepers are having in Mogadishu simply reinforces those 1990s memories. All the UN has been able to do is deplore the continuing violence. There has been lots of deploring.
Efforts to halt the flow of Iranian weapons from Eritrea to Islamic radicals in Somalia, have failed. Threats of UN sanctions apparently do not bother Eritrea (which is currently run by a paranoid dictator), which blames everything on the United States. Iran denies any involvement, and also blames everything on the United States. The U.S. is supplying most of the food aid for Somalia.
December 17, 2009: Al Shabaab has banned UN Mine Action, an NGO that clears mines and other unexploded munitions. Al Shabaab accuses Mine Action of spying on Islamic Radical groups and paying the salaries of police working for the Transitional Government. Al Shabaab has been banning more and more NGOs since last Summer. This is seen as an effort to intimidate the NGOs, and make it easier for al Shabaab to extort money and goods from the NGOs that bring in food, and other relief supplies, for the millions of Somalis who are threatened by starvation. These relief operations are already crippled by theft and extortion, carried out by Somali businesses hired to help move and distribute the supplies. Al Shabaab makes deals with these groups to get a cut of the cash and loot. Stealing from thieves, as it were. A recent UN investigation of these practices was interrupted when the investigators were threatened with death if they did not back off. Many nations are refusing to contribute money or aid for Somalia anymore, because so much of it is simply being stolen.
December 16, 2009: The European Union (EU) agreed that a Dutch warship, in the Gulf of Aden, should release 13 pirates that were recently captured while attacking a merchant ship. No EU country was willing to prosecute the pirates, and the EU was not willing to allow anyone outside the EU to do so. Efforts to restore anti-piracy laws, or at least establish an international anti-piracy court, are going nowhere. Most Western nations no longer have laws on the books that deal with piracy. Taking captured pirates back home for prosecution risks the pirates demanding (and getting) asylum under new laws (that came into effect about the same time the anti-piracy laws were eliminated.) Thus captured pirates are usually disarmed, but are also fed and have their medical needs tended to. They are then put back in their boats, or put ashore, and allowed to return to their pirate activities.
The African Union is investigating two of its employees, who are suspected of passing on classified information to the American and South African intelligence agencies. Both these nations have an interest on what AU officials are really doing in Somalia, mainly because of the corruption and incompetence that often characterizes AU operations.
December 14, 2009: A group of Hizbul Islam fighters, operating 30 kilometers southeast of Mogadishu, decided that two men, one a murderer and the other an adulterer, should be executed. The Islamic radicals ordered all the locals to assemble in a field for the event. The accused murderer was shot, while the adulterer was buried up to his chest, and then stoned to death by volunteers from the crowd. After that, two factions among the dozens of Hizbul Islam fighters, began arguing about whether killing people like this was a good idea. The argument escalated until gunfire broke out. Three Hizbul Islam fighters were killed, and several others wounded.