Somalia: Good Samaritans Get Mugged


August 26, 2011: Countries persuaded to donate aid to starving Somalis are finding that the aid either never gets there or efforts to confirm aid deliveries fail, as very few non-Somalis are inside Somalia, and nearly all the aid entering Somalia is distributed by local contractors or Somalis working for foreign aid organizations. In practice, most of the aid is stolen. When journalists, diplomats or anyone else reaches famine struck areas, aid tends to be found for sale in markets, not distributed to the needy. Many hungry Somalis cope by trying to flee the country. It’s estimated that over 130,000 have made it to refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somaliland and Puntland so far this year. Many more were blocked by al Shabaab or bandits, demanding bribes for free passage. Those who can’t pay wander elsewhere or settle down to die. The widespread prevalence of cell phones insures that photos of these starving people get out, even as it proves impossible to get food in. Western nations are adamant about not sending in peacekeepers again (as they did twenty years ago, with dismal results). The Somalis are armed, violent, opportunistic and don’t care who they exploit or rob.

The TNG (Transitional National Government) has about 15,000 armed men on the payroll. Two thirds of those are trained (mostly, but not much) soldiers, while the rest are trained (a bit) police and allied clan militias. Each of these men receive about a hundred dollars a month. Most of this money is delivered by the U.S. and Italian governments, bypassing the TNG (because of the risk of embezzlement).

The corruption is everywhere. As nations, especially Moslem nations, rush to fly additional aid into Mogadishu, they find unexpected additional fees demanded by airport officials. More extortion is encountered in and around the refugee camps being set up in the Mogadishu area. The TNG forces keep bandits and al Shabaab away, but the TNG soldiers and police are nearly as likely to demand bribes.

While al Shabaab has abandoned its main compounds inside Mogadishu, it still has men on the outskirts, where they continue to extort money from merchants. Those who refuse to pay are kidnapped and held prisoner until they change their minds.  The al Shabaab gunmen operate in large enough groups to overcome the bodyguards many wealthy merchants travel with. TNG security forces are moving into the outskirts to search for these al Shabaab groups, and this leads to gun battles and dead al Shabaab or, more often, the Islamic terrorists getting away.

Al Shabaab gunmen still control access to most of the area between Mogadishu and the Kenyan border to the south. Most al Shabaab factions still insist on keeping foreign aid from over two million people. There is more hostility between al Shabaab factions, some of which want to let the aid in. Al Shabaab leaders are trying to avoid a civil war within their organization.

August 23, 2011: In Puntland, unidentified gunmen killed a senior security commander.  This might have been a personal feud, or a message sent to security forces to leave criminal gangs alone. Most of the Somali pirates are based in Puntland.

August 22, 2011: The TNG executed two of its soldiers, who had been prosecuted for murder. Foreign aid donors have been pressuring the TNG to impose discipline on its security forces.

August 21, 2011:  More fighting broke out in central Somalia, as al Shabaab and Sufi gunmen fought each other. There were over 30 casualties, including at least seven dead.

August 20, 2011: Somali pirates boldly attacked a chemical tanker waiting to dock at the Oman port of Salalah (not far from the Yemeni border). Salalah is a major port, built in the late 1990s and handles nearly a million tons of cargo a month. The pirates grabbed the Indian tanker before the local port security could show up at the ship, which was anchored three kilometers (two miles) from the port itself. The pirates then told the port security forces to back off or the Indian sailors would be killed. The Indian ship got under way and moved off towards Somalia and months of captivity.





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