Somalia: A Mess Beyond Redemption

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October 4, 2011: Food aid is now reaching about half the starving famine victims in Somalia. That's up from 750,000 three months ago. While al Shabaab bars food aid for about two million people, aid groups believe they can bribe al Shabaab sufficiently to allow the rest of the starving Somalis to get food by the end of the year.

Turkey is taking the lead, among Moslem nations, in raising money for Somali famine relief, and has pledged more than twice as much as the Gulf Arab oil states. The Gulf Arabs have long been reluctant to get too involved in Somalia, which is seen as a mess beyond redemption. These Gulf States have enough problems with illegal migrants from Somalia. Western donors have sustained Somalia for most of the last two decades, but are now backing away because of the rampant corruption and violence against aid workers. The Turks believe that a little more violence of their own, and greater tolerance for bribery, will get the aid to those who need it. Until the late 19th century, the Turks were a presence in this region, and getting involved again feeds national pride. But so far this year, the United States has been the largest provider of relief aid to Somalia and its neighbors ($650 million worth).

The problem with all of Somalia, including the relatively stable statelets of Puntland and Somaliland in the north, is the rampant corruption. A position of authority (in government or clan leadership) is considered a license to steal. This is especially true with any kind of foreign aid. Criticism of this behavior is not tolerated, as is seen by the number of local journalists beaten, arrested or killed because of stories deploring the stealing.

Twice in the last month, Somali bandits crossed the Kenyan border and kidnapped a Western tourist from a beach resort popular with wealthy foreigners. As a result, most of the tourists fled and several Western nations warned their citizens to avoid parts of Kenya subject to Somali raids. In response, Kenya has sent more troops and police to the Somali border. These recent raids are nothing new. For centuries, Somalis have raided into Kenya, looting, raping and kidnapping as they went. This banditry was suppressed (but not eliminated) during the European colonial period (late-19th to mid-20th century). The raiders are admired in Somalia and feared in Kenya. The two recent tourist kidnappings were carried out by raiders who came from the sea via motorboats. Kenya is keen on seeing a government established in Somalia, as that would greatly reduce the raiding.

Al Shabaab is ordering merchants to only use Arabic on their billboards, posters and store signs. English and Somali are often used. Al Shabaab has also banned the use of the Somali flag, insisting that the black al Shabaab flag be flown.

September 30, 2011: Somali raiders came at night and attacked a Kenyan beach resort a few kilometers from the Somali border. The raiders dragged a 66 year old French woman from her wheelchair to a boat on the beach and back to Somalia. Kenyan police were alerted and pursued in a boat. A gun battle took place, which saw two Kenyan sailors killed, along with several kidnappers. But the kidnappers made it into Somali territory, and Kenyan forces are not allowed to follow. The Kenyan government may change that policy as a result of this incident. A British tourist was taken from the same area on September 11th. Tourism is Kenya's largest source of foreign currency, and the government is normally very efficient at providing foreign tourists with adequate security. It's unclear how the Kenyans dropped the ball here. Apparently some Somali gangs along the Kenyan border detected an opportunity, and took it.

Al Shabaab gunmen attacked the southern town of Dobley, but were repulsed. The town is held by local militias, who call the border area Azania. Six months ago, al Shabaab lost control of this town on the Kenyan border, along with another one (Liboi). The fighting was intense, with over 500 casualties (for both sides). There were nearly 200 dead. But now Azania and TNG (Transitional National Government) forces control this key border crossing, and have repulsed several al Shabaab efforts to come back.

Kenya and local clan leaders along the border are trying to create security and stability by declaring the establishment of an autonomous region along the border, called Azania. This is modeled on Somaliland and Puntland in the north, where they have had peace, prosperity and pirates since the 1990s. Kenya is supporting Azania, if only to make it more difficult for Somali refugees, bandits and raiders from getting into Kenya. Azania is part of a trend, where local tribal ("clan", in Somali parlance) leaders declare their own mini-states. There are over twenty of these in Somalia now.

September 29, 2011: In the south, fighting broke out, on the road between the villages of Belet Hawo and Garbaharey. TNG soldiers and al Shabaab gunmen fought for several hours, causing over a dozen casualties. The al Shabaab men backed off.

September 24, 2011: An American UAV crashed, apparently because of mechanical problems, near the airport outside the southern port of Kismayu. These UAVs (mainly Predators and Reapers) are increasingly common sights over al Shabaab held territory. The UAVs occasionally fire missiles at al Shabaab personnel. There have been at least three missile attacks around Kismayu in the last few days.

 

 

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