Somalia: Chasing Ghosts


January 8, 2014: In the south peacekeepers and Somali troops are turning to the many bandit gangs that make life miserable for people in the area. There are over 17,000 peacekeepers in Somalia and only a few thousand trained government soldiers and police. More Somalis are being trained, but that takes time and many of the graduates do not stay with the security forces. The government is also more active in mediating peace between feuding clans. In some parts of the country these clan wars are the major source of mayhem and casualties.

The big problem in Somalia is that the concept of a true democracy is not well understood. But a council of clan leaders and warlords working out deals is. But that means lots of bribes and other forms of corruption. It also means no “civil society” and that’s the result of tradition fighting change to a standstill in Somalia.  Tradition means the clan is the primary loyalty, and everyone else is a potential victim, or enemy. Change means civil society, where democracy and negotiation, not threats, bribes and violence, are used to settle disputes. Old customs are hard to give up, and Somalia has been resisting change for over a century.  The new national government does not have the military might to break the clan power, not yet anyway.

Many of the warlords have an exaggerated view of their own power (political or military). It often seems impossible to make Somalis compromise and cooperate. The traditional clan leadership (a council of clan elders) has generally been eager to establish a working government, mainly because the elders see their kinsmen dying from starvation and disease. But the powerful warlords (some of them led by Moslem clerics) have been an opponent the clan leadership did not have the firepower to force a settlement on. The warlords caused death and fear as a matter of course, and only become approachable when they see their power threatened. The warlords also fear that an effective national government could eventually become powerful enough to defeat and kill or imprison the warlords. Dealing with the warlords has always been the key to Somalia's survival as a nation and ultimately the other nations in the region (especially Ethiopia and Kenya) had to send in troops to make it possible to establish a national government.  While many of the warlords were persuaded to cooperate (or be put out of business), they are still gangsters at heart and national unity is not a high priority for them.

Living off extortion and other criminal enterprises has always been popular in Somalia where warlords who could cobble together and maintain a private army were respected. The difference this time is that al Shabaab considers itself part of an international Islamic terrorist movement (al Qaeda) and welcomes foreign recruits. Generally, foreigners are not popular in Somali culture and are looked on as source profit not a welcome guest. These Islamic terrorist foreigners are often used for suicide attacks because they are more fanatic and not experienced fighters (and can’t speak the local languages). These foreigners boost morale among the Somali members because it indicates international support for their cause. On the downside the terror attacks kill more civilians than peacekeepers, police or local soldiers and makes the Islamic terrorists unpopular with most Somalis. That is not a concern with al Shabaab right now as they would rather be feared than loved. This is especially true within the organization, where there are still many Somali men who consider themselves al Shabaab but disagree with the current leadership. Paranoia and ready recourse to violence still defines the organization, which now considers itself part of an international movement.

In Kenya Islamic terrorists among its Somali minority and over half a million refugees from Somalia continue to make several attacks a month, often using hand grenades or gunfire. This is why Kenya keeps insisting on forcing the refugees back into Somalia.  

Peacekeepers are planning an attack on the port town of Barawe, in the south, where al Shabaab still has enough presence to enforce a $2 tax on each bag of charcoal smuggled out to Arabia. Somali charcoal exports are banned by international sanctions because it has long been a major source of income for Islamic terrorists.

The international anti-piracy patrol will continue for another year. Pirates captured no ships off Somalia in 2013, which makes it the fourth year of declining piracy activity off Somalia. However, pirates are still active, although their number has dropped more than 90 percent since 2012.

January 4, 2014: In the south al Shabaab kidnapped a UN aid official.

In the Kenyan capital one person was wounded by a bomb in a suitcase (that was left in a shop by someone who appeared to be Somali.)

January 3, 2014: In the north (Puntland) five soldiers died when they clashed with unidentified gunmen who escaped.

January 2, 2014: In Kenya (Mombassa) ten people were wounded when a man on a passing motorcycle threw a grenade into a nightclub.

January 1, 2014: In Mogadishu two car bombs went off outside a well-guarded hotel frequented by foreigners, killing 11 and wounding 18. Al Shabaab took credit.

December 27, 2013: In Mogadishu a remotely controlled bomb went off outside a tea shop killing 11 (including four soldiers) and wounding dozens.  

December 25, 2013: Although there are about a hundred Christians in Somalia there was no public celebration of Christmas because this year the government banned such activities.

In Kenya a Moslem cleric was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Another such murder occurred on December 6th.

In Ethiopia security officials revealed that al Shabaab was behind the October attempt to bomb a local sports stadium. The attack failed because the bombs the two suicide bombers were wearing went off prematurely, killing only the bombers. Police have arrested five al Shabaab members connected to the dead bombers.

December 19, 2013:  Unidentified gunmen fired on a vehicle full of doctors outside Mogadishu, killing six of them while one was wounded. Al Shabaab denied responsibility although some of the Islamic terrorists are still active in the area of the attack.

December 14, 2013: Outside the Kenyan capital an explosion (apparently from a grenade) inside a bus killed four and wounded 36. Al Shabaab is suspected as there are many Somalis in the neighborhood the attack took place in.





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