Somalia: The Curse Of Uncivil Society


July 28, 2014: In Mogadishu there were several armed clashes over the weekend. It is unclear if these were because of criminals, clan feuds or al Shabaab gunmen. Gunfire and explosions were heard at night in several neighborhoods. Despite continued random violence like this the UN peacekeepers believe their recent operations are destroying al Shabaab as an organization, with many of the terror groups leaders being killed or captured and the terrorist infrastructure (bomb workshops, bomb builders, attack planners and suicide bomber recruiters) destroyed or disrupted. This is the “decapitation” strategy used successfully by Israel since 2000 and the U.S. since 2003. But this method is not a one-time application but a continuous process. As long as the Islamic world supports a sense of oppression (by non-Moslems) and entitlement (to use force to make people convert to Islam or against Moslems who want to adopt another faith) there will still be Islamic clerics encouraging young men that it is their religious duty to become Islamic terrorists. Another problem in Somalia is the endemic and extensive corruption. In effect there are few Somalis who feel an obligation to serve a national government honestly. First loyalty is to family and clan and this justifies all manner of theft when others (people not of your clan or family) are involved. Foreigners are the best victims because they are more easily deceived, for a while at least. A growing number of investigative reports by foreign donor states document extensive corruption at all levels of government and society in Somalia and no signs that the stealing is diminishing. The corruption makes establishing countrywide law and order very difficult and this provides an opportunity for Islamic terrorist groups, who promise widespread order by imposing Islamic law. But most Somalis do not want all aspects of Islamic law (restrictions on women and entertainment) so groups like al Shabaab cause a lot of mayhem but never take over.

This widespread amorality and general lack of what Westerners call “civil society” makes it easier for Islamic terrorists to bribe government employees and members of the security forces to facilitate terror attacks. This also makes it more difficult for foreign aid groups to hire reliable local staff. The pervasive corruption makes nation building by Somalis or foreigners extremely difficult and often dangerous because most Somalis are armed and prone to violence if opposed.

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 and is not interested in giving up lucrative corruption opportunities.

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 welcome guests. 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.

July 26, 2014: A U.S. government investigation revealed that corrupt Kenyan Army officers with the Kenyan peacekeepers in Somalia have taken bribes to keep the illegal charcoal trade going. Al Shabaab still has enough presence in southern Somalia 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. Al Shabaab makes several million dollars a year from extorting those who produce and transport the charcoal. Al Shabaab has also been accused to involvement in smuggling illegal goods into Kenya as well. Such criminals activities by terrorist organizations is a common way for these groups to raise funds. For them it is not illegal but simply another manifestation of “God’s Will.”

July 24, 2014: Peacekeepers report they have killed two senior al Shabaab leaders and destroyed al Shabaab camps near the southern Somali town of Jilib. This is one of the few areas left in Somalia where al Shabaab could still openly go about their business. Peacekeepers have been fighting al Shabaab in this area for months systematically finding and destroying the numerous locations where al Shabaab personnel were living. The Islamic terrorists would try to flee the air attacks and ground operations because the better armed and trained peacekeepers would invariably win these clashes. There is no other place they can flee to (that is not even more hostile to them) and eventually the remaining al Shabaab men in the area are killed, captured or leave (al Shabaab or seek another sanctuary even though alternatives are more dangerous for them.) In other parts of the country, especially in central Somalia around Baidoa, remaining groups of al Shabaab gunmen are also a threat, but operate more as bandits than terrorists.

July 23, 2014: In Mogadishu al Shabaab gunmen killed a female member of parliament and her bodyguard in a drive-by shooting. Al Shabaab does not approve of women in politics.

July 20, 2014: In Kenya (Mombasa) gunmen shot and killed several people in a Somali neighborhood and left leaflets saying the attack was in retribution for recent al Shabaab attacks in the northeast that left over fifty Kenyans dead.

July 19, 2014: In the south (Kismayo) an al Shabaab suicide bomber tried to kill a prominent anti-terrorist militia leader. The target of the attack survived but six others died. Al Shabaab denied responsibility for the explosion and blamed bodyguards mishandling a rocket launcher for the deaths. This response may have something to do with the fact that the target was a former al Shabaab supporter. Al Shabaab often goes after traitors to discourage other members of the group.

July 18, 2014: The government declared a severe drought in the southwest and called for international food aid. The UN has increasing difficulty getting other countries to donate for such relief operations because of the large portion that is lost to corruption and extortion inside Somalia. Why donate when so much of it is stolen and your staff are in constant danger of attack.

In Kenya (the northeast coast) there was another al Shabaab attack, leaving seven dead,

July 17, 2014: In Kenya opposition parties are pressuring the government to reveal army casualties in Somalia and to pull Kenyan peacekeepers out of Somalia. The government has refused calls to release these casualty figures and one opposition group claims they have seen the data and that the deaths exceed 3,000. Reports of corruption among army commanders in Somalia does not help the government either. The growing number of al Shabaab attacks in Kenya is persuading more Kenyans to call for bringing the troops home to protect Kenyans from Somali terrorists. Meanwhile troops have been searching along the Somali border in the northeast looking for al Shabaab terrorists who have killed nearly a hundred Kenyans since June. Troops found and destroyed four camps apparently used by the terrorists but have not yet caught anyone. The government is eager to catch these terrorists because the June attacks were in an area popular with foreign tourists and as a result many tourists are staying away, which is a major economic blow to this part of the country. Tourism is one of the two major sources of foreign exchange for Kenya.

July 16, 2014: In the southeast (lower Shabelle region) peacekeepers caught a man driving a car full of explosives, apparently headed for Mogadishu for a suicide car bomb attack. The driver was interrogated.

In Mogadishu two attacks in the last two days left two people dead. One was a bomb placed in a car downtown and the other was a similar attack outside the city.

July 15, 2014: In Mogadishu soldiers and peacekeepers have arrested over 200 suspected al Shabaab in the last few days in an effort to disrupt continuing al Shabaab attacks in the city. These counter-terror operations will continue until al Shabaab activity in the city diminishes.

July 14, 2014: In the south an army commander was killed (Lower Shabelle region) in an al Shabaab ambush.

July 10, 2014: In Mogadishu a remotely detonated bomb in a car wounded three people. Al Shabaab was believed responsible.  In Kenya, just south of the Somali border, a bomb went off outside a government compound, causing no casualties. This was apparently the work of Somali smugglers or Islamic terrorists, who are angry at the Kenyans frequently closing the border in an effort to disrupt terrorist and smuggling operations.

July 9, 2014: In the wake of the recent al Shabaab attack on the presidential palace the president fired his Minister of National Security as well as the heads of national police and intelligence.





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