Somalia: Forbidden Desires And Private Armies


August 16, 2014: Despite the presence of 22,000 peacekeepers and even more trained and organized local troops, the government does not have enough forces to quickly take down all the armed groups in the country. Moreover, there are major problems establishing local governments (and security) in areas where al Shabaab and major criminal groups have been cleared out. Traditionally local policing was done by the dozens of clans that have long dominated Somalia. The problem is that the clans usually do not get along with each other. In short, to most Somalis people outside your clan are “foreigners” and not to be trusted. This despite the fact that people from these other clans speak the same language and share many customs. Moreover the UN, Somalia and the main suppliers of peacekeepers (Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda) cannot agree on how best to handle the clan problem.  One thing everyone has agreed on was the need to secure the borders. This makes it more difficult for al Shabaab to raid into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. But most of the interior is still full of al Shabaab gunmen because the security forces can chase the Islamic terrorists out of any of the towns and villages, but cannot set up local security that can keep the bad guys out.

Foreign aid organizations are demanding that the international effort to halt illegal money transfers to terrorists be halted in Somalia. In 2014 nearly all international banks implemented an agreement to halt transfers to Somalia, because a small portion of that money ended up financing al Shabaab. In addition to money raised by al Shabaab supporters among the half million Somalis living in the West, al Shabaab in Somalia also “taxed” remittances sent to families there. Some 40 percent of the Somali population is dependent on these remittances, which make up about a third of the $4 billion Somali GDP. The remittance money is the difference between life and death for many families, especially when there is a drought. The foreign aid groups also point out that there are illegal ways to transfer cash (like halwa) that are more expensive and more subject to fraud so many Somalis will get their remittances anyway, only at a higher cost. The counter-terrorism experts make the case that anything that will diminish financial support for al Shabaab helps. That’s because al Shabaab is a major source of terrorist violence in Somalia and Kenya and will continue to exist as long as it is getting cash.

Foreign aid groups warn that another drought is underway and that foreign donors are not providing enough money to deal with it. So far only about 30 percent of the money needed to handle the expected food crisis has been pledged.  Foreign donors are reluctant to spend a lot of money on Somali aid because over the last two decades because so much aid has been stolen by Islamic terrorists, warlords, bandits and whatever passes for government. The drought in 2011 killed a quarter of a million, largely because al Shabaab banned the “un-Islamic” food aid from those needing it. But the donor nations note that the aid groups play down the theft and subsequent investigations revealed this and the fact that the aid groups simply paid off the thieves, often with a portion of the aid. Donor nations want better security before they provide all that is demanded.

The autonomous (but not internationally recognized) state of Puntland in the north has cut diplomatic relations with Somalia over a Somali plan to reunite the northern province of Mudug. Back in the 1990s clan wars in Mudug caused the province to be divided. The northern part joined the new statelet of Puntland while the southern half did not. Now Somalia plans to reunite Mudug and Puntland sees that as aggression. Somalia says it will work with the UN to do it peacefully but Puntland still sees it as a land grab.

In Kenya the energetic effort to curb Somali Islamic terrorists is causing some unwelcome blowback for the security forces. Corruption has always been a problem with the army and police and many Somalis who have been arrested during the recent anti-terror operations are openly complaining about the police or soldiers demanding bribes to let arrested people (who are not obviously involved with Islamic terrorists but to appear to have some money) out of jail, or at least let them go sooner than others. Corruption in Kenya (and the rest of Africa) is like the weather; everyone talks about it but no one seems able to do anything about it. Israeli security advisors have long suggested that curbing the bribes and offering earlier release and other “favors” for useful information on terrorists has worked in Israel and could work in Kenya. Some police and army units do try and apply this advice, but the culture of corruption is so deeply embedded that it’s difficult to get more than a few soldiers and cops to operate clean and more effectively.

The Kenyans have economic reasons to crack down on al Shabaab terrorism, because several such attacks in tourist areas have caused a growing number of foreign tourists to stay away. Tourism accounts for about 15 percent of national income (GDP) and it looks like tourism will be down at least ten percent this year.

August 15, 2014: In Mogadishu peacekeepers and government troops raided the compound (near the airport) of a major clan militia leader (Ahmed Dai). Fourteen died (mostly militiamen and nearby civilians) during the five hour battle to capture the compound. Twenty militiamen were arrested but only fifteen weapons were seized. Many militiamen, and weapons, escaped. Warlord Ahmed Dai also escaped and is on the run. For the last week the government has been trying to shut down a lot of these militias which, while pro-government (or at least not pro-al Shabaab) are technically illegal and act as private armies. These warlord militias are clan based but tend to do what they want and have ignored clan leaders telling them to disarm. These warlords provide protection for anyone who can afford it (usually businesses) and try not to become outright gangsters themselves. But this being Somalia the warlords are often involved in all manner of shady deals and are basically mercenaries. This is why the government and peacekeepers agreed they had to be disarmed because their weapons, including heavy machine-guns, RPGs and mortars are technically illegal and often for sale to anyone who can pay. This move on the warlords, while generally welcome, was seen as bold and dangerous. So far over 500 weapons have been seized. There are believed to be over half a million firearms (rifles, pistols, RPG launchers, machine-guns) in circulation throughout Somalia.

In a related incident the government shut down two radio stations operated by a businessman allied with warlord Ahmed Dai. The two stations were accused of inciting anti-government violence against the disarmament effort in general and especially against the attack on the Ahmed Dai militia. The radio stations also accused the government of trying to reduce the power of the Hawiye clan. This is incendiary stuff in Somalia, where clans are seen as more important than any government (local, national or international). Trying to curb the military power of clans is seen as a grave attack on the traditional Somali way of doing things. Yet the continued existence of clan and warlord militias makes forming and running an efficient government impossible. Note that while this disarmament program was approved by the government, it was not put to a vote in parliament. That’s because most members of parliament got there by looking out for the interests of their clans and the clans want to keep their private armies.

August 13, 2014: In the south (outside Kismayo) al Shabaab executed two men it accused of spying for the government and Kenyan peacekeepers.

August 11, 2014:  The UAE (United Arab Emirates) warned its citizens to stay away from Somalia (as well as Afghanistan and South Sudan) due to security concerns. Earlier the government had warned its citizens to stay away from Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine, Thailand, Iraq and Libya for the same reasons. Although al Shabaab and bandits are a lot less active, the peacekeepers and local troops have been more energetic in going after the remaining terrorists and gangsters as well as the private armies and this has made it more dangerous for foreigners to travel around the country.

August 9, 2014: In south-central Somalia (Hiran) al Shabaab gunmen attacked a peacekeeper base and were repulsed, losing at least six dead. Among the dead was a local al Shabaab commander (Nur Baraxow). Several of the attackers were captured.

August 4, 2014: In the north (Puntland) a suicide bomber killed a police chief and four others. Al Shabaab later took credit for the attack, claiming that the dead police commander had been effective in going after al Shabaab operations in Puntland.

August 3, 2014: In Mogadishu a bomb went off in a market killing three women and wounding seven other civilians. Elsewhere in the city three al Shabaab members were executed in public by firing squad. The three had been tried and convicted of carrying out fatal terror attacks in the city.

August 1, 2014: In Mogadishu a member of parliament was shot dead by drive-by killers as he left a mosque. This is the fifth member of parliament assassinated this year. Earlier this al Shabaab threatened to kill all 275 members of parliament this way. Al Shabaab has been trying to do that since parliament returned to Somalia in 2012.





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