Somalia: What Matters Most


November 22, 2014: Since the Americans killed al Shabaab leader Ahmed Godane on September 2 nd there has been a noticeable decline in al Shabaab morale and an increase in desertions. Not only disillusioned gunmen but also some mid-level leaders. Godane’s replacement was a fellow with no reputation and few followers. Godane was an old-school Islamic terrorist who was charismatic and cultivated his reputation. He started out with al Qaeda in Afghanistan during the 1990s. He was the one who shifted al Shabaab from working to take over Somalia to trying to be an international terror operation. This strategy was not a success and all al Shabaab was able to do was a few attacks in neighboring countries, mainly Kenya. Ordering more attacks in Kenya was not terribly difficult as there is already an ethnic Somali population there, mainly in the large coastal cities. Then there are over half a million Somali refugees that Kenya hosts in camps near the Somali border. Godane took over as head of al Shabaab in 2008 and in 2009 announced he was going international and pledging allegiance to al Qaeda. This caused some violent disagreements within al Shabaab. After killing or driving away dozens of senior dissenters Godane began implementing his new strategy. This “purge” of the leadership ensured that if Godane died there would be no replacements of equal stature available. Shortly after the shift in strategy the U.S. offered a $7 million reward for his capture. Since 2009 there have been over a hundred Islamic terrorist attacks in Kenya killing nearly 400 people. The worst one was in 2013 when an attack on a shopping center by four al Shabaab gunmen left 67 dead. Al Shabaab concentrated on Kenya after 2011 because Kenyan troops moved into southern Somalia to stop the increasing lawlessness on their side of the border. There are still al Shabaab leaders unhappy with the terrorism strategy but al Shabaab will probably continue even though it is now too weak to resume trying to conquer the country. With the loss of the port of Kismayo and several smaller port towns al Shabaab lost major sources of income. Secondary sources, from control of market towns in the interior, were lost earlier this year. Al Shabaab is now broke and without a strong leader. There are still many Somalis who believe Islamic terrorism is the solution to the problems of corruption and poor government, but there is no longer a major organization to join and fight for that ideal (which most Somalis reject). Nevertheless al Shabaab still exists and could continue in its diminished form for years, or longer.

The UN and many major donor nations (including the U.S.) have threatened to cut aid if the Somali government does not halt its feuding and do something about the corruption, mismanagement and all manner of bad behavior that have long characterized what passes for a Somali government. The most recent example of this is the president and prime minister openly feuding over who gets appointed to senior positions. This is not about appointing the most effective officials, but the ones who will steal the most for the president or prime minister (the two most powerful politicians currently in government.) A recent UN study found that many officials will steal over 70 percent of the government funds they have control over.

November 19, 2014: A UN audit of billions in aid money spent on Somalia found that much of it was not properly accounted for. This is largely the result of the violence and corruption that is endemic in Somalia. This situation became particularly difficult when al Shabaab gained control of central and southern Somalia in 2010. Al Shabaab then began interfering with foreign aid deliveries. In 2011  NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that manage most of the food aid world-wide, demanded that donor governments either send in troops (very unlikely) or pay al Shabaab whatever they demand in order to get more food delivered to starving Somalis. Meanwhile al Shabaab was itself split on food aid, with some factions not wanting any of it under any circumstances. Nearly four million Somalis were very short on food, and about half of them were in al Shabaab controlled areas. Food was getting into the famine areas, but most was only available at markets that al Shabaab taxed. The problem was that the famine had destroyed the livelihood (farming or herding) of many, and these people had no money to buy food. Some al Shabaab factions blamed infidels (non-Moslems) for somehow causing the drought, while other factions insisted there was no drought and whatever happens (including mass starvation) was God's will anyway.  In 2011 starvation deaths were becoming more common in drought-ridden central and southern Somalia. Al Shabaab had banned most foreign aid efforts (as not "coming from God.) The lack of food aid was leading to growing starvation. Aid groups were willing to pay al Shabaab but the Islamic radicals kept asking for more money and goods. Al Shabaab had tried to ban the aid groups entirely but that created unrest even among some of their armed followers, whose families were often dependent on foreign food aid. In effect, the aid groups were major suppliers of food and cash to al Shabaab, and an informal and unpublicized compromise was worked out where the UN allowed over 80 percent of the aid for Somalia to be given to Somali NGOs unaudited as long as something was done to avoid mass starvation. There was a lot of starvation but al Shabaab kept journalists and foreigners away from areas where this was happening. The UN kept quiet and downplayed the stories (from refugees) about what was really going on. The aid money helped keep al Shabaab going and made some Somali aid officials rich. Between cash stolen outright and food aid diverted (sold) to markets the amount of money “misused” was well in excess of $100 million.

In Kenya three days of raids on mosques suspected of harboring Islamic terrorists resulted in over 250 people arrested and dozens of weapons seized along with bomb making materials. Also found were pro-al Shabaab materials including flags, recruiting publications and documents. One man was killed when he tried to throw a grenade at police entering a mosque. Some Somali men later took to the streets to fight back and four non-Somalis were beaten and four were cut with knives.

November 16, 2014: Outside Mogadishu an airport immigration officer was killed and another civilian wounded when a bomb attached to the dead man’s car went off. Al Shabaab took credit for the attack. This may have been connected to criminals and Islamic terrorists pressuring officials to look the other way when illegal goods and visitors seek to enter the country. Elsewhere in Mogadishu al Shabaab took credit for several mortar shells fired towards the Presidential Palace. All of the shells missed and there were no injuries.

November 15, 2014: The United States threatened to halt aid if the president and prime minister did not stop feuding over power and get down to governing the country.

November 13, 2014: Off the coast several speedboats carrying armed pirates approached an Israeli container ship. When the armed guards on the ship showed their weapons (but did not fire) the pirates turned away without trying to board.

November 12, 2014: Kenyan police arrested ten Islamic terrorists trying to enter the country from Somalia. Two of those arrested were female suicide bombers.

The UN authorized the anti-piracy patrol to continue until 2016. The UN depends on member nations, especially the EU (European Union) to supply (and pay for) the warships for the patrol.

November 8, 2014: In the south (Jubaland) al Shabaab attacked an island 70 kilometers southwest of Kismayo. When the fighting ended a day later 31 attackers were dead along with sixty defenders and al Shabaab was in control of the island, which they long used for the lucrative (and illegal) charcoal export trade al Shabaab controlled. Two days later al Shabaab left the island with captured weapons and vehicles and some civilian hostages. This was apparently because peacekeepers and local militiamen were on their way to retake the island by force. During all this there were at least two bomb explosions in Kismayo as well. Losing control of Kismayo and the charcoal trade was a major blow to al Shabaab because it cut off their main source of income. Remaining al Shabaab fighters in the south have to find new sources of income or face further desertions because the Islamic terrorist group cannot pay and supply all the armed men (several hundred) it has down there along the Kenyan border.

November 7, 2014: The EU agreed to continue its anti-piracy patrol to 2016. Meanwhile the anti-piracy patrol warns ships of any size (especially smaller ones, including yachts) to stay away from the Somali coast. Many of the locals are armed, have small boats (for fishing or hauling cargo or people) and some will seize an opportunity to take a ship and the people on board for ransom. There have been some close calls recently with ships who got sloppy along the coast and more warnings are being circulated. The piracy situation off Somalia continues to be very difficult but not hopeless for the remaining pirates. A large ship has not been taken in over two years and the shipping industry is saving $3 billion a year in reduced costs (fuel, security and insurance) as a result. The remaining Somali pirate groups are still holding over twenty sailors. These are from small ships owned by companies without insurance to pay a ransom. In most cases the owners simply abandoned the captured ships and their crews. There is an international effort to try and raise enough money to ransom the abandoned sailors.

A group of men armed with machetes wounded two men and began looting homes in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura.  Over the last two months violent attacks by armed groups have increased in Bujumbura and Somalis are suspected. The Somali terrorist organization Al Shabaab had threatened to launch more attacks as revenge for Burundi’s participation in the African Union peacekeeping operation in Somalia. 

November 6, 2014: Uganda has suspended 15 officers (including two generals) and charged them with misbehavior (corruption and sexual abuse of local women in Somalia). This is in response to UN demands that countries contributing peacekeepers to Somalia do something about the growing allegations of peacekeeper misbehavior. Some countries supplying peacekeepers to Somalia have already punished some officers and troops for corruption while in Somalia. Currently Uganda has some 8,000 peacekeepers in Somalia. This includes six battalions of infantry plus support troops. The peacekeepers serve for a year and many troops have been to Somalia more than once. But it is dangerous, with each unit suffering up to ten percent casualties (dead and wounded) while in Somalia. Because of that the army has had a hard time obtaining sufficient qualified personnel each year. To obtain the required number of troops the army has been recalling former and retired soldiers as well as the best men from local defense militias (which protect villages against bandits and tribal raiding parties). This year about a third of the peacekeepers will be from these sources. These men are probably only to going to do this once, in part for the adventure and in part for the money (over a thousand dollars a month, which is a lot if you are already drawing a pension or living out in the bush). Uganda has had peacekeepers in Somalia since 2007. While Uganda does not border Somalia, it does Kenya and like Kenya is largely Christian with a Moslem minority (12 percent) that has been harboring Islamic terrorists.

November 4, 2014: In Kenya (Mombasa) several gunmen shot dead a Moslem cleric who has preached against Islamic terrorism. Such murders are usually carried out by al Shabaab and this has caused many Moslem and non-Moslem Kenyans to call for more action by the police to stop these killings and growing number of attacks on Kenyan Christians in the northeast, near the Somali border. Kenyans up there complain about the large number of Somali refugees living, usually illegally, in the area. In effect this has made this corner of Kenya majority Moslem. About 76 percent of the Moslems (four million people) in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya is largely Christian with a Moslem minority (11 percent of the population) that has been harboring Islamic terrorists. Kenya also hosts half a million Somali refugees and nearly 300,000 other refugees from Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi and Congo. Many Kenyans feel that the rest of the world does not appreciate what a heavy burden this places on Kenya and resent criticism of their efforts to deal with the Islamic terrorism.

November 3, 2014: The UN accused the Somali president of trying to bribe legislators to oust the prime minister, who the president has been feuding with over which one of them will control of the most government officials. The UN believes this struggle is really about who will have access to how much foreign aid, which will be plundered despite vigorous UN (and donor nation) efforts to stop the theft.

November 2, 2014: In Mogadishu a bomb attached to a car went off killing one person and wounding one passenger and a bystander. Al Shabaab was suspected.

October 31, 2014: To no one’s surprise Somalia ranked last in seventh annual African Governance Index. The next four less worse nations were Central African Republic, Eritrea, Chad and Guinea-Bissau. Founded and funded by a wealthy Sudanese telecommunications entrepreneur, the index is compiled from 30 independent African and international sources and measures a hundred indicators to measure and rank 52 African countries. Currently the countries that rank highest are Mauritius, Cape Verde, Botswana, South Africa and the Seychelles. The nation with the highest rating got 81.6 (out of 100) and the lowest got 8.6. The average for all nations was 51.5.

October 30, 2014: Somali pirates released seven Indian sailors who had been held for more than four years because no one would pay the ransom demanded. It is unclear if someone (like the Indian government, which has been under growing pressure about this case) paid the ransom.

October 29, 2014: The government revealed that yesterday they had seized an illegal shipment of explosives on a ship in the port of Mogadishu. The ship was also carrying legal cargo, like military uniforms. Such smuggling is still common and this includes items for Islamic terrorists.





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