Somalia: Surviving Tradition


April 20, 2017: The new (as of February 22nd) president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has a lot of popular support, especially in the security forces and is making the most of that by appointing a new head of the military and declaring support for more vigorous action against al Shabaab. The new president has been fighting corruption for years and made progress in reducing the incidence of corrupt officials (often senior officers) stealing payroll and other money meant for the soldiers and police. The new president also called on al Shabaab to make peace, but that was promptly rejected by the al Shabaab leaders. The new president formed a new government in record time and al Shabaab responded with defiant threats of more violence. That may be because this sort of religion inspired terrorism is quite common in Somalia and has appeared no matter what the local political situation. Each outbreak fades away after a while and then returns in a generation or two.


The Somali pirates are still active, but not very successful. In the last month there were three attacks on smaller ships (coastal freighters and fishing trawlers) and these were closer to Yemen than Somalia. Two of these attacks failed but the pirates did manage to get away with an Indian trawler and its eleven crew. Somali security forces later found and freed the trawler but only two of the crew were rescued.

There are still occasional attempts to take large commercial ships. The last example was in October 2016 when, for the first time since mid-2013, pirates attempted to take a large ship. Some 600 kilometers off the Somali coast a 51,000 ton (DWT) British chemical tanker was attacked by a speedboat containing armed men. The armed guard on the tanker fired on the speedboat as it approached the tanker and the men in the speedboat fired back. The tanker increased speed, changed course and got away. These large ships still carry armed guards and crews who know how to deal with Somali pirates.

There were problems with pirates in the north for a while, but these seagoing brigands were mainly preying on foreigners and the foreigners with navies responded. The pirates were largely out of business in 2012, the last year they captured a large ship that could yield a multi-million dollar ransom. The few pirates still in business now try to grab the smaller foreign fishing ships. Even that became more difficult because the international anti-piracy patrol was still off the coast and during the first six months of 2016 pirate activity off the Somali coast reached its lowest levels since 1995. Since then much of the foreign anti-piracy patrol has been disbanded but the large foreign ships stay away from the coast and keep their armed guards. Smaller coastal freighters and fishing trawlers are warned to proceed at their own risk.


Since late last year over a dozen Kenyan al Shabaab members have been accused of spying on al Shabaab and executed for it. As a result many more Kenyan members of al Shabaab have deserted and returned to Kenya. Some were arrested and interrogated while others spoke freely with family and friends about their experience. They all confirmed the paranoia the Islamic terror group was struggling with. Al Shabaab continues to suffer from problems with their secret locations being found out and attacked. Most of these situations are the result of better intelligence work and more civilians willing to pass on information about al Shabaab movements. Cell phones make that a lot easier. Because of the arrival of cell phone networks after 2000 al Shabaab has a hard time hiding their presence even in the most remote areas and does not like to admit that local civilians are the source of these tips.

The cell phone is itself a key player in the two decades of civil war in Somalia. By 2000 clan militias and warlords had created enough stability to enable growth in commercial activity. For example, by 2004 three cell phone companies competed to provide service ($10 a month for free local calls, 50 cents a minute for international calls and 50 cents an hour to get on the Internet.) Each new cell phone transmitter installed required that the local clan chief or warlord get a payment. Everyone recognizes the value of the new phone service, after having gone without for years after the old government run phone company was looted and destroyed. As a result, phone company equipment really is protected by the clans and warlords, who do not want to lose their dial tone. The new phone service is cheaper and more reliable than the old government owned landline phone network. This is because there is competition, no government bureaucracy and no taxes (other than the necessary bribes and security payments). There is some fear that if a new government gets established well enough regulations and taxes will greatly increase the cost of service, and reduce reliability. Not yet and for years all of Somalia had better, and cheaper, phone service than any of the other nations in the region. But that’s another story. Even al Shabaab had to respect the cell phone network, even though they tried to shut down cell towers some of the time to avoid detection. Al Shabaab lost that battle. Cell phone service became one of the things nearly all Somalis would fight for.

April 19, 2017: In Mogadishu a roadside bomb hit an aid convoy from the UAE (United Arab Emirates) that was moving food to drought hit areas. There were no casualties and the convoy proceeded to its destination. UAE aid efforts have been increasingly active in Somalia since 2015. This is part of a more active and determined attitude towards aid to Moslem nations suffering from violence and natural disasters. As recently as 2014 the UAE regularly warned its citizens to stay away from Somalia (as well as Afghanistan, South Sudan and many other areas) due to security concerns. Yes the UAE has centuries of commercial relationships with the coastal cities of East Africa. But Somalia is a special case since it has never been a united country, just a few coastal towns and cities to trade with and has resisted unification. Like Turkey, the UAE saw an unfilled need for more Moslem-to-Moslem charity especially this time of year, as Ramadan approaches and Somali is the neediest area in northeast Africa.

April 16, 2017: In Mogadishu police attacked several al Shabaab men who were firing a mortar at the airport. Two of the Islamic terrorists were killed and then an automobile they had with them exploded, which enabled some of the al Shabaab to escape.

April 15, 2017: South of Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) warplanes made several attacks on a major concentration of al Shabaab fighters, killing over a hundred of them. The attacks on the al Shabaab camp outside the town of El Adde began at 2 AM and went on until daylight. At first many Somalis thought the aircraft were American but the U.S. quickly denied that and said the last American airstrike in Somalia was in January. The Kenyans are suspected as Kenyan peacekeepers suffered heavy losses in this area during a January 2016 al Shabaab attack. But Kenya didn’t take credit for the bombing.

In the Gulf of Aden a Chinese warship freed a small freighter that had been captured by Somali pirates. In addition to rescuing the crew the Chinese boarding party also captured several Somali pirates.

April 14, 2017: The U.S. is sending about 40 soldiers to help train the Somali Army. These American troops will join a group of over a hundred EU (European Union) troops who have been training Somalis since 2014. This is in preparation of the departure of 22,000 AU (African Union) peacekeepers by 2020.

April 10, 2017: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber attacked an army camp killing nine soldiers and wounded even more. Elsewhere in the city a government official died when a bomb hidden under his car went off.

April 9, 2017: Shortly after the new head of the military was sworn in an al Shabaab suicide car bomber attacked the convoy general Mohamed Ahmed Jimale was part of in an attempt to kill him. That failed but the bomb killed five soldiers as well as eight civilians in a nearby bus.

April 8, 2017: In the south (Jubaland) Kenyan and Somali troops attacked a group of al Shabaab preparing to attack a military base and killed three of the Islamic terrorists, including Bashe Nure Hassan, known to be the head of Al Shabaab logistics and surveillance for southern Somalia.

April 7, 2017: In Mogadishu two mortar shells fired towards the airport landed in a residential area and killed three civilians. Al Shabaab was believed responsible, they usually are.

April 6, 2017: The newly installed president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared Somalia a war zone and replaced the heads of the military and intelligence.

In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) a minibus hit a landmine and that killed 17 and wounded six civilians.

April 5, 2017: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab bomb attack on a restaurant left seven dead and ten wounded.

April 4, 2017: In the north (Galmudug, an autonomous region of Somalia just south of Puntland) al Shabaab gunmen seized the town of El Bur after Ethiopian peacekeepers left (after three years of guarding the place.) Many Ethiopian peacekeepers are being recalled to help with security problems in Ethiopia. There are not always enough peacekeepers to replace them. In Galmudug local clan militias will often be organized to deal with situations like this and these clan gunmen have fought and defeated al Shabaab before.

March 28, 2017: In the north (Puntland) one soldier was killed and one wounded when their vehicle was attacked by some ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) gunmen using a bomb and rifle fire. The other troops returned fire and the ISIL men fled. The ISIL members up there are largely former al Shabaab men who wanted more violence or whatever.

March 27, 2017: In the south (Jubaland) Kenyan peacekeepers attacked two al Shabaab bases, killed 31 of the Islamic terrorists and destroyed large quantities of weapons and equipment. The Kenyans used armed helicopters and artillery during the operation.

March 23, 2017: In the south (the port town of Barawe) an al Shabaab attack was defeated after a long gun battle. Three of the Islamic terrorists died as did four soldiers and three civilians. Many more people were sounded.


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