Somalia: Ancient Cycle Remains Unbroken

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April 21, 2021: The months-long deadlock over when and how to hold the next national elections has turned violent and threatens to escalate into another civil war sooner or later. President Farmajo is using Turkish-trained troops to control Mogadishu and refuses to hold long-delayed elections. Foreign donors are threatening to stop supplying the cash that enables the national government to exist at all. The UN is caught in the middle as they are desperate to retain whatever national unity has been achieved since 2011 when a UN-backed (paid for) peacekeeping force drove al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and other urban areas the Islamic terror group has taken control of. Al Shabaab had itself started with good intentions. The tribal/clan rivalries that were tearing the country apart since 1991 resulted in some clan and religious leaders to organize a "clean government" coalition (the Islamic Courts) after 2001. The Islamic Courts formed a military that pacified some areas, but the goal of installing a religious dictatorship was taken over by al Qaeda backed Islamic terrorist and turned into another warlord group called al Shabaab.

Farmajo insists that with another two years he will be able organize the long-delayed elections. He has been making promises like that for years and most Somalis don’t believe him. Farmajo believes he can successfully bluff the donors and UN to stick around for a least another two years. That’s what happened in the 1990s (remember Blackhawk Down) and that disaster appears to be showing up again.

The elections deadlock is also history repeating itself. In 1960 all the colonial powers were gone from Somalia but the newly established Somali government began to come apart, a process that was complete by 1991 and no one has been able to get all the clans to agree on a new central government since. To make matters worse, most of the educated Somalis fled in the 1990s and not a lot have come back. In part that is because a number of returnees were murdered. Meanwhile public education has been absent in most of Somalia for decades and the literacy rate is under 40 percent (and under 30 percent for women). Public health has been largely missing for two decades and life expectancy is about 52 years. Outside of Somaliland and Puntland it’s under 50 years.

Many foreigners who have worked in Somalia agree that the best example of a failed state has long been Somalia. A lot of Somalis will agree with that. In part that's because the concept of the "nation of Somalia" is a very recent (the 1960s) development. It never caught on in Somalia although it is still popular with a declining number of foreign aid donors and UN officials. Same could be said for the Palestinians. Sudan is accused of being a failed state, but it isn't in the same league with Somalia. Sudan has had central government of sorts, on and off, for thousands of years. Not so Somalia. Another common problem with failed states is a large number of ethnic groups. This is a common curse throughout Africa, which is why the majority of the worst failed states are there. Europe, and much of Asia, have managed to get past tribalism, although that has not always resulted in a civil society. Tribalism has kept most African and many Arab nations from making much economic progress. The top failed states tend to be African, Moslem or both. Somalia is unique in that it is one of those rare African nations that is not ethnically diverse. Instead, Somalia suffers from clan animosities and severe warlordism that has existed in northeast Africa for thousands of years. In this region a few coastal cities served as secure enough places for foreigners to come and trade. The clans of the interior never considered large port cities, like Mogadishu, suitable to rule all of what is now Somalia. The only time Somalia was united was for about a century when Italian and British colonial forces pacified and occupied Somalia in order to halt Somali raids on offshore shipping and the larger British colony in Kenya. Somalis had long seen raiding neighbors, including other Somali clans, as a right. Somalis were also traders. In effect you could describe them as a tropical version of the Vikings. The Scandinavian Vikings eventually settled down, after centuries of raiding and trading, and formed some of the least corrupt and most affluent nations on the planet. Somalis are still stuck in Full Viking mode.

The Somali failed state can be currently seen in the unresolved dispute between regional politicians and the existing president whose term of office ended in early February 2021. The regional leaders don’t trust the current president or each other. Regional leaders of Puntland in the north and Jubaland in the south refused to attend the last national conference called by the president to work out the problems because, they insisted, he no longer had the authority to do so as his term had expired.

The electoral crisis began in June 2020 when the National Independent Electoral Commission told parliament that it was impossible to hold elections for parliament and a new president as scheduled on November 27. The delay was blamed on the usual suspects; political deadlocks, poor security (bandits and Islamic terrorists), bad weather (floods this time) and covid19. To assure a minimum level of legitimacy the six million eligible Somali voters must be registered biometrically and that requires special equipment that has not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission does not have enough money and needs at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time is also required but it is not going to be enough. None of this is a surprise.

The first parliamentary elections finally took place in 2016 and the new legislature was installed at the end of 2016. This was supposed to have taken place months earlier but did not because too many of the current politicians’ regard elections as a threat to their income (from corruption). Some foreign donors correctly saw the delays as a ploy so the interim government could stay in power longer and steal more aid money. This led to threats to halt aid if elections for parliament and president were not held. That worked, sort of, and the electoral process lurches forward, if only to keep the free money coming.

The presidential election (or selection, by the parliament) was supposed to take place by the end of January 2017 but took a lot longer. Part of the problem was political, with many of the clans (tribes) maintaining armed militias and refusing to abide by a “one man, one vote” system. That is, some clans demand more (foreign aid and other resources) than their numbers justify.

A compromise was worked out to accommodate that. In effect the new parliament was created by a “selection” rather than a national election. The national parliament has 275 members who were elected by 14,025 “voters” selected by 135 clan elders. The 54 members of the upper house of parliament are selected by local (state or regional) assemblies.

A Western style election, in which all adult citizens can vote, was not expected until the early 2020s, if ever. The current president was selected by the 2016 parliament and that meant all manner of deals were made in return for support of one candidate or another. The major aid donors quietly made it clear that if the new government did not curb the rampant theft of foreign aid, there will be a lot less of it and thus the new president is expected to be more effective in curbing corruption. The current government did not do much to reduce the corruption and foreign aid declined.

Somalia has a hard time pleading poverty because so much foreign aid gets stolen by Somalis before it can reach the people who need it and whose desperate plight caused foreign donors to donate in the first place. The failed, so far, election preparations can be expected to continue failing with or without additional time and money. No one wants to admit that Somalia is a failed state, but fewer and fewer donors want to keep sending aid to Somalia only to find that most, or all of it was stolen. There are many other needy areas where most of the aid gets to those who need it.

April 20, 2021: Outside Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle and Galgaduud regions) peacekeepers and Somali troops continue their efforts clear al Shabaab forces from key roads leading north. Al Shabaab relied on looting or just taxing traffic on these roads to keep themselves operational. As a result, a major objective for 2021 was to chase al Shabaab away from the roads and weaken the Islamic terrorist ability to sustain themselves in an area where they are regarded a bandits and not protectors of Islam. The African peacekeepers take the lead in attacking al Shabaab while the less well trained and led Somali troops move in to maintain security on roads. This is important to those who depend on the roads because when al Shabaab control of the roads is threatened, as it has been this year, the Islamic terrorists will use roadside bombs against military and civilian targets. There have been three such bomb attacks this year, the latest two were in the last week. One attack killed a senior army commander while the other one killed seventeen civilians.

The Somali troops are deemed disciplined enough to not start demanding bribes from vehicles themselves. To make sure, some peacekeepers continue patrolling roads looking for renewed threats from al Shabaab or corruptible soldiers.

April 18, 2021: North of Mogadishu ( Middle Shabelle) soldiers killed a senior al Shabaab leader and captured two of his subordinates.

April 14, 2021: In Mogadishu the Turkish trained soldiers and police commandos took control of the streets as the fired police chief, protected by loyal soldiers, to the airport outside the city.

April 12, 2021: In Mogadishu the disputed (his term has expired) president Farmajo fired the city police chief for ordering members of parliament obey the law and return home and take part in the delayed national elections. The current parliament was to have been replaced by elected or reelected members by the end of 2020. With the police chief gone the outlaw parliament then extended Farmajo’s term by two years. The vote was not unanimous with about a third of members refusing to go along. This vote was illegal and the outlaw parliament did not even try to get the Upper House of parliament to vote on the measure, as the constitution required. This escalation resulted in police and soldiers confronting each other in the streets of the city. This was really 1991 all over again. This time Iran was involved. Farmajo’s resistance to elections has been funded by cash from Iranian ally Qatar and Somali troops trained by Turkey, another Iranian ally. While the Qataris moved their cash to Farmajo quietly, the Turkish effort was more public. A growing number of Somalis believe the Turks are more of a threat than a benefit. This first became obvious in February when Mogadishu residents who participated in the peaceful demonstrations claimed that one reason the demonstrations turned violent, and left five dead and many more wounded, was because the Turkish trained Gorgor special operations troops led the attack on the demonstrators.

Outside the city there is a Turkish military training center compound that is largely left alone by Al Shabaab. The Islamic terrorists are particularly hostile to the Turks because the Turks will not pay protection money to al Shabaab to avoid violence. The Turkish training facility has, since 2017, trained five Somali infantry battalions. The Turks ran separate training programs for officers (over 200 graduates so far) and NCOs (over 300 grads so far). The Turkish military reputation is respected by Somalis and the training is tough, thorough and apparently successful. The Turk trained battalions are visibly more effective against al Shabaab and the Islamic terrorists would like to see these units disbanded. So do many Somalis, who see the Turk trained Somali units, which consist of over 4,000 troops, as an effort by the Turks to exercise control over whoever rules in Somalia. The Somalis know this is already happening in Syria, Libya and other areas where the Turks offer to help. Most of the Turkish trained troops are stationed in or near Mogadishu and all these battalions have Turkish officers attached as advisors and to keep an eye on how the troops are doing in terms of performance and loyalty to the government and Turkey. A problem with any Somali army is that regional (clan) loyalties tend to supersede national ones. The Turks believe they can change that. The Arabs also sought to gain some control over the Somali government and the UAE offered large bribes to make it happen. The Arabis were outbid by the Qataris and Turks and decided to back off. This is nothing new, for over a thousand years Arabs, Iranians and Turks have attempted to gain more control over Somalia and so far that has not succeeded, or at least not for long as the British and Italians discovered in the 20th century.

April 8, 2021: For the second time the Kenyan High Court has ordered a delay in a recent government announcement of carrying out its plan to close of two refugee camps that have been housing Somali refugees for three decades. The first effort to do this was back in 2019 when Kenya decided to close the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northeast Kenya and a smaller camp in the northwest. The refugees would be forced to return home by the end of 2019. The UN managed to halt that effort. The government first tried to shut down these camps by the end of 2016. Protests from donor nations, the UN and Somalia delayed the closure efforts. Now that is happening again but this time an appeal to the court produced a 30- day delay in the camp closure plan. The UN and aid groups claim closing the camps is illegal (according to international agreements, not Kenyan law) and immoral.

Kenya argues that the camps have become a menace to Kenyans and there is much popular support in Kenya for closure. Dadaab became the largest refugee camp in the world since it was established in 1991. At its peak it contained over 400,000 people but that had declined to about 330,000 in 2016 and 230,000 now. The other camp, Kakuma, holds over 160,000. In addition, there are as many as 100,000 or more unregistered Somali refugees. The first camp for exiled Somalis was built outside the town of Dadaab. The Kenyans living near the camp are largely ethnic Somali but the camp is unpopular because it disrupts more than benefits the locals and has become a base for criminal gangs and Islamic terrorists. Kenya is mostly concerned about Dadaab being used as a base for Islamic terrorists who carry out attacks in Kenya and recruit young men from Dadaab for those attacks. Too often, Kenyan police point out Islamic terror attack investigations come back to Dadaab or Kakuma. Many of the Somalis who said they were returning to Somalia quietly stayed in Kenya, finding refuge in ethnic Somali communities on the Kenyan side of the Somalia border.

The Dadaab camp is near Mandera county, which is on the Somali border and long the scene of Somali violence. Counter-terror efforts have largely kept Somali al Shabaab terrorists out of the capital (Nairobi), which is a thousand kilometers from Mandera, and that is what national politicians focus on. There have been two al Shabaab attacks in Nairobi since 2013. The latest one was in 2019. Politicians have priorities and problems get more attention the closer they are.

Al Shabaab has long sought to drive all non-Moslems out of northeastern Kenya because a lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live there. Over 80 percent of Kenyans are Christian and only twelve percent Moslem, most of them ethnic Somalis. There are also tribal problems in Mandera. One area along the Somali border has long been the scene of fighting between the Kenyan Murule (ethnic Somali Moslems) and the Marhan from across the border in Somalia. In 2015 about a hundred Marhan warriors crossed the border and raided Murule territory. Despite Kenya sending more soldiers and police to Mandera the violence continues. The Marhan have long been accused of supporting al Shabaab while the Murule oppose Islamic terrorism and al Shabaab efforts to chase Christians from the Mandera region.

Somali refugees and ethnic Somali Kenyans living in Kenya near the Somali border have been a major source of al Shabaab recruits for raiding and terrorism in Somalia as well as Kenya. Somali violence, both from al Shabaab and clan disputes, is less frequent throughout Somalia but persists on both sides of the Kenya border. On the Somali side is the autonomous Somali region of Jubaland. Across the border are the Kenyan counties (provinces) of Mandera, Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Marsabit. Occasionally the violence extends to cities elsewhere in Kenya. What is keeping al Shabaab active here and not elsewhere in Somalia is the lucrative smuggling operations the Islamic terrorists dominate along the border.

In addition to bordering Somalia there are several other reasons for all the Somali violence in this part of Kenya. First there is the pervasive corruption in Kenya, and Africa in general. In addition, Somalia is recognized as the most corrupt nation in the world. Al Shabaab takes advantage of the police corruption in Kenya, where the largely Christian police are particularly brutal towards ethnic Somali Kenyans. Similar attitudes are directed at the Somali refugees. That brutality and discrimination makes Kenyan Somalis reluctant to cooperate with police in finding al Shabaab terrorists or smugglers. About 76 percent of the four million Kenyan Moslems are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya’s Moslem minority has been known to harbor Islamic terrorists. Most Kenyan Moslems live in coastal cities like Mombasa, where about a third of the 1.1 million population is Moslem. A lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live in northeastern Kenya and that is a problem when most of the soldiers and police are Christians and non-Somali. Al Shabaab exploits this friction to continue recruiting in Kenya and enjoying some local support in the Kenyan border areas.

The UN cannot force Kenya to host Somali, or any other refugees. While all UN members are technically bound by several UN declarations about the correct treatment of refugees, many countries defy the UN and get away with. This is most common in Moslem majority nations, which have long been more hostile for Moslem refugees than the non-Moslem world.

 

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