Somalia: The Past Is Again Prologue

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May 20, 2022: The long-delayed national elections were finally held five days ago and chose the incumbent’s predecessor Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as the new president. The 15 months of delays and two years of disagreements over how to hold these elections were largely the fault of now former president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (also known as Farjamo). Numerous deadlines for the elections were set and missed. The delays were most often disagreements over who should run FEIT (the Federal Electoral Implementation Team), which decides who is eligible to run for office. The man most responsible for corrupting the FEIT was president Farmajo and this effort turned into a feud when his prime minister Hussein Roble objected. Veteran politician Roble was appointed prime minister by Farmajo in September 2020. The president soon regretted this as Roble was more intent on following the rules than taking orders from Farmajo.

These disputes began in mid-2020 and turned violent in April 2021 when Farmajo used Turkish trained-troops and loyal (to him) police to take control of Mogadishu. After that Farmajo continued blocking serious efforts to hold the long-delayed elections. Farjamo persuaded parliament to extend his current term, which expired in February 2021, for two more years. That was something parliament did not have the power to do and Farmajo used his Turkish-trained troops to stage a coup against police and any other armed, or unarmed groups in Mogadishu that opposed him. Farmajo underestimated the resistance in Mogadishu and the rest of the country, so he agreed that the two-year term extension was illegal and made serious efforts to negotiate a settlement. Farmajo apparently believed that if elections were held, he would lose. So did many Somalis, both traditionalists and reformers, who ultimately prevented Farmajo from rigging the vote.

The election 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 2020. 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, which requires special equipment that had not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission lacked the money and needed at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time was also required but it was never going to be enough. Foreign aid donors were fed up and threatened to withdraw aid, which is always being stolen by corrupt politicians and officials. The government pleaded for foreign aid to deal with the many internal problems. Billions of dollars in aid over the last decade has been provided but little of it has reached the people in need. Even Moslem donors threatened to halt their aid.

Farmajo and many other Somali politicians and leaders did not believe the foreign donors would completely abandon Somalia again, as they did in the 1990s for the same reasons. A majority of Somalis apparently agree with the aid donors but Somali culture still puts clan loyalty above anything else. National government has to distribute a lot of foreign aid to clan leaders to get any meaningful cooperation. Fair elections are seen as a threat to the traditions that create and sustain clan leaders, who are often warlords. That tradition leaves it to clan leaders to negotiate how much clout their clan should have, irrespective of how many eligible voters each clan has. That tradition is now seen by most Somalis as more of a problem than a solution. Fair voting is seen as a major threat to these traditions, which groups like al Shabaab depend on.

Foreign donors were ready to further cut economic and military aid if the feuding Somali politicians continued delaying elections. Foreign money as well as peacekeepers was to be withdrawn. The UN had already started the process of pulling out the 20,000 peacekeepers. Foreign aid donors have adopted a “send the aid to where it will do the most good” approach. That policy puts Somalia at a disadvantage because much, if not most of its aid is stolen and never reaches those who need it.

The disagreements were mainly about who was eligible to run for office and when voting took place for the 54 members of the senate and then the 275 members of parliament. After that the combined senate and parliament would elect a new president. Threats of civil war followed by the withdrawal of foreign aid finally resulted in an election.

May 16, 2022: With the election of a new government the United States ordered several hundred special operations and other troops to return to Somalia. In late 2020 the previous U.S. government ordered all U.S. troops out of Somalia. This was completed by January 2021. The 700 U.S. troops who left Somalia, including 500 from Puntland, were sent to other parts of East Africa. The impact of this departure was most obvious in Puntland because the U.S. had found cooperative local clans that were willing to supply recruits for special operations and coast guard units that were armed and financed by the United States, with the CIA in charge and American special operations troops providing the training for 600 men of the counterterror PSF (Puntland Security Force).

When the Americans departed, they took a lot of the special weapons (sniper rifles) and equipment (night vision gear) with them. Also departing was American financial support and monitoring of how that money was used. The clan leadership took over covering expenses as best they could. The PSF was very effective at controlling ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) activity in Puntland and was basically working for the United States. This was fine with the PSA members because they were keeping ISIL out of areas where their families lived as well as preventing ISIL from expanding. After the Americans left the clan supported PSF continued defending its territory from ISIL but no longer kept ISIL from expanding.

The American CIA has been active in Puntland since 2002 and initially the PSF was just some local guys armed and paid by the CIA to report on Islamic terrorist activity in the area. Gradually the number of American military trainers, advisors and intelligence specialists increased and by 2017 numbered several hundred. The PSF was effective in part because of the presence of American specialists and air support. This was largely surveillance and occasional missile attacks by American UAVs against ISIL or al Shabaab leaders.

The north has enjoyed a degree of peace and prosperity since the 1990s because Somaliland and Puntland declared themselves independent. However, all is not perfect up there. Puntland and Somaliland have been having internal problems but much less so than in Somalia. Northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south, has been in perpetual chaos since 1990 and the establishment of a lasting central government is still a work-in-progress.

The departing American troops missed the most are Special Forces and SEAL operators training and advising their Somali counterparts. The American troops in Somalia also handled intelligence collection and monitoring things in general. This was supposed to continue from a major American special operation base in neighboring Djibouti, as will the use of American UAVs, based in Djibouti, to search for Islamic terrorists and carry out airstrikes when the opportunity presents itself. That did not happen because the new (since January 20, 2021) American government soon ordered a halt to the use of UAVs over Somalia. Al Shabaab and ISIL gunmen began moving around confident that they were not making themselves vulnerable.

This ended an American UAV operation that resumed in early 2017, when Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of armed UAVs over Somalia. There have been about 170 UAV airstrikes that have killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes and 275 in Somalia in the last decade. For 2021 there were seven UAV airstrikes, the last one on January 29th, just before the U.S. ban on UAV operations in Somalia began. Most of the UAV attacks were against al Shabaab targets with a few directed at ISIL forces in the north. In 2019 there were 63 UAV attacks in Somalia for the entire year. The 2020 attacks have killed several senior leaders although most of the UAV attack missions are in support of Somali Army operations, especially in southern Somalia where the remaining al Shabaab strongholds are. The loss of American trainers and advisors for special operations for the Somali army in the south and the PSF in the north has led to more Islamic terrorist activity. The Americans are reconsidering their withdrawal of all forces and the ban on UAV operations in Somalia.

Most of this support will return to Somalia and its up to the new Somali president to make the most of it.

May 15, 2022: The long delayed presidential election was held and former president (2012-17) Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was once again head of the government. He replaced incumbent Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed who himself replaced Hassan Sheikh Mohamud in 2017.

Hassan Sheikh Mohamud first became president in September 2012 when parliament voted (190 to 79) in his favor. Hassan Mohamud had recently formed the first Somali political party that was not representing one clan or warlord. Hassan Mohamud had worked for international organizations and was considered much less corrupt than any of the other presidential hopefuls. Hassan Mohamud moved to a heavily guarded residential compound because of the attacks by al Shabaab.

In 2014 revelations that weapons, ammunition and equipment used by the Somali Army appeared in local arms markets led to accusations that corrupt government officials were responsible, not individual soldiers. Hassan Mohamud publicly denied detailed accusations that he, or one of his subordinates, was responsible for this.

In early 2017 Hassan Sheik Mohamed was replaced by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who was a Somali exile with American citizenship. Abdullahi Mohamed came to power with a lot of popular support, especially in the security forces. That was because Abdullahi Mohamed promised more vigorous action against al Shabaab. Mohamed had credibility in this area because he was perceived as 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. Not that can be interpreted as rearranging the list of who gets what when the stolen foreign aid is distributed. That’s an old Somali tradition.

Abdullahi Mohamed turned out to be another well paid (by donor nations, especially the U.S.) Somali leader who was expected to make some progress with the corruption. In 2017 this was seen as crucial because many traditional aid donors were reluctant (or simply refusing) to send aid, even for a catastrophic drought. The donors would only relent if the Somali government made a convincing effort to curb the theft of foreign aid. After numerous tries over the last two decades donors are abandoning Somalia. For over a decade Somalia has been rated as the most corrupt nation in the world and that assessment is clearly justified.

May 12, 2022: In the west (Ethiopian border) Special Forces troops discovered and seized al Shabaab weapons buried earlier for future use. Found were ten AK-47s, ten RPG launchers and lots of ammo for both weapons. Finds like this are more common because al Shabaab has more weapons than people to use them. Al Shabaab has turned into gangsters, who concentrate on making money and use violence mainly to intimidate the security forces or local militias from interfering.

May 4, 2022: About 160 kilometers northeast of Mogadishu, several hundred al Shabaab gunmen attacked a peacekeeper base. The attack failed with at least twenty attackers dead. The Burundian peacekeepers lost ten dead and 25 wounded. This was the first attack on peacekeepers since the April 1 announcement since March, when the peacekeeping force began its withdrawal process, which is supposed to be complete by 2024.

April 22, 2022: In Mogadishu al Shabaab tried, and failed to assassinate the head of the National Police. The attack was made on a popular restaurant where the police chief and eleven associates were assembled to break the Ramadan Fast.

April 18, 2022: In Mogadishu al Shabaab mortar fire at the parliament building attempted to disrupt the election process, which was finally moving forward. The shells missed the parliament and landed nearby, wounding several civilians. Al Shabaab considers successful elections and a new president as a threat to their power.

 

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