June saw the formation of a new government after several years of efforts to overcome clan and warlord objections to democracy in general. The elections were held and results certified on May 15th producing a parliament and new president. The parliament met four days ago and approved the president’s selection of a new prime minister. The prime minister has to f0rm a government by filling dozens of key jobs with candidates that will not cause disputes in parliament over who got what. Somalia is still dominated by the power of the clans and the blind loyalty to clan even when it harms national unity. Overcoming this factionalism in a democracy is often very difficult. So far it appears that a majority of Somali leaders are willing to give a clean government a chance to work in Somalia. The key test is forming the new government successfully.
Major suppliers of foreign aid are optimistic enough to restore suspended aid programs. 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 as 700 U.S. troops left Somalia, most for reassignment elsewhere in Africa.
The departing American troops missed the most were 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 operations 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 enabled al Shabaab to be more aggressive in controlling civilian populations and collecting “taxes” from farmers that had little or nothing because of the drought and refusal of aid agencies to send food and other supplies to these areas because al Shabaab charged high cash “transit fees”, then stole much of the aid for resale in markets where the starving farmers could not afford it.
The 2021 moratorium on American UAV use over Somalia ended after a year because there was a new government willing to cooperate in getting emergency food aid to those who needed it most. To make this work there would be a revival of what happened in 2017 when American UAV operation resumed as Africom (U.S. Africa Command) increased its use of unarmed and armed UAVs over Somalia. This led to about 170 UAV airstrikes that killed nearly a thousand al Shabaab and ISIL members. In 2020 there were fifty of these UAV airstrikes. 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 (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) forces in the north. In 2019 there were 63 UAV attacks in Somalia for the entire year. The 2020 attacks killed several senior leaders although most UAV attack missions were 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 finally decided to return Special Forces and intel troops to Somalia and resume aerial surveillance of areas where al Shabaab is most active and to carry out air strikes against key al Shabaab leaders in an effort to disrupt and substantially weaken al Shabaab activity in Somalia. This approach to Islamic terrorism had worked in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel and, with a legitimate government in Somalia, it might work there as well.
All this positive activity by the new government has foreign donors willing to continue and increase economic and military aid. Foreign money as well as peacekeepers were already being withdrawn before the new government was established. 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 put Somalia at a disadvantage because much, if not most of its aid was stolen and never reached those who need it. If the new government can demonstrate an ability to change the wicked ways of its predecessors, the aid will resume and increase. Somalia and other nations in the region need this because the region is suffering from one of its periodic droughts, and a major one at that. In the past these major droughts would cause visible declines in the population. After World War II (1939-45) foreign aid by a growing number of countries and NGOs (Non-government Organizations) made it possible to prevent these starvation deaths, at least in countries that could distribute the aid effectively. Somali was one of the nations that had trouble doing that, mainly because Somalia was still a deeply divided region because of the persistence of many powerful clans that looked after their own even if it meant other Somalis suffered. The clan loyalties are still a problem and a major factor in delaying fair elections of a national parliament.
The new government has also restored good relations with Kenya. This includes cooperation with Kenya in dealing with al Shabaab activity in northeast Kenya, where Mandera county has long suffered from Somali violence. This includes al Shabaab roadblocks to check vehicles for non-Moslems, who are often kidnapped or killed. Counter-terror efforts have largely kept 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 are 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 usual 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 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.
June 25, 2022: The new Somali parliament approved Abdi Barre as the new prime minister in the new government (since May 15th) of president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Only 220 of the 275 member parliament were present to approve Barre with a unanimous vote.
June 23, 2022: President Mohamud visited UAE (United Arab Emirates) to discuss renewed UAE economic support for the new Somali government. The UAE is a major investor in East African nations but had reduced such activity in Somalia because of the delays in forming a government. UAE leaders now believe Somalia is suitable, and safe, for renewed investment and economic development. The former Somali government had welcomed Turkish aid, which was mainly military and provided troops loyal to the former government that opposed and delayed fair elections. The new government now joins most other Middle Eastern governments in opposing Turkish efforts to interfere with rather than invest in countries like Somalia. Turkey does participate peacefully in building economies in the region but will also get involved in local politics as long as it favors Turkey.
June 20, 2022: Down south, across the border in Kenya’s Mandera county, al Shabaab Islamic terrorists from Somalia destroyed a communications tower that disrupted communications for many residents. Al Shabaab considers Christian Kenyan rule of Mandera illegitimate because of the large number of ethnic Somali Kenyans and Somali refugees living in the area.
June 17, 2022: In central Somalia (Galmadug) a large force of al Shabaab gunmen attacked the town of Bahdo for the second time this year. Both attacks were repulsed but this time local militias and the small detachment of Somali police had been reinforced with soldiers and additional police. Not only was the attack repulsed but the soldiers, along with nearby reinforcements, pursued fleeing attackers and eventually killed at least 46 of them. Six of the dead were identified as foreigners. The January attack cost al Shabaab 17 dead. Al Shabaab regularly uses roadside bombs to attack security force convoys. The government has sent more troops and army commandos to Galmadug, to search out and attack al Shabaab camps. Somalis welcome the return of 450 American Special Forces troops who are essential in training Somali commandos and upgrading training for the Somali army in general.