Somalia: Port Policy, Peace And Prosperity



December 6, 2022: In the north (Somaliland) the new container port at the coastal city of Berbera has been operating for 18 months and is undergoing a planned expansion that will increase port capacity. After that there is the possibility of building a railroad link from the port to neighboring Ethiopia. One of the three owners of the new Berbera is Ethiopia, which owns 19 percent of the new port, while the Somaliland government owns 30 percent and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) firm DP World owns 51 percent. Somaliland signed a contract with DP World which then spent over $400 million modernizing the port facilities at Berbera. With DP World as the majority owner of the port, the UAE firm will also manage the port, which opened in 2020 and is seen likely to handle about half the Berbera port activity by 2050. The DP World is not the only port operator at Berbera but has the most modern and capable facilities for handling containers.

DP World was founded in 1999 and has built or expanded port facilities throughout the region and beyond. DP World facilities currently handle about 10 percent of global cargo container operations and is among the top five port operators in the world. Because of the success of the Berbera port, neighboring Puntland agreed, earlier this year, to a DP World proposal to modernize the largest port in Puntland.

In Somalia, 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 some 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 live in the south, which has been in perpetual chaos since 1990 with a lasting central government established only recently. That renewed interest in modernizing the port in the capital, Mogadishu. DP World made a bid but lost out to a Turkish firm. This was mainly because DP World was expanding ports for Somaliland and Puntland, which Somalia considers part of Somalia. The new ports enable the north to become even more prosperous and independent minded.

In the south (Mogadishu) Turkey was ready to replace the UAE for modernizing and expanding the Mogadishu port. Turkey had already done this for the international airport outside the city. There are interesting security problems. Turkey will also replace the UAE as the current manager of the port and was criticized for tolerating exports of goods al Shabaab made money from. Turkey says it will not tolerate this, which will reduce exports from the new port and reduce al Shabaab profits as the Islamic terrorists use another, less efficient, Somali port for these goods. .

Kenyan Compassion

Down south, across the border in Kenya, thousands of visibly starving Somalis have been allowed to enter the country and take shelter (and regular meals) in the massive Dadaab refugee camp. Kenya has long maintained 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. Despite the Kenyan ban on new arrivals at the UN operated camps, over 80,000 visibly hungry Somalis (most of them women and children) have been accepted in the last few months. Most come from areas in southern Somalia that are under al Shabaab control and not receiving much, if any foreign food aid.

December 3, 2022: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle and Hiran regions) soldiers and local militias cleared al Shabaab out of four more villages. Six al Shabaab gunmen were killed and several soldiers wounded. In a growing number of areas there is no more al Shabaab presence because of these joint army/local militia operations. In part, that’s because the local militias have an incentive to help form local militias in the liberated villages that are powerful enough to keep al Shabaab coming back. The Islamic terrorists use these villages as bases and sources of supplies by “taxing” the locals by extorting goods and cash from the villagers. These operations against al Shabaab also took place south of Mogadishu (Lower Shabelle) and included attacking a gathering of 200 al Shabaab gunmen who planned to attack an army base. The soldiers killed about half the assembled al Shabaab men and increased the al Shabaab losses the group has suffered during the last few months.

November 27, 2022: In Mogadishu, six al Shabaab men attacked a popular (with politicians, businessmen and foreigners) hotel near the presidential palace. Using a suicide bomber to gain entrance to the hotel compound the other five al Shabaab men killed civilians while fighting with security personnel. The al Shabaab men took refuge in a hotel room with some hostages and it took 20 hours to end the standoff. The attack left eight civilians dead at the hotel along with all six of the al Shabaab men and one soldier. Security forces safely evacuated 60 guests as well as hotel staff. It is believed al Shabaab carried out this attack as a reaction to their continuing loss of control in the countryside. In the last three months, the offensive against al Shabaab has killed at least 6oo al Shabaab men and wounded twice as many. While doing this about 70 villages, towns and neighborhoods were cleared of al Shabaab presence. This campaign by the newly formed government is a rare instance in which an elected Somali government keeps an important campaign promise. This counterterrorism effort is also meant to reassure foreign aid donors to provide more food aid. The threat of extortion by al Shabaab and corrupt government officials has put Somalia at the bottom of the list of destinations for foreign aid groups. In the past aid workers complained that little of the air reached the people who needed it most. With a record drought underway the need for emergency food supplies is great, but al Shabaab sees it as an opportunity to raise cash by either stealing the food and reselling it on local markets or extorting large sums from aid groups to allow the food to reach the hungry Somalis.

November 23, 2022: The AU (African Union) agreed to delay the withdrawal of peacekeepers by six months. However, the AU still plans to have all their peacekeepers out of Somalia by the end of 2024. Currently the UN pays for nearly 20,000 peacekeepers and support staff in Somalia. The new Somali government appears stable and reacting to the very real threats by foreign donors to end economic and military aid. Foreign money as well as peacekeepers were already being withdrawn before the new government was established in October. The UN had already started the process of pulling out the 20,000 peacekeepers. Foreign aid donors have convinced Somalis that the “send the aid to where it will do the most good” approach was definitely being applied to Somalia. That policy put Somalia at a disadvantage because much, if not most of its aid was stolen and never reached those who needed 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.

November 21, 2022: In the south (420 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) an army operation killed two known al Shabaab leaders. Senior al Shabaab officials tend to get that way by being careful and staying alive. The growing number of raids and searches by the army, often in cooperation with local militias, has made it difficult for senior al Shabaab personnel to travel or stay in one place too long.


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