Somalia: The Ancient Curse


March 7, 2023: In the north (the border between Somaliland and Puntland) foreign aid groups warn that that will shut down a hospital they operate in the town of Las Anod and halt other aid programs that are threatened by the weeks of fighting in the area between rival clan militias. So far over 200 have died and many more wounded. The hospital has been damaged and some aid has not arrived because of the fighting. In Somalia, aid groups often have to shut down operations and withdraw because local groups refuse to halt their battles that damage the air efforts. This self-destructive behavior is one reason that Somalia continues to be a mess.

Despite decades of effort and billions in foreign aid, Somalia still suffers from lack of unity and constant feuding between various factions. Islamic terrorism is nothing new in Somalia, but the growing worldwide affluence of the last century has made it easier to Islamic terror groups to get started in Moslem areas and remain active for longer periods. This is particularly true in Somalia. There is a reason for this; Somalia is the most corrupt nation in the world. More corruption means less prosperity and peace.

It’s no coincidence that the least corrupt nations are the most successful. The most corrupt nations (currently Yemen, Venezuela, South Sudan, Syria and Somalia) are the poorest and often mired in civil war or chronic violence. The least corrupt nations (currently Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway and Singapore) are peaceful and prosperous.

This problem is most acute in Somalia, which explains why the latest annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index showed that Somalia is the most corrupt nation in the world. Somalia continued to be as corrupt as it has been during the last decade, with a corruption score of 12, which is why Somalia is stuck at the bottom of the list. Transparency International measures corruption on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The nations with the lowest scores are currently Syria (score of 13), South Sudan (13) and Somalia (12). The least corrupt nation is currently Denmark, with a CPI of 90, followed by Finland and New Zealand, each with 87.

While the Middle East has a lot of corruption, there are exceptions. In the Persian Gulf the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is the last corrupt nation in the region, followed by Israel. Both Somalia and UAE’s corruption score have not changed much since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution when it was 8 for Somalia and 68 for the UAE. The UAE achieved the most favorable corruption score in the region because it has long depended on foreign trade to survive and to make money in that business you must be known as an honest trading partner. The UAE is also different in that it is a federation of formerly independent “emirates” that realized the wisdom of joining forces. Laws and customs vary somewhat among the emirates and some are more gangster than others. Overall, the UAE is a place where foreigners feel comfortable doing business. The UAE has also partnered with Turkey to provide foreign aid to Somalia. This has proved very difficult to carry out and Somalia is not a place most foreigners want to do business in. Somalia is also a federation of seven (including separatist Somaliland and Puntland in the far north) clan-dominated regions that have never achieved the degree of unity and prosperity of the UAE.

The ongoing corruption in southern Somalia continues to threaten foreign aid in general and support for the peacekeeper force. UN and AU (African Union) officials are unable to agree on whether the peacekeeping effort has been a success. Discussions continue to determine if it has been worth the effort and how it should continue. The local (Somali neighbors) AU officials point out that the fourteen-year peacekeeping effort has made a difference as al Shabaab and ISIL personnel and areas they controlled have been steadily reduced. Both groups have started taking refuge in neighboring countries, where local security forces can deal with the Islamic terrorists even more effectively than the peacekeepers in Somalia. Once all, or over 90 percent, of Somalia is pacified it will be practical to revive foreign aid efforts that were crippled, and plundered, in the past. The AU points out that the UN keeps sending in the foreign aid before it is safe, or even possible, to distribute the aid to the intended recipients. One reason for this continued disagreement is that AU members have grown up with and continue to live with the Somali threat. UN officials are constantly new to peacekeeping and aid delivery, due to staff rotation, and out of ignorance and optimism constantly underestimate or ignore the unique problems found in Somalia. Despite these misgivings, in 2022 the peacekeeping force underwent a name change to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. This new organization is supposed to oversee the reduction of the peacekeeping force and its complete elimination by 2025.

The United States has flown in more weapons for the SNA (Somali National Army). The recent 61-ton shipment, flown in on two American military transports, was largely composed of assault rifles, machine-guns and ammunition for these weapons. The SNA has about 20,000 troops and is about the same size of the AU (African Union) peacekeeping force, which is supported and largely financed by the UN. The SNA is supposed to be permanent while the agreement with the peacekeeper force is temporary. The peacekeeper force was supposed to begin reducing its size in 2020 but that was delayed by the unexpected collapse of the Afghan security forces in 2021 and takeover by the Islamic terrorist Taliban. UN peacekeeping specialists understand that the Taliban are a special case and there has not been any impact on Somalia because of the Taliban victory and Al Shabaab power continues to decline throughout Somalia. Despite that confidence, there is no guarantee that the SNA will remain intact and effective if the EU peacekeepers are withdrawn.

The UN and AU agreement to greatly reduce and eventually eliminate the current 19,400 strong peacekeeper force has been delayed because fears of it would result in the collapse of the SNA and more chaos in Somalia. Many of the peacekeepers come from neighboring countries which have centuries of experience with aggressive and unpredictable Somalis.

The peacekeeper force costs about $200 million a year. That is provided by the UN via contributions by the U.S. and EU (European Union). The UN approves the size and duration of the peacekeeper force annually. The peacekeepers have been in Somalia since 2007 at a cost of over three billion dollars. So far nearly a thousand peacekeepers have been killed and at least 4,000 wounded or injured. About a quarter of those were so badly wounded that they received disability payments while families of the dead received a lump sum in death benefits. Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world.

The first AU peacekeepers arrived in March 2007 and these 8,000 troops were supposed to be gone within six months. That force did not disappear by the end of 2007 but kept growing and quickly reached 22,000, most of them soldiers plus a few thousand police, trainers and administrators. The peacekeeper force made some difference, but in the face of massive corruption in the Somali government and various Somali communities that demanded help, the operation proved far more expensive and time-consuming than expected. Peacekeepers are due to leave because the best they can do is reduce the violence and disunity, while UN donors are not willing to waste money on that when there are other disaster zones that can make better use of the limited foreign aid.

Because of the threat of peacekeeper reductions or elimination, the SNA, which is about the same size as the peacekeeper force, has been particularly active and effective since 2021. If the peacekeepers go the army will have to face all the fighting alone and current assessments conclude that the SNA might not survive that for long, and instead fall apart because of casualties, desertions and a lack of new recruits. The Somalis have been saying this for nearly a decade but the AU and UN are fed up and the major donors needed to support the peacekeeper force have warned that they will reduce or eliminate contributions because of the continued corruption and ineffectiveness of the Somali government. The increased SNA effort against al Shabaab has apparently paid off with more surrenders of veteran al Shabaab members including prominent leaders. Somalia has been in a state of war for three decades and if the foreign aid and peacekeepers leave Somalia will again become a failed state.

March 2, 2023: The United States has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to the arrest of al Shabaab spokesman and attacks planner Ali Mohamed Rage. These reward programs tend to work in this part of the world where people are willing to risk betraying powerful Islamic terrorist leaders for a life-changing amount of money as well as relocation to a safe place to spend it. Rewards of this size come with added benefits, like moving the informant and family members to another country where they are safe from revenge attacks by al Shabaab. The informant rewards program has been around for over a decade and details of the results are rarely publicized because of the need to safeguard the informants and their families. Despite that, in many countries wanted Islamic terrorists were suddenly found and killed or, more rarely taken alive, there are many locals who were aware of the rewards program and would often note who recently left, along with many family members, for a new home overseas that was not identified. Finding out who played the dangerous informant game and won, as in lived to get out of the country with family, became a popular endeavor. Gossip travels faster and in more detail these days, what with cell phones and contacts in “safe” countries. This often-accurate gossip has helped the rewards program because it has demonstrated that if you have the opportunity and do it right, you can win big and live to spend the reward. Several al Shabaab and ISIL personnel have been killed in Somalia because of “information from a local informant” that is rarely identified by name, especially when a reward is involved. Details of how successful informants evaded retribution are kept secret but the fact that these relocations work is common knowledge in the region, especially Somalia.

March 1, 2023: Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya are sending more troops to join the ones they already have in Somalia to deal with al Shabaab violence. Nearly a million of Somalia’s 17 million people live in areas under al Shabaab control.

February 28, 2023: The international naval blockade around Yemen has been intercepting more weapons shipments from Iran. Interrogations of the crews of these smuggling ships reveals that some of these weapons are ultimately destined for rebel and Islamic terrorist groups elsewhere in Africa. These destinations include Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Tanzania.




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