Somalia: Making the Impossible Dream Come True


August 16, 2023: The United States, along with a lot of other foreign investors, have since mid-2022 seen Somalia as safe enough for expensive investments. There are still problems investors have to deal with. While the Somali government has achieved a level of stability that encourages more investments, they have to understand that this stability has not eliminated al Shabaab or Somalia’s traditional corruption and clan loyalty even though it has achieved, for the moment, a nominally democratic government. In mid-2021 the elected parliament finally approved a new 75-member cabinet. There was something for everyone, including a senior job for a former Islamic terrorist who was one of the founders of al Shabaab and is now working in the government religious affairs department. During the proceedings there were several al Shabaab mortar shells landing near the Parliament compound. There were no casualties. It’s been a long and tedious process to reach June 2021 when the new parliament met and approved the new prime minister selected by the president. This formation of a new government came after several years of efforts to overcome clan and warlord objections to democracy in general. The elections were held and results certified in May 2021, producing a parliament and new president. The prime minister was the one who actually f0rms 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 blind loyalty to clan even when it harms national unity. Overcoming this factionalism in a new democracy long dominated by clans is always 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 was forming the new government successfully. The stability came at a price because the United States, which supplies most of the foreign aid, agreed to funnel nearly all of it through the central government, which would then distribute the money to where it was needed the most for economic, security or political reasons. This gradually ran into problems as the clan loyalties of central government ministers became more of a factor in who got what and how much of that went to the minister for services rendered. Many Americans who have long worked in Somalia (as soldiers, aid workers or investors) warned that this would happen. At the same time the U.S. government remains hostile to the independent Somali states of Puntland and Somaliland in the north.

These two independent Somali states have enjoyed a degree of peace and prosperity since the 1990s because they 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, and demand that Puntland and Somaliland surrender their independence and rejoin the rest of Somalia. The north refuses because they recognize the problems the south still has, even if the American government does not. While the official U.S. government position is that Somalia is safe and stable enough for the north to rejoin, the northern Somalis and many Americans with long experience in Somalia side with the northerners. Despite that, some northerners back reunification but so far they are a minority holding public rallies backing reunification. The northern governments see this as another southerner threat and attack the separatists. The separatists had the support of some northern clan leaders and became another dispute the northern governments have to resolve, which they tend to do more frequently than the southern governments.

The difference between the northern and southern governments is that the northerners have been more amenable to compromise and less eager to use clan loyalty as an excuse to lie, cheat and steal as a government official. The north is not free of corruption, just more realistic and disciplined about it. During 2022 the Somali state suffered 613 civilian deaths and nearly a thousand wounded because of al Shabaab attacks. Losses among the security forces were a bit less. This violence continued in 2023 as al Shabaab attacked efforts to hold national elections.

Powerful clans maintain armed militias and an informant network among clan members. This is why the media regularly report the government or peacekeepers “consulting clan elders”, negotiating with al Shabaab (or another clan). Often al Shabaab will have to deal with the clan elders because al Shabaab has found that making an enemy of a powerful clan is bad for business. An example lies in the south, on the Kenyan border, where al Shabaab has found its operations disrupted because of disputes with the powerful Marehan clan. Most situations where al Shabaab have problems doing business is because they have run afoul of a powerful, and usually heavily armed, clan. Al Shabaab tries to intimidate clans into cooperating but failing that al Shabaab must either fight, make a deal or move somewhere else. Somalia is a patchwork of areas which al Shabaab tries to avoid because of these powerful clan organizations. These clans are usually the ones with “clan elders” who can negotiate with al Shabaab. Government security forces have also been more successful in coming to the aid of clans threatened by al Shabaab.

Then there is the corruption. Somalia has massive problems with corruption, which explains why the latest annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index showed that Somalia is still 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 Yemen (score of 17). Syria (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 least 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.

August 15, 2023: Kenya revealed that at least 30 Kenyan policemen or soldiers were killed during ten roadside bomb attacks that occurred during three weeks in June. These attacks took place in Mandera, Garissa and Lamu counties, which are on the Somali border. Most of the attacks were the work of al Shabaab but a few were carried out by groups that did not identify themselves and may have been al Shabaab factions that failed to take credit for an attack.

August 12, 2023: The AU (African Union) peacekeeper force will be reduced by another 3,000 troops by the end of September. Many Somalis oppose the departures because they doubt that the Somali security forces are capable of taking over. Peacekeepers from other African countries have played a crucial role in defeating al Shabaab and reducing areas where the Islamic terrorists could freely operate. This enabled Somalia to create its own army and police forces. The peacekeeping force withdrawal will be completed by the end of 2024 and it will be up to the Somalis to meet their security needs with Somali forces.

There were many reasons for withdrawing the peacekeepers and one was that it was very dangerous to be a peacekeeper in Somalia. Peacekeeper duty in Somalia was much more dangerous than anywhere else. At least 3,500 peacekeepers have been killed in Somalia over the past 16 years. The EU (European Union) and United States pay for the peacekeeping force and nearly $200 million has been disbursed for death and disability benefits during that period. That’s in addition to the $200 million a year cost of operating the peacekeeper force. 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 about 3,500 peacekeepers have been killed and at least as many permanently disabled from their wounds. The African Union (AU) pays for medical care, including long term care for some of the wounded. For years the AU played down the high casualty rates in Somalia, reporting less than a third of the actual deaths. The growing number of corruption scandals involving missing death benefits and other compensation led to the actual loss statistics being revealed. There are sometimes problems with soldiers not being paid during peacetime in their home countries. Too much of this sometimes sparks a rebellion or insurrection over missing pay and other grievances. Despite this there was never a problem obtaining peacekeepers for duty in Somalia, paid for by the AU and a long list of African and Western donors.

Somalia is the most dangerous peacekeeping duty in the world. About 300,000 men served as peacekeepers in Somalia, receiving an average annual compensation of $9,100 each. Officers, NCOs and privates all receive different amounts and peacekeeping duty pays better than their regular pay when back home. In most countries, peacekeeping duty is relatively safe. This was not the case in Somalia, where about three percent of peacekeepers were killed or badly (disabled) wounded.

The first AU peacekeepers (from Uganda) 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. Uganda and Burundi supplied most of them with most of the rest coming from Kenya and Ethiopia. The peacekeeper force made a 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 this the UN extends the Somali peacekeeping force on a yearly basis. Currently there are about 19,000 peacekeepers in Somalia and they remained for so long because the UN believed Somalia would quickly regress back to a disaster zone without them. Currently the Somali security forces are supposed to consist of 13,900 personnel. That is what the UN is supplying cash and equipment for. With all the corruption and shoddy record keeping in Somalia, it is difficult for outsiders to verify how many security personnel Somalia actually has. Kanya contributed nearly 4,000 soldiers to the peacekeeping force in Somalia and will continue to have thousands of troops and police along its Somali border after all the peacekeepers are gone. Al Shabaab and various other Somali outlaws continue to raid into northern Kenya. Somali marauders have been raiding into what is now Kenya for centuries and that problem continues.

August 11, 2023: In the north (autonomous Somaliland) nine policemen were ambushed and killed by members of a militia opposed to the current government. Somaliland is undergoing a political crisis because of the recent disputed presidential election.

August 10, 2023:

August 9, 2023: About 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber tried to enter a tea shop and kill a senior political officials. Security guards intercepted the bomber who detonated the explosives prematurely, killing two security guards and three civilian bystanders. Just outside Mogadishu, six people were killed and twelve wounded when the bus they were in encountered a roadside bomb. No one took credit for the bomb, which may have hit the wrong target, civilian rather than military, target.

August 8, 2023: North of Mogadishu (Middle Shabelle and Hiran regions) Somali army commandos killed 25 al Shabaab members, including a known leader. The troops also destroyed 16 vehicles, including four rigged as car bombs.

In nearby Lower Shavelle, a roadside bomb killed six and wounded twelve.

July 31, 2023: In the last four days, Somali troops operating in Galmudug and nearby areas killed at least 160 al Shabaab gunmen and cleared many areas of all al Shabaab presence.

July 19, 2023: In the north (Galmudug and Middle Shabelle) American air support in the form of missile armed UAVs, supported Somali troops that are seeking out and eliminating remaining al Shabaab groups. Al Shabaab is seeking to disrupt the upcoming elections.

July 17, 2023: In the north (Somaliland) the National Election Commission announced the schedule for the national elections in Somaliland. This is more aspirational than actual because there are still disagreements among local clans as well as opposition by al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). These two radical groups do not have a major fighting force but do have enough armed and determined men to disrupt any election efforts in the two autonomous areas of Puntland and Somaliland. There are also some problems in the south, especially in Galmudug, Hirshabelle, Jubaland, and Southwest states where efforts to plan for national elections are disrupted by unresolved local problems.

The last time Somalis were unified it was accomplished forcibly by colonial powers in the late 19th century. That lasted until the 1960s. At that point colonial governments were being turned over to local officials, most of them democratically selected. The election process was not always democratic but that was a problem left for the locals to sort out. Somalis did that by attacking neighbors and fighting each other. By the early 1990s Somalia was a perpetual war zone with local warlords fighting each other and foreign aid groups seen as a source of income by the warlords. The foreign aid groups demanded that peacekeepers be sent in and that caused some unity in Somalia, but no peace because the warlords united to fight the foreign invaders calling themselves peacekeepers. The peacekeepers left and stayed away for over a decade. The UN had ignored the practical advice British colonial administrators had developed in the late 19th century when they described the best way to deal with violent Somalis was to "shoot on sight, shoot first, shoot to kill, keep shooting." Not unexpectedly, post-colonial Somalia proved unable to govern itself because when the Somalis had no foreigners to fight and plunder, they went after each other. Most Somalis agree that a national government selected by individuals voting for their preferences is a reasonable solution if it can be implemented. That is still a work in progress, as the difficulties in north demonstrate. The current plan is to hold truly national elections (including Puntland and Somaliland) in 2026. If that can be done, Somalia will truly be a national state united by a voting system that includes all Somalis. That may be an impossible dream, but at the moment it is the goal.

July 9, 2023: In the south (Lower Juba) the army located and attacked an al Shabaab camp, killing about 40 al Shabaab members.

July 6, 2023: In the south (Lower Juba) al Shabaab used a roadside bomb to kill about a dozen Somali soldiers.




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