July 2, 2010: On paper, the Transitional Government (TG) should be able to wipe out the Islamic radical groups. The TG "army" and their clan militia allies add up to about 15,000 gunmen (including 5,300 peacekeepers, the only professional troops in the country). The Islamic radical groups have about 5,000 armed men. The difference is dedication to their cause. The TG force is more in it for traditional reasons (money, tribal obligation). The Islamic radicals are on a mission from God, and more enthusiastic. They don't pay as much, but they do so more consistently. All this gives them an edge in combat. But most of the time, the Islamic radicals are more feared than popular. Islamic radicalism is not alien to Somalia. Such movements come along every few generations. The strict enforcement of lifestyle rules eventually makes the radicals so unpopular that the people violently rebel. Most Somalis are waiting for the backlash to do its magic.
For the third year in a row, Somalia has topped most "failed states" lists. Most of the top ten failed states are in Africa. And most African states can blame it on ethnic diversity. But Somalia is ethnically homogeneous, and relies largely on character flaws to maintain its status as the most dysfunctional area on the planet.
Another example of the endemic dysfunction is the way the government has treated its recent alliance with the Sufi (moderate Moslem) militias. The Sufis took up arms and organized militias two years ago, when it became clear that al Shabaab was following through on its threat to kill Sufis for their heretical (according to Sunni Moslem extremists) religious ways. The government promised senior government positions and cash for the Sufi militia leaders, and have not delivered yet. Most Somali leaders are better at making promises than delivering on them. Theft is very common among senior officials, and foreign aid money rarely gets to where it was intended.
In the last week, there have been several hundred casualties in the Mogadishu fighting. One of the two hospitals in the city, despite treating everyone, is under fire. Someone, apparently an Islamic radical group, has been firing mortar shells at Keysaney hospital (which has treated over 1,400 patients so far this year), probably as a follow on to some Islamic radicals complaining about "infidel medicine" being un-Islamic.
One big advantage al Shabaab has is better PR. Al Shabaab gets its message out to the mass media, even if it is absurd (all the things that are un-Islamic) or simply false (the degree to which al Shabaab controls southern Somalia.)
Islamic radicals are having a harder time getting into and out of Somalia. The most convenient route, via Kenya, is more strictly controlled now. Not just at the border, but also at the airports. There's a lot of illegal flights in and out of Somalia, but this is much more expensive, and still won't guarantee to get you past the Kenyan airport security (which has been augmented by the Americans). Flights to Eritrea are less frequent and more expensive, but commercial flights from Eritrea are more carefully scrutinized wherever they land (even in Iran, the destination of choice for many Islamic terrorists.)
July 1, 2010: Al Shabaab has been campaigning to warn people not to attend celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Somalia today. Al Shabaab considers that event as un-Islamic, as it was arranged by infidels (Britain and Italy). But they needn't have bothered, because Britain and Italy created a Somalia that the Somalis could not hold together. What passed for a commemoration was an increase in fighting by everyone, a very Somali way to recognize the half century milestone. There had never been a Somalia before, and the 1960 Somalia quickly went downhill, with the help of military takeovers, invasions of more powerful neighbors (Ethiopia) and rampant corruption and tribalism internally. The 1960 Somalia fell apart in 1991, and no one has been able to put it back together.
Somaliland announced the results of its presidential election last weekend. Opposition leader Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo won a three way race, with 49 percent of the vote. Incumbent president Dahir Riyale Kahin acknowledged defeat and repeated his promise to abide by the results of the election, even if he lost. Al Shabaab had urged Somaliland residents to boycott the vote, and threatened violence against those who voted anyway. But al Shabaab has more enemies than friends in Somaliland, and was not much of a factor in the voting.
June 28, 2010: A Chinese chemical tanker was seized in the Gulf of Aden, despite using one of the patrolled corridors. The 14,000 ton ship is carrying glycol ethylene, a noxious chemical used in antifreeze.
June 27, 2010: In Somaliland, Puntland troops attacked a polling station set up in a disputed bit of land on the border, Four people died, and the voting continued.