For over a decade, the U.S. attitude towards Somalia has been one of "containment." In other words, let the Somalis sort out their problems themselves, and try to keep the violence from spilling over into adjacent states. That has not worked out so well. Somali pirates have seized over a hundred merchant ships in the last few years, while other Somalis regularly raid into neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia. Recently, Somali Islamic terrorists staged an attack in Uganda that killed 73. More such attacks are promised if all foreigners don't get out of Somalia.
If only it were that simple. One big problem is that there is no longer one Somalia, there are four of them; Somaliland in the northwest, Puntland in the north, the Transitional Government in the center and al Shabaab in the south. These factions are each composed of more clan and warlord militias, which create still more internal strife. The Transitional Government is the weakest alliance, because its component clans and warlords are the most divided. The other three factions also have these, often violent, disagreements, but not to the extent of the Transitional Government.
The U.S. and European nations have showered the Transitional Government with millions in economic and military aid, only to see most of it stolen. The thousands of Somalis given military training by Western instructors in the last year, are of little use to the Transitional Government because of the corruption (Transitional Government leaders stealing money meant for food, equipment and payroll.) Somalis love to talk about "Somalia", but won't work together to make it happen. The guiding principle is to grab all you can for yourself and your family or clan.
The basic problem is that the Somalis are a nasty and unreliable lot, at least according to their black African neighbors. The Somalis are aggressive and violent, and although they look like black Africans, they consider themselves Arabs, and display the disdain for non-Somali blacks so typical of Arabs.
The African Union (AU) has sent in 6,000 peacekeepers, but there is no peace to keep. The AU troops defend the airport, seaport and some parts of Mogadishu (where the Transitional Government has a presence). While most Somalis in Mogadishu consider the AU peacekeepers "foreign invaders," Somalis tend to see gunmen from another clan as "foreign invaders."
Somaliland and Puntland are not countries, but truce agreements between two clan coalitions. This brings peace, but not unity, to these parts of northern Somalia. That is not unique, that is how Somalia has worked for centuries. The Transitional Government was an attempt to create a similar coalition for the rest of Somalia. Didn't really work, because there were a number of Islamic radical clans down south, who want to turn all of Somalia into a religious dictatorship. Since most Somalis oppose this, it is not likely to happen. Those Westerners who propose leaving Somalia alone, so that the Islamic radicals can be slaughtered by other Somalis, are not so sure that will work. That's because while those wars are going on, al Qaeda, and other Islamic radical groups, have a base in Somalia. Several terrorist operations around the world, not just the recent one in Uganda, have been traced back to Islamic terrorist groups ensconced in Somalia.
What to do? One should first look at the situation from the viewpoint of Somalis. For example, Somalis, in particular, are touchy about foreign invaders, partly because Somalis have been invading their neighbors for centuries and know what kind of reaction such incursions tend to create. Thus there is no "Somali Empire." The Somalis prefer to raid their neighbors, steal what they can, and go home. When not invading neighbors, Somalis fight each other, which they have been doing energetically for the last three decades. It won't be easy to get them to stop.
The U.S. is proposing that future aid come with more strings (American troops and officials handling the money). This sort of thing is opposed by Somali leaders (less opportunity to steal), and believed (by some Americans) to be acceptable to most Somalis. Getting senior American officials to sign off on this is difficult, as it does put more Americans at risk of being killed or kidnapped. There have also been suggestions that more mercenaries be employed. That's right, more mercenaries.
The AU peacekeepers have already quietly hired South African mercenaries to help deal with the roadside bomb problem. In the past five years there have been two attempts to hire security contractors to run a Somali Coast Guard. But these guys needed a license to kill, and the UN would not allow that. Meanwhile, the UN is moving towards turning the AU peacekeepers into mercenaries. Months before the recent terror attack in Uganda, the UN announced they were more than doubling the pay of those serving in Somalia. That's in recognition of the fact that Somalia is not normal peacekeeping, it is a war zone. This is called peacemaking, and it's a lot more dangerous and stressful.
Normally, each peacekeeper costs the UN about $60,000 a year. Only about a quarter of that is pay for the troops. The money comes from the wealthier countries, which the UN solicits to pay for these operations. Most of the troops come from less wealthy nations, where the troops are happy to serve for about a thousand dollars a month. This is usually much more than the troops normally make. There's also bonuses like new equipment they will likely get, again, paid for by wealthier countries. The troops also get to travel. OK, not to a tourist spot, but usually to an exotic, and somewhat dangerous, one. The UN usually provides better living conditions than the troops get at home. But in Somalia, better living conditions are accompanied by constant exposure to hostile gunmen.
The 6,000 Ugandan and Burundian peacekeepers have been in Somalia for three years, suffering about one fatality a month, plus several more wounded, and many more casualties from accidents and disease. It's normal for peacekeepers to suffer about 10 percent casualties a year, nearly all accidents and disease. But in Somalia, you are getting shot at a lot more, and sometimes you get hit.
Higher pay does attract more volunteers, this was seen in Iraq, where many former African soldiers eagerly sought out security jobs. You were more likely to get hurt there, than in Somalia, but the pay was worth it. You could save enough to change your life back home (by having enough cash to buy a business or a house). So without admitting it, the UN is dealing with security issues in Somalia the same way the U.S. did in Iraq and Afghanistan, hiring a lot of mercenaries to complement the regular troops who carried out the heavy combat. That's why the AU wants the Western nations to send in some of their best troops to carry out the difficult missions. So far, the West is not interested. Too much media downside, because the Somalis love to use women and children (preferably from some other clan) as human shields, and get some kids killed. The media love that stuff, and it enables the Somalis to insist that the foreigners stop oppressing them.
This also distracts attention from other problems in Somalia, like the corruption in the food and medical aid programs. Earlier this year, the UN admitted that its food aid program had been corrupted by Somali warlords and local businessmen. Using force, intimidation and bribes, these Somalis had corrupted the food aid program to the point where over half the aid was being stolen. Some went to supply warlord forces. These included Islamic radical groups like al Shabaab, which fed its followers with the stolen food, and sold off much of it to provide cash for weapons and other goods. The conduits for this theft were often the local contractors who were hired to transport and distribute the food. These businesses collaborated with the Islamic radical groups to pull this off, threatening Somalis with kidnapping, beatings or death if they complained to UN inspectors. Many Somalis sought to complain, because the food they did not get, left them starving. There wasn't much choice between a quick death from an al Shabaab bullet, or a slow one from starvation or malnutrition related illnesses.
But word of the wholesale theft of food did get out. Word, and pictures, of starving Somalis, who were supposed to be receiving regular food aid, got back to the donor nations. As a result of that, the UN was having a hard time getting nations to donate food. Why donate food or cash, when it's common knowledge that much of the food is stolen. It get worse. Islamic radical organization Al Shabaab recently ordered the UN to stop importing food for nearly four million starving Somalis. The Islamic radicals say that all the free food makes it difficult for Somali farmers to stay in business. This is often the case, although there is a major drought going on in Somalia, and many farmers are unable to produce food locally, and are too broke to buy food locally. What's really going on here is that Al Shabaab apparently wants to extort more money and goods from the UN to allow food aid to come in.
Historically, a portion of the population would die of starvation during these droughts (or other natural disasters), and the survivors would prosper for a bit. But free food from international aid organizations has upset this cycle, often keeping populations dependent on the food aid indefinitely. The population also grows, putting more stress on inadequate resources.
Meanwhile, to avoid widespread starvation, the UN has quietly resumed doing business with the corrupt warlords and merchants who can guarantee some of the food aid will be distributed to the starving, while the rest is stolen. This is the best you can hope for in Somalia, at least if you want to avoid mass starvation. The UN fears that hundreds of thousands could die from the current food shortage, which is a much higher death count than the constant fighting is creating (5-10,000 a year).