Somalia: "I'll Be Back"


December 4,2008: Ethiopian troops have left Baidoa, and Islamic radical gunmen have begun closing in on the town as a result. Baidoa is where the Transitional National Government, or  TNG, is based. While some factions of the Islamic radicals are willing to work with the TNG, the more radical factions (particularly the Shabab) are pushing for the establishment of a religious dictatorship and an alliance with similar radical groups like al Qaeda.

The international community is desperately hoping that some kind of miracle will occur in Somalia, and that a new government will magically appear, enforce law and order, and put the pirates out of business. More realistically, everyone expects the piracy to go on until the U.S., or someone else capable of the job, can be convinced to go ashore in Somalia and shut down the pirate bases. That's the only way to stop pirates, by going to where they live and capturing, killing or intimidating them. This is an unpopular fact, and world governments and media have been playing it down because, in the case of Somalia, the implications are so very unpleasant.

December 3, 2008: In response to pleas from the UN, Ethiopia has agreed to keep about 2,000 troops in Mogadishu, perhaps to the end of January. The UN is scrambling to get more peacekeepers into Mogadishu, which it believes will be the scene of major fighting once the Ethiopians leave, unless a lot more peacekeepers can be obtained. The Ethiopians know how to fight the Somalis, and are good at it. Not so the 3,400 AU peacekeepers, who have, so far, spent most of their time guarding their camps and the airport outside the city.  

December 2, 2008: The UN has extended its mandate for members to "all necessary means" to deal with the Somali piracy. However, UN members must first obtain permission from the TNG, or any UN recognized successor, before entering Somali territory to actually do anything. There are many national and international laws (most created since World War II) that restrict what navies can do to pirates, and the UN has not done anything about that.

December 1, 2008: The owners of the Ukrainian ship (and its 33 tanks and other weapons) have agreed to pay the Somali pirates a $20 million ransom. This is the largest ransom ever paid to the Somali pirates, and will encourage more groups to get involved in pirate operations. The GPD for all of Somalia is only about $2.5 billion (meaning the average income per person is $250). So $20 million in cash is a really big deal.

November 30, 2008: Egypt has offered to contribute military forces to help deal with the Somali pirates, but only as part of an "international effort." None of the international organizations is willing, or able, to go ashore in Somalia to stop the chaos, and shut down the pirates. No individual nations is willing to do it either. So it won't get done. Meanwhile, Egypt is starting to lose traffic (and revenues) through its Suez Canal (which, in a good year, brings in nearly $6 billion, compared to the governments annual budget being only about $34 billion and national GDP of $129 billion).

Police in Puntland have found where four kidnapped foreign journalists are being held, and have surrounded the place. The sixty cops want to free the journalists alive, which may take some negotiation with the seven kidnappers guarding the captives.

November 29, 2008: For the 15th or 16th time (it's hard to keep count) since 1991, peace talks are underway between the major armed factions (mainly the Transitional National Government, or  TNG, and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, or ARS, which is the successor to the Islamic Courts Union, or ICU) are underway. There has been some agreement by ARS members to join the TNG parliament. The withdrawal of Ethiopian troops was long an ARS precondition for this, and some Islamic radical factions are expected to make a grab for Mogadishu once the Ethiopians are gone.

November 28, 2008:  Ethiopia says it will pull its troops out of Somalia by the end of the year, whether or not the UN or AU (African Union) get enough troops in to replace them. The Ethiopians, like so many others in the region, and the world, are fed up with trying to cope with the political/economic/social mess inside Somalia. What the Ethiopians will probably do is pull their troops back to bases just across the border in their Ogaden province, and continue to send in raiding parties when (not if) Somali factions come raiding. Ethiopia sent troops to Mogadishu two years ago at the behest of the United States, to drive out Islamic radicals (the Islamic Courts Union). The Ethiopians were told that the UN and AU would organize a force of 8,000 peacekeepers to relief the Ethiopian troops. But that never happened, and only 3,400 of the peacekeepers have arrived, and they have not done much peacekeeping.

Meanwhile, the better organized, and motivated, Islamic radicals take control of more towns. These militias are only a minority of the armed groups that exist throughout the country. The non-religious warlords (mainly the Transitional National Government, or  TNG) are unable to unite sufficiently to suppress the religious groups (the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, or ARS, which is the successor to the Islamic Courts Union, or ICU). Kenya and Ethiopia find their borders crossed more frequently by Somali raiders (something which has been going on for centuries), and are seeking Western nations that will help contain Somali aggression. So far, the only people seriously listening are those with counter-terrorism forces (mainly American, British and French) in Djibouti (Somalia's neighbor in the north.) But this force of commandos keeps its operations very secret. Apparently, this Djibouti based force monitors what goes on in Somalia, and occasionally intervenes to kill key al Qaeda operatives. There are more al Qaeda showing up in Somalia, and apparently they are leading a terror campaign against relatively peaceful warlords controlling most of northern Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland).

The newly arrived terrorists are finding that Somalia is a very hostile environment. Over a third of the population faces starvation, and most Somalis depend, in whole or part, on food aid brought in by foreign aid groups. But many warlords make money by extorting or stealing from the foreign aid organizations. As a result, no matter how much food is brought in, some Somalis are not getting enough to prevent starvation deaths. Again, no foreign country is willing to go in and deal with this situation. That's because it's recognized that it would take a colonial type government to bring peace to Somalia, as most Somalis have shown, over the last two decades, that they cannot govern themselves. Since colonialism is very politically incorrect, the situation will have to get a lot worse before the world community will do anything decisive to shut down the horror show that has developed in Somalia.

The Ethiopians, with thousands of years of experience dealing with Somalis, know that the unruly Somalis only submit to force. Well, that's been the drill for centuries. Talk of reform and democracy is all very good, but no one, or group, has actually been able to implement these changes yet, or even come close, in Somalia. As the Ethiopian troops leave Mogadishu, many cannot help but think, "I'll Be Back".




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