Somalia: The Improbable Dream Of National Unity


March 11, 2013: Islamic terrorism is rapidly diminishing as a threat and now Somalis are paying more attention to reuniting the country. Government troops and peacekeepers are systematically clearing al Shabaab out of towns and villages in the interior and allowing clan leaders to resume control. That is a problem, because the clan leaders are not willing to take orders from some government in Mogadishu.

The national government recognizes that Somalia has been partitioned and will likely stay that way for a while. Despite this the government in Mogadishu still tries to assert authority in places where it doesn’t have any. This is especially the case in Jubaland (in the south, along the Kenyan border and including the recently liberated Kismayu). Jubaland is encountering problems sorting out which clans will get what, especially in Kismayo, where the port and markets are very lucrative to clan leaders who can levy fees on commercial operations. Much of the country is already controlled by local governments. These include (from north to south) Somaliland (in the northwest), Puntland (the north), and Galmudog (a breakaway portion of southern Puntland that is now a base for several hundred al Shabaab gunmen). Central Somalia is contested by remnants of al Shabaab, local clan militias, government troops, and AU (African Union) peacekeepers and Ethiopian troops (and some local militias) all along the Ethiopian border and Baidoa. The AU, government, and Ethiopian troops all tend to coordinate their operations, although each of these forces answers to a different master.

In the south several thousand Kenyan troops and some local militias are creating a new mini-state called Jubaland (also known as Azania). The national Somali government is propped up by AU (African Union) peacekeepers, plus troops from neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya and lots of foreign aid. All this is mainly to prevent any of Somalia from becoming a terrorist sanctuary again. Somalia’s internal problems (corruption, tribalism, and a tradition of violence) are always standing in the way of any political or economic progress. For example, with Mogadishu now largely free of al Shabaab, a major problem is the new police force, which tends to commit most of the crimes. Looting and assault by cops is common and the government seems unable to do anything about it.

The two statelets that comprise northern Somalia have been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in the 1990s, to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population are in the south. Somaliland is sliding towards civil war, while Puntland has been split between those who back (and profit from) the pirates and those that don't. The pirates have become much weaker in the last year because the international pirate patrol has prevented most attempts to capture ships. Without the large ransoms, most pirate gangs have disbanded.

The Somali government is negotiating to get Puntland, Somaliland, and Jubaland to agree to a federal form of government where the regions would have a lot of autonomy. In return, the central government would provide muscle to help control bandits and warlords throughout the country. This is not that compelling for most of the clans, who are accustomed to having no government at all ordering them around. For nearly all of the last few thousand years the clans answered to no one. European colonial powers arrived in the 19th century and established central government which didn’t really take, nor did similar efforts by previous conquerors. Once all the colonial powers were gone by 1960, the newly established Somali government began to come apart, a process that was complete by 1991, and no one has been able to get all the clans to submit to a new central government since.

March 9, 2013: Somali pirates released 28 Indian sailors (17 from the ship Royal Grace and 11 from the Smrini). There are still nine Indian sailors being held by the pirates.  Pirates had been holding Indian sailors who already had their ransom paid, in an effort to get 120 Somali pirates released from India jails. The families of the Indian captives backed such a deal but the Indian government refused to give in to threats. With the recent release the Indian government refuses to reveal if it made a secret deal with the pirates or not. The two ships the sailors are on were also released, indicating that the ship owners had paid a ransom. These two ships had both been seized early in 2012 (March and May).

March 7, 2013: The UN agreed to lift the arms embargo on Somalia for a year but only for light weapons (assault rifles, machine-guns, and RPGS).

March 4, 2013: The elections in Kenya were violent, with over two dozen dead, but this was not because of Islamic terrorism but the result of tribal and separatist groups. About 70 percent of the 14 million registered voters turned out. The violence was much less than in 2007, when over a thousand died.

March 3, 2013: Al Shabaab urged Kenyan Moslems (about 11 percent of voters) to boycott tomorrow’s presidential elections. This appeal was largely ignored.

March 1, 2013: The Somali government offered amnesty to 959 known pirates but specifically denied amnesty to the leaders of pirate gangs. Although most pirate gangs are based in Puntland, many of the pirates come from further south and a few smaller pirate gangs were in Somalia (as opposed to the Puntland in the north where most of the pirate gangs were based).

February 28, 2013: Two bombs went off in a seaside Mogadishu restaurant, killing a suicide bomber and wounding seven civilians.

February 26, 2013: Peacekeepers and Somali troops cleared al Shabaab out of two more towns (Dardan and Jirada-Kullow) near Baidoa in central Somalia.

February 24, 2013: In Puntland over 10,000 people turned out to protest the continued presence of al Shabaab in mountains near the Somalia border. There is a concentration of al Shabaab men in Puntland, protected by a local warlord who controls some mountainous territory along the border with Somalia. The peacekeepers cannot enter Puntland without permission from Puntland and negotiations continue to obtain this cooperation. Puntland itself has not been able to gather enough armed men together to deal with this separatist warlord.




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