Somalia: Reforming A Hellhole Is Not Easy


December 14, 2013: As al Shabaab is cleared from more parts of Somalia, more information is getting out about how the Islamic terrorists operated when they controlled most of southern Somalia after 2009. As long suspected, al Shabaab financed its operations by “taxing” everyone, including the aid agencies that were trying to deal with a major famine. Al Shabaab kept raising the taxes and gradually the businesses and aid agencies left. This helped make the al Shabaab collapse in 2012 possible.

In northern Kenya, on the Ethiopian border, tribal fighting has caused several hundred casualties in the last week, with up to a hundred dead. All those involved are semi-nomadic herders who have feuded with each other for generations over access to grazing land and water. In the last two decades many have acquired cheap Cold War surplus weapons and the feuds have gotten bloodier. Efforts to disarm these tribes have not been very successful. The recent fighting pitted the traditional dominant tribe, the Borana, against the Rendille, Gabra, and Burji. Kenya sent more troops to the area to separate the combatants and try to calm things down. The Borana have long been politically active and are currently backers of the ruling party in Kenya. Other tribes accuse the police and army of favoring the Borana, which does happen but often because the security forces trust the Borana more than the other tribes because of the political reliability of the Borana.

The latest international corruption rankings put Somalia, Afghanistan, and North Korea at the bottom of the list, as the most corrupt countries on the planet. In Somalia the corruption is encouraged by the intense clan loyalties and the desire of high level officials to look out for their family and clan first and Somalia later, maybe. The inability of government officials to leave clan politics out of their decision making and halt the theft of government funds (nearly all of it from foreign donors) has made unity and economic growth nearly impossible. The donor nations warn that without a crackdown on the corruption and the clan rivalries the foreign aid will be reduced and what does arrive will have a lot more conditions attached. These include bringing in foreigners to supervise the spending of the aid. If the foreign aid supervisors are unable to work because of threats and violence, the aid will stop. Most Somali leaders don’t believe the donor nations will completely withdraw and that the donors can be manipulated via media exploitation of Somalis suffering from famine and disease.

The donor nations are also angry about how the government is dealing with opposition or anti-corruption politicians. Murder is one of the tactics the governing parties are believed to be using to silence critics. The donor nations are also very upset at how the government has treated rape victims who went public. The victims were arrested and the government is trying to force the accusers to shut up. Somalis tend to view this sort of misbehavior as tradition and the way things have always been done. 

There is a growing sense of despair at the inability of Somalia to govern itself. Some Somalis (like al Shabaab) blame foreigners for interfering with Somalis internal affairs and manipulating Somalis into a state of chaos. But the majority of Somalis know that the problem is closer to home. Somalis have been battling each other, and their neighbors, for centuries. Disunity is nothing new. Corruption has long been the major flaw in Somali culture and the inability to cope with this has turned Somalia into one of the poorest and violent countries on the planet.

Then there's always the clan (tribal) politics and the inability of clan and warlord groups to compromise to form a united government. Not enough Somali leaders have accepted the fact that the old ways just are not working. Then again, many Somalis have a different concept of peace and prosperity. In times past, the losers in these tribal wars would all die or be absorbed into the victorious tribe. But these days you have international relief efforts. So millions of Somalis are surviving on foreign aid. This refugee community produces more angry young men, ready to take up the gun and go get some tribal justice, or just get rich.

None of this is new, but the donor nations are getting tired of the repetition. A decade ago Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia were advising various factions in the Somalia peace talks in Kenya about how to compromise and move forward. Back then Somali “traditions” had led to an inability to decide how the initial parliament would be formed. This would be the first government since 1991, and it seemed like an impossible dream. The problem was in determining who would get how many seats since, at that point, elections were not possible. Many of the warlords had an exaggerated view of their own power (political or military), and many withdrew from the final negotiations over allocating the parliamentary seats. Without the participation and agreement of all the major factions the new national government would not work. It seemed impossible to make the Somalis compromise and cooperate. While the traditional clan leadership (a council of clan elders) was eager to establish a new government, mainly because the elders see their kinsmen dying from starvation and disease, the powerful warlords (some of them led by Moslem clerics) of the clan leadership did not have the firepower to force a settlement. The warlords caused death and fear as a matter of course and only perk up when they see their power threatened. The warlords also knew that an effective national government could soon become powerful enough to defeat and kill or imprison the warlords. Djibouti, Kenya, and Ethiopia each support, or dislike, some warlords more than others. Dealing with the warlords has always been the key to Somalia's survival as a nation and ultimately the other nations in the region (especially Ethiopia and Kenya) had to send in troops to make it possible to establish a national government. While many of the warlords were persuaded to cooperate (or be put out of business), they are still gangsters at heart and national unity is not a high priority for them.

December 12, 2013: In central Somalia (Beledweyne) fighting between rival clans left at least 10 dead and nearly 20 wounded. In the central Somalia town of Baidoa a group of armed al Shabaab men attacked a government building without success.

December 11, 2013: The official investigation of the Westgate Mall attack in September was leaked. It admits that the four attackers may not have died but escaped during the chaotic effort to deal with the attack. The police did uncover a network of Somalis and non-Somalis in Kenya who aided the attackers and traced the movements of the four attackers in the months prior to the attack. The four crossed into Kenya in June and went to live in a Somali neighborhood in Nairobi. There they made their final preparations, including many visits to the mall to familiarize themselves with the place. The four days of shooting and explosions inside the mall were largely the result of incompetent leadership from the security forces. At least 67 people died in the mall and 27 remain unaccounted for. Officially, Kenya insists that the attackers were killed, but the police report admits that there is no definitive proof.

December 10, 2013: In northeastern Kenya police clashed with al Shabaab gunmen near the Somali border. Five policemen, three civilians, and at least two Islamic terrorists were killed during the terrorist ambush. Two policemen are missing and presumed dead or captured.

December 7, 2013: In central Somalia (the Bakool region) Ethiopian troops rolled into the town of El Barde to help the government garrison deal with local al Shabaab gunmen still operating in the countryside.

December 6, 2013: In Mogadishu al Shabaab fired several rockets at the sports stadium, but there was little damage and no injuries. Elsewhere in the city an opposition Member of Parliament was killed by a bomb under his car. This took place just outside a heavily guarded government compound, and opposition politicians accuse the government of being behind killings like this and efforts to shut down media outlets that do not agree with the government.

In south-central Somalia (Hiran) a peacekeeper from Djibouti was killed and another wounded as they attempted to disable a roadside bomb.       

December 5, 2013: In the north (the port city of Bosaso in Puntland) a suicide car bomber attacked a military convoy, killing 7 and wounding 37.

November 30, 2013: In Mogadishu a judge was killed. Such murders are believed to be the work of criminal gangs or Islamic terrorists, both of whom have an interest in convincing judges to be less enthusiastic in dealing with illegal activity.

November 28, 2013: In the north (Puntland) rebel clansmen attacked the convoy of the Puntland vice president. The attack failed and a soldier and others (rebels and civilians) were killed. The Puntland government is trying to make peace in the area where the rebel clan operates, if that fails troops will be brought in. 

November 27, 2013: In the central Somali town of Beledweyne, police arrested over 500 people in the wake of an al Shabaab attack on the 19th. Peacekeepers sent into the area have moved out into surrounding areas taking control of four villages al Shabaab had been using as bases and keeping the pressure on the Islamic terrorists. The plan is to keep after the local Islamic terrorists until their supporters and the gunmen are all arrested or killed.





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