Somalia: Take Whatever You Can Get Any Way You Can

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March 14, 2014:   Foreign aid workers are demanding better security now that al Shabaab has been largely driven from Mogadishu and much of the countryside. That’s not going to happen and there’s a simple reason why. In the last few weeks a large offensive by peacekeepers and Somali troops drove al Shabaab out of five towns in the south where they still had a presence. Typically the troops turn control over to local clans who pledge loyalty to the government. The clan gunmen are usually commanded by guys that foreigners describe as warlords and these militias consider any unarmed foreigners they encounter fair prey. Bringing world class standards of law and order to Somalia is not something you do quickly, especially when you have fewer foreign troops you can depend on. The Somali troops are not much better than the militiamen or al Shabaab fanatics when it comes to playing by the rules. In Somalia the rule is to take whatever you can get any way you can. The foreign aid groups have this idea that anywhere they are, even in places like Somalia they can demand that foreign troops to protect them. This causes diplomatic problems because the aid groups have better relationships with world media and get their version of reality out faster than the uglier but more accurate version can.

There are only 17,000 peacekeepers in Somalia, about half of them from neighboring Ethiopia and Kenya. The others are also African and from Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Djibouti and Sierra Leone. Most Somalis are glad to see the peacekeepers show up to drive away al Qaeda. While the Islamic terrorists do establish their version of law and order they do so at great cost to the locals. Al Shabaab collects heavy “taxes” by taking whatever they need to keep their jihad going and imposing unpopular lifestyle rules on everyone. The latest onerous rule is a ban on cell phones that can receive the Internet or take photos. The ban on cell phone cameras means most cell phones are forbidden and anyone caught with one will see their phone destroyed and the owner punished. That means a beating and a “fine” (taking all or most of your portable assets). The latest offensive has driven remaining al Shabaab to a few towns in the southeast. These are next on the peacekeeper target list but al Shabaab will survive because there are a lot of places to hide and these guys hang onto their cell phones, including ones with cameras and Internet access. That’s needed to keep the terrorist organization operational. The peacekeepers will have to continue sweeping the countryside for years to be completely rid of al Shabaab. 

When peacekeepers and Somali troops advanced south from Mogadishu the al Shabaab groups still active in the area simply fled.  Al Shabaab had hoped to recruit armed locals to assist in fighting the Ethiopian peacekeepers participating in the current offensive. The 4,400 Ethiopian troops who have been operating in western Somalia since 2012 officially joined AMISOM (African Union mission in Somalia, the UN recognized peacekeeping force) in January. In response to this al Shabaab said it would increase its terrorist attacks and it did but not by that much. It’s always popular in Somalia to say something bad about Ethiopia. The Somalis have fought Ethiopians for over a thousand years in part because the Ethiopians are not Somali and in part because most Ethiopians are Christian. What the Somalis dislike most about the Ethiopians is that the Ethiopians usually win these battles and continue to do so.  So al Shabaab should not have been surprised when none of the locals came forward to help fight the advancing Ethiopians and other peacekeepers. This was disappointing to the Islamic terrorists, who had used hatred of Ethiopians to rally some popular support. But the consistently unpopular behavior by al Shabaab and continued military superiority of the Ethiopians caused a sharp decline in willingness to help the Islamic terrorists in any way.

The government keeps the clans in line by sharing some of the money stolen from foreign aid and not cracking down on the clans grabbing whatever they can. The donor nations have complained of this for years without much effect. Recent revelations that weapons imported for the new army and police force have also been distributed to pro-government clans caused consternation at the UN. The Somali government was not bothered and denied any wrongdoing even when it was pointed out that corrupt Somali soldiers or militiamen had also sold some of these weapons to al Shabaab. .

Another largely unnoticed problem has been the arrival this year (s0 far) of 12,000 illegal Somali migrants from Saudi Arabia. For the last year the Saudis have been warning the estimated nine million illegals in the kingdom to either get legal or get out. The grace period is up and the Saudis have been forcibly sending the Somalis they have caught back to Somalia. The UN has protested this because of UN rules on the treatment of migrants (legal or otherwise) but the Saudis are not bothered by the UN criticism and plan to send another 30,000 back in the next few weeks. Unlike Western nations the Saudis are very reluctant to grant asylum, especially for those who enter the kingdom illegally. The Saudis have not signed any of the international agreements that that make it easier for illegal migrants to make legal claims for asylum.  

For six months now Kenya has been trying to persuade the 500,000 (at least) Somali refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp to go home as soon as possible. The UN, which runs the camp, says it could take up to ten years to persuade the refugees to go home. Kenya is now talking about ignoring the UN and speeding up the repatriation process a lot. The Dadaad population is a source of crime and economic disruption in northern Kenya. Islamic terrorists are known to live there and were often recruited there to begin with. Kenya already plans to force foreign aid agencies to move to Somalia, believing the refugees would be inclined to follow. About 50,000 Somali refugees left Dadaab and went back to Somalia in 2013, but even more arrived from Somalia. There are also over 500,000 Somalis in Kenya illegally, often using false documents. These will be harder to find and sent back to Somalia.

The pirates continue to be ineffective. There has only been one attack on a ship off Somalia this year. That was a February 14th incident off Mogadishu when a Kenyan cargo ship was attacked. The armed guards on board fired back and the pirates fled.

March 6, 2014: Kenyan officials announced that al Shabaab spokesman Ali Dhere had died from injuries suffered January 10th during a Kenyan air strike. Al Shabaab denied the claim and pointed out that Ali Dhere had been interviewed by al Jazeera in early February. Another al Shabaab spokesman did announce that the Islamic terrorists had recently executed three Somalis who had been charged with spying.

February 27, 2014: In Mogadishu a suicide car bomber attacked a tea shop frequented by soldiers and police and killed ten people. Not all the victims were members of the security forces.

February 24, 2014:  In the wake of the al Shabaab attack on the presidential compound on the 21st the security forces have been making more raids in Mogadishu neighborhoods thought to harbor Islamic terrorists.

February 21, 2014: A group of Al Shabaab suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the presidential compound in Mogadishu. The attack was repulsed leaving 17 dead. Al Shabaab later said the attackers had orders to take the president dead or alive but that did not happen.

February 20, 2014: Over the last few days gun battles between peacekeepers and al Shabaab in Mogadishu have caused at least a few hundred civilians to flee the city. The peacekeepers have been more active in searching homes and other buildings looking for Islamic terrorist hideouts.

 

 

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