Somalia: Heartbreak Hotel


January 25, 2017: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used two bombs, one of them a suicide car bomb and gunmen to attack another hotel used by foreigners and wealthy Somalis. Police were soon on the scene and the fighting continues. There were two similar attacks in 2016. Attacks like this makes people aware of the fact that Mogadishu is not as safe has it appears these days.

There are other dangers in Mogadishu one of which demonstrates why Somalia is somewhat unique. For example Somalia has been rated the corrupt nations in the world for a decade and maintains that status in the latest (for 2016) rankings. This is surely a record, but not one any nation cares to brag about. Corruption in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea and Somalia) have a rating of under ten while of the least corrupt (usually Denmark) is often 90 or higher. African nations are the most corrupt, followed by Middle Eastern ones. What is happening in Somalia is happening throughout Africa and for the same reasons. But Somalia is the worst case and thus the most difficult challenge.

Election Delays And Greed

Parliamentary elections finally took place and the new legislature was installed at the end of December. This was supposed to have taken place months earlier but did not because too many of the current politicians regard elections as a threat to their income (from corruption). Some foreign donors correctly saw the delays as a ploy so the interim government could stay in power longer and steal more aid money. This led to threats to halt aid if elections for parliament and president were not held. That worked, sort of, and the electoral process lurches forward, if only to keep the free money coming. The presidential election (or selection, by the parliament) was supposed to take place by the end of January and it still has not happened. Part of the problem is political with many of the clans (tribes) maintaining armed militias and refusing to abide by a “one man, one vote” system. That is, some clans demand more (foreign aid and other resources) than their numbers justify. A compromise had been achieved to accommodate that. In effect the new parliament was created by a “selection” rather than a national election. The national parliament has 275 members who were elected by 14,025 “voters” selected by 135 clan elders. The 54 members of the upper house of parliament are selected by local (state or regional) assemblies. A Western style election (in which all adult citizens can vote) is not expected until the early 2020s, if ever. The new president is selected by the new parliament and what means all manner of deals are being quietly (or openly) offered in return for support of one candidate or another. The major aid donors have quietly made it clear if the new government does not curb the rampant theft of foreign aid, there will be a lot less of it and thus the new president is expected to be more effective in curbing corruption.


Many if not most Somalis agree that Islamic radicalism (and terrorism to enforce it) doesn’t work but still have doubts about democracy. Nevertheless Western nations are willing to finance another attempt at democracy and Somalis have always been opportunists. If nothing else all that foreign aid provides splendid opportunities for personal gain. Thus corruption remains the biggest problem. Poverty, economic backwardness, drought, overpopulation and Islamic terrorism are all results of rather than the causes of the corruption. For example the biggest problem facing Somali security forces is logistics (keeping soldiers and police supplied with working vehicles, weapons and other gear). The logistics problems are a direct result of corruption (most commonly seen in commanders or government officials stealing money and equipment meant for the security forces). No one has come up with a workable solution and that makes it impossible to suppress al Shabaab quickly. This is all about the fact that too many Somalis still see power as a license to steal thus anyone getting control over foreign aid or any government assets will tend to steal some or all of it. Changing that widely held attitude has proved difficult in many parts of the world, but particularly in Africa and according to international surveys of corruption places like Somalia and Afghanistan are rated as the worst of the worst.

What keeps a lot of foreign aid in the country is the fear that if abandoned Somalia would turn into a terrorist (and outlaw) haven. This has happened before and not just in Somalia. So it was no surprise that the U.S. admitted in 2016 that it has been using its armed UAVs to provide surveillance and ground support (using missiles and smart bombs) for key (to the Americans) counter-terror operations carried out by Somali forces. This air support is apparently used for the American “decapitation” (finding and killing key al Shabaab leaders) program. Until 2016 this was mostly done from the air or occasionally American commandos would come in and carry out raids. By early 2016 it was revealed that American Special Forces (and other NATO trainers) had created some Somali commando units deemed effective enough to use on raids that American commandos would normally be required for. There have been many (a dozen or more) of these raids in 2016 and they got little publicity unless they capture or kill a very senior Islamic terrorist leader or specialist. Most of these raids do not require any American airstrikes, which is a sign of progress.

Meanwhile al Shabaab insists that any form of democracy is un-Islamic and threatens to kill those who participate in it. Al Shabaab represents ancient, pre-Islamic, customs and traditions that have long defined Somali culture. Thus someone with greater power, especially if some of it is supernatural, should be in charge. That’s a tradition that is not unique to Somalia but many Somalis have remained enthusiastic and loyal practitioners of this sort of thing. That’s why the corruption and disunity continue to flourish.

Follow The Money

A 2014 UN audit of billions in aid money spent on Somalia revealed why foreign aid was largely wasted on Somalia. Much of the aid sent to Somalia was not properly accounted for. This was largely the result of the violence and corruption that is endemic in Somalia. This situation became particularly difficult when al Shabaab gained control of central and southern Somalia in 2010. Al Shabaab then began interfering with foreign aid deliveries. In 2011 NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that manage most of the food aid world-wide, demanded that donor governments either send in troops (very unlikely) or pay al Shabaab whatever they demand in order to get more food delivered to starving Somalis. Meanwhile al Shabaab was itself split on food aid, with some factions not wanting any of it under any circumstances. At the time nearly four million Somalis were very short on food, and about half of them were in al Shabaab controlled areas. Food was getting into the famine areas, but most was only available at markets that al Shabaab taxed. The problem was that the famine had destroyed the livelihood (farming or herding) of many, and these people had no money to buy food. Some al Shabaab factions blamed infidels (non-Moslems) for somehow causing the drought, while other factions insisted there was no drought and whatever happens (including mass starvation) was God's will anyway. In 2011 starvation deaths were becoming more common in drought-ridden central and southern Somalia. Al Shabaab had banned most foreign aid efforts (as not "coming from God.) The lack of food aid was leading to more deaths from starvation. Aid groups were willing to pay al Shabaab but the Islamic radicals kept asking for more money and goods. Al Shabaab had tried to ban the aid groups entirely but that created unrest even among some of their armed followers, whose families were often dependent on foreign food aid. In effect, the aid groups were major suppliers of food and cash to al Shabaab, and an informal and unpublicized compromise was worked out where the UN allowed over 80 percent of the aid for Somalia to be given to Somali NGOs unaudited as long as something was done to avoid mass starvation. There was a lot of death (from malnutrition and starvation) but al Shabaab kept journalists and foreigners away from areas where this was happening. The UN kept quiet and downplayed the stories (from refugees) about what was really going on. The aid money helped keep al Shabaab going and made some Somali aid officials rich. Between cash stolen outright and food aid diverted (sold) to markets the amount of money “misused” was well in excess of $100 million. Since then aid donors have insisted on much more verification of the food getting to the people in need. But more and more aid donors have simply refused to give, pointing out that the demand for such aid worldwide is greater than the donor money available. Why give to Somalia when so much of it will disappear when you can send the aid elsewhere and see much more of it get used. More and more Somali leaders have come to understand that this is not an empty threat. While the international mass media will still make a bid deal about another threat of mass starvations in Somalia, that will not cause the aid donors to send anything.

January 24, 2017: In the south, near the Kenyan border, Kenyan peacekeepers inside Somalia went after al Shabaab gunmen who had taken control of a mosque and police station in the town of Badhadhe. The attack killed seven of the Islamic terrorists. Al Shabaab was using the mosque to store weapons and assemble bombs. A year ago Kenyan peacekeepers abandoned two camps near the towns of Badhadhe and el Adde and moved to new camps closer to the Kenyan border. Al Shabaab forces quickly moved into Badhadhe and took control, at least until some soldiers or peacekeepers came by. Kenya said the movement was a normal redeployment of troops in the area and not a retreat triggered by the January 15 al Shabaab capture of another Kenyan army camp near el Adde. Despite that defeat Kenyan troops soon returned and drove al Shabaab out of el Adde and have to constantly patrol the area to ensure that al Shabaab has not quietly set up secret bases in mosques or elsewhere in the area. .

In central Somalia (30 kilometers west of Mogadishu) al Shabaab set off a bomb in a police base, killing seven policemen. Earlier al Shabaab gunmen had attacked a large farm and killed a prosperous farmer who apparently wound not pay “protection money” to al Shabaab. Four others on the farm were wounded while fighting off the attack. These two incidents took place in the town of Afgoye which has been attacked three times this month by al Shabaab, which feels it is strong enough to seize a town this close to Mogadishu. The residents disagree and many of them are armed.

January 23, 2017: In the south, across the border in Kenya (Mandera) eight al Shabaab gunmen were preparing to attack several targets (a hotel, a bank and the home of a prominent politician) but police detected and disrupted the effort. One policeman was killed in a gun battle with the al Shabaab men who then fled back to Somalia. Al Shabaab has made ten attacks in Kenya since mid-2016 and most of them have been in Mandera and other Christian neighborhoods near the border. Al Shabaab has long sought to drive all non-Moslems out northeastern Kenya because a lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live there. Most Kenyans (over 80 percent) are Christian and only twelve percent are Moslem (most of them ethnic Somalis). The area around Mandera is near the Somali border and has long been the scene of fighting between the Kenyan Murule (ethnic Somali Moslems) and the Marhan from across the border in Somalia. In 2015 about a hundred armed Marhan crossed the border and raided Murule territory and despite Kenya sending more soldiers and police to Mandera the violence continues. The Marhan have long been accused of supporting al Shabaab while the Murule oppose Islamic terrorism and al Shabaab efforts to chase Christians from the Mandera region.

January 21, 2017: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) an al Shabaab death squad killed a local (Jowhar town) police commander and his bodyguard. Several other people were wounded by the explosion.

January 17, 2017: Al Shabaab released a video showing the execution (by two bullets in the head) of a Ugandan soldier they captured in September 2015. Two earlier videos featured the soldier pleading for his government to rescue him. The senior officers in charge of the camp that was attacked have been accused of incompetence and not handling camp security properly. The attack took place on September 1st 2015 at a Ugandan base some 70 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu. Several hundred al Shabaab gunmen attacked the Janale base even though it contained 200 Ugandan troops. The night attack began with a car bomb at the main entrance followed by dozens of al Shabaab gunmen entering the camp and seeking to kill all the troops there. Most of the Ugandan soldiers apparently fled and Uganda later admitted that twelve troops were killed with another 30 or so wounded and one captured. Al Shabaab looted the camp and then left. While this was going another al Shabaab team destroyed a nearby bridge that troop reinforcements would use, thus delaying the arrival of more peacekeepers to the camp. Uganda refused to pay ransom for the captured soldier and efforts to locate and rescue the captured soldier failed.

January 15, 2017: In central Somalia (the Bakool region) four al Shabaab men were killed and several others wounded when they were ambushed by soldiers as troops and peacekeepers seeking to clear the Islamic terrorists out of the area.

January 13, 2017: The U.S. State Department warned Americans visiting Kenya to avoid the Somali border area because of the continued presence of al Shabaab raiders and armed smugglers who might be tempted to grab a foreigner or two and sell them to al Shabaab.

January 7, 2017: In Mogadishu a remote control bomb went off in a restaurant frequented by soldiers. Three people died and 17 were wounded. Al Shabaab was believed responsible.

In the south (outside Kismayo) American and Somali commandos raided an al Shabaab base in Gaduud, a small town that had long been visited by the Islamic terrorists. No details of this raid were provided but it appears similar to nine other raids that took place in 2016. The United States is training a Somali special operations unit of some 500 troops. It takes years of training and combat experience for new recruits to achieve skills that make them exceptional (and not just better infantry or commandos in name only). Apparently the American Special Forces troops take their most promising students out on these carefully planned and rehearsed operations.

January 3, 2017: In central Somalia (the Bakool region) al Shabaab gunmen fled the town of Mooragaabey as troops and peacekeepers approached. The security forces have to regularly patrol the area to clear the Islamic terrorists out of the area.

January 2, 2017: In Mogadishu two al Shabaab suicide car bombers were used to attack a hotel in the city and a checkpoint near the airport. The two bombs killed the two suicide bombers and wounded nine security personnel and civilians.

December 25, 2016: In the north (Puntland) al Shabaab assassins shot dead a government prosecutor. This is the third such attack in the area this month.




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