Somalia: The Worst Gets Worse


February 22, 2021: Somalia is tied with South Sudan as the two most corrupt places on the planet. The extent of this corruption can be seen in the international surveys of nations to determine who is clean and who is corrupt. For 2020 Somalia shared last place among 180 nations in international rankings compared with sole possession of last place in 2019.

These ratings and ranking are updated each year for the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. Corruption is measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (currently Venezuela and Yemen at 15, Syria at 14, South Sudan and Somalia at 12) have a rating of under 16 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are both 88.

For 2020 the least corrupt nation in region was UAE (United Arab Emirates), which ranked 21st out of 180 nations. The current UAE score is 71 (same as 2019) compared to 21 (28) for Kenya, 38 (37) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Uganda, 27 (30) for Djibouti, 61 (61) for Israel, 67 (69) for the United States, 33 (35) for Egypt, 25 (26) for Nigeria, 44 (44) for South Africa, 21 (20) for Iraq, 40 (39) for Turkey, 53 (53) for Saudi Arabia, 33 (30) for Ukraine, 47 (45) for Belarus, 56 (58) for Poland, 80 (80) Germany, 65 (65) for Taiwan, 40 (39) for Turkey, 40 (41) for India, 30 (28) for Russia, 61 (57) for South Korea, 42 (41) for China, 18 (14) for North Korea, 36 (37) for Vietnam, 85 (85) for Singapore, 74 (73) for Japan, 37 (40) for Indonesia, 38 (38) for Sri Lanka, 34 (34) for the Philippines, 31 (32) for Pakistan, 26 (26) for Bangladesh, 25 (26) for Iran, 19 (16) for Afghanistan, 28 (29) for Burma, and 25 (28) for Lebanon.

Both Somalia and UAE’s corruption score have not changed much since the 2011 Arab Spring revolution when it was 8 for Somalia and 68 for the UAE. The UAE achieved the most favorable corruption score in the region because it has long depended on foreign trade to survive and to make money in that business you must be known as an honest trading partner. The UAE is also different in that it is a federation of formerly independent “emirates” that realized the wisdom of joining forces. Laws and customs vary somewhat among the emirates and some are more gangster than others. But overall the UAE is a place where foreigners feel comfortable doing business. The UAE has also partnered with Turkey to provide foreign aid to Somalia. This has proved very difficult to carry out and Somalia is definitely not a place most foreigners want to do business in. Somalia is also a federation of seven (including separatist Somaliland and Puntland in the far north) clan-dominated regions that have never achieved the degree of unity and prosperity of the UAE.

Bad Neighbor

In the southeast, across the border in Kenya’s Mandera county residents are feuding with their national government over just how bad the security situation in along the Somali border. Visitors to Mandera note that many of the main roads are regarded (by the locals) as unsafe. Vehicles are frequently stopped by al Shabaab gunmen demanding a bribe or a portion of the cargo. If people in a vehicle are Christians they may be kidnapped or murdered. Some routes are considered so dangerous that police offer a schedule of escorted convoys that al Shabaab is reluctant to attack. Towns and villages near the border complain of losing many of their Christian residents over the last few years because of growing al Shabaab death threats against Christians, especially teachers in local schools. Over a hundred Mandera schools are unable to open this year because of staff shortages or al Shabaab threats to burn down the schools.

The federal government tends to play down or ignore the problems in Mandera as long as there is no Islamic terrorist violence outside of Mandera county. Counter-terror efforts have largely kept al Shabaab out of the capital (Nairobi), which is a thousand kilometers from Mandera, and that is what national politicians focus on. There have been two al Shabaab attacks in Nairobi since 2013. The latest one was in 2019. Politicians have priorities and problems get more attention the closer they are.

Al Shabaab has long sought to drive all non-Moslems out of northeastern Kenya because a lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live there. Over 80 percent of Kenyans are Christian and only twelve percent Moslem, most of them ethnic Somalis. There are also tribal problems in Mandera. One area along the Somali border 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. 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.

Somali refugees and ethnic Somali Kenyans living in Kenya near the Somali border have been a major source of al Shabaab recruits for raiding and terrorism in Somalia as well as Kenya. Somali violence, both from al Shabaab and clan disputes, is less frequent throughout Somalia but persists on both sides of the Kenya border. On the Somali side is the autonomous Somali region of Jubaland. Across the border are the Kenyan counties (provinces) of Mandera, Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Marsabit. Occasionally the violence extends to cities elsewhere in Kenya. What is keeping al Shabaab active here, and not elsewhere in Somalia, are the lucrative smuggling operations Islamic terrorists dominate along the border.

In addition to bordering Somalia there are several other reasons for all the Somali violence in this part of Kenya. First there is the pervasive corruption in Kenya, and Africa in general. In addition, Somalia is recognized as the most corrupt nation in the world. Al Shabaab takes advantage of the police corruption in Kenya, where the largely Christian police are particularly brutal towards ethnic Somali Kenyans. Similar attitudes are directed at the Somali refugees. That brutality and discrimination makes Kenyan Somalis reluctant to cooperate with police in finding al Shabaab terrorists or smugglers. About 76 percent of the four million Kenyan Moslems are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya’s Moslem minority has been known to harbor Islamic terrorists. Most Kenyan Moslems live in coastal cities like Mombasa, where about a third of the 1.1 million population is Moslem. A lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live in northeastern Kenya and that is a problem when most of the soldiers and police are Christians and non-Somali. Al Shabaab exploits this friction to continue recruiting in Kenya and enjoying some local support in the Kenyan border areas.

On the Somali side of the border the situation is worse. Currently there are five somewhat autonomous federal states in Somalia; Puntland in the far north, Galmudug just south of Puntland, Hirshabelle (Central State), Southwest State and Jubaland on the Kenya border.

Jubaland is something of a special case because it contains Kismayo, the second largest city, and port, in Somalia. Jubaland also borders the more peaceful and prosperous Kenya. Jubaland leaders never got along with the Somali government in Mogadishu.

Since late 2019 the Somali federal government has been cutting economic aid to the Jubaland. The federal government accuses Ahmed Madobe, the popular elected Jubaland state president, of corruption. That includes rigging recent elections. The federal government believes Ahmed Madobe is pursuing a long-term plan to turn Jubaland into an independent state like Puntland and Somaliland up north.

The federal government concept was put into operation during 2016 and has only been partially successful. It was agreed that the federal states would have some autonomy and the ability to elect local leaders, especially the state president. But the current de facto local leaders throughout Somalia don’t trust the national government and believe the central government will interfere with the state elections and otherwise limit the autonomy of the states. The federal form of government is supposed to provide the states with a lot of autonomy. In return the central government would provide muscle to help control bandits and warlords throughout the country. The central government also controls most of the foreign aid coming in. There was growing acceptance for the federal form of government but many politicians prefer to try and concentrate maximum power in the central government.

February 20, 2021: Mogadishu residents who participated in the peaceful demonstrations yesterday claimed that one reason the demonstrations turned violent, and left five dead and many more wounded, was because the Turkish trained Gorgor Special Division special operations troops led the attack on the demonstrators. Outside the city there is a Turkish military training center compound Al Shabaab is particularly hostile to the Turks because the Turks will not pay protection money to the Islamic terrorists to avoid violence. The Turkish training facility has, since 2017, trained five Somali infantry battalions. The Turks ran separate training programs for officers (over 200 graduates so far) and NCOs (over 300 grads so far). The Turkish military reputation is respected by Somalis and the training is tough, thorough and effective. The Turk trained battalions are visibly more effective against al Shabaab and the Islamic terrorists would like to see it shut down.

February 19, 2021: There was another round of large anti-government demonstrations in Mogadishu. They began peacefully, as the organizers promised but the police responded with force anyway and that was met with return fire by armed militiamen who accompanied the demonstrators just in case the police attacked. These demonstrations were about how the next round of elections should be conducted.

The electoral crisis began in June 2020 when the National Independent Electoral Commission told parliament that it was impossible to hold elections for parliament and a new president as scheduled on November 27. That current presidential term expires on February 8th, 2021. The delay was blamed on the usual suspects; political deadlocks, poor security (bandits and Islamic terrorists), bad weather (floods this time) and covid19. To assure a minimum level of legitimacy the six million eligible Somali voters must be registered biometrically and requires special equipment that has not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission does not have enough money and needs at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time is also required but it is not going to be enough. None of this is a surprise.

The first parliamentary elections finally took place in 2016 and the new legislature was installed at the end of 2016. 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 2017 but took a lot longer. Part of the problem was 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 was worked out 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) was not expected until the early 2020s, if ever. The current president was selected by the 2016 parliament and what means all manner of deals were made in return for support of one candidate or another. The major aid donors quietly made it clear that if the new government did 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. The current government did not do much to reduce the corruption and foreign aid declined.

Somalia has a hard time pleading poverty because so much foreign aid gets stolen by Somalis before it can reach the people who need it and whose desperate plight caused foreign donors to donate in the first place. The failed, so far, election preparations can be expected to continue failing with or without additional time and money. No one wants to admit that Somalia is a failed state, but fewer and fewer donors want to keep sending aid to Somalia only to find that most, or all of it was stolen. There are many other needy areas where most of the aid gets to those who need it.

Elsewhere in Mogadishu flight operations resumed at the airport outside the city after being halted for several hours because of the violent demonstrations in the city.

February 8, 2021: Al Shabaab attacked an army base 30 kilometers north of Mogadishu. The attack failed and no defenders were injured. The attackers found themselves pursued by peacekeepers on alert to respond to such situations. The al Shabaab force suffered some casualties but managed to take their dead and wounded with them.

February 7, 2021: An American destroyer intercepted two dhows (small coastal freighters) off the Somali coast and seized thousands of assault rifles, RPGs and machine-guns headed for Somali arms dealers.

February 6, 2021: In central Somalia (400 kilometers north of the capital) eight soldiers were killed by an al Shabaab roadside bomb.

February 2, 2021: In the Lower Shabelle (40 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) al Shabaab ambushed a convoy carrying charcoal to the coast for export. Soldiers were guarding the convoy and repelled the attackers. Al Shabaab retreated taking their dead and wounded with them. Six soldiers and two drivers were killed and several other people wounded. Al Shabaab controls, or taxes much of the charcoal production and exporting. The government is trying to change this by providing soldiers to guard production and transportation of the charcoal, which is a major export to the Persian Gulf Arab states, especially the UAE.

January 31, 2021: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked a luxury hotel popular with affluent Somalis and killed five people, including a former army general. The four attackers were also killed by police and army reinforcements.

January 29, 2021 : In central Somalia (the Bakool region) an American airstrike, using missile armed UAVS, attacked a meeting of al Shabaab leaders and killed several of the leaders present and badly wounded others. The U.S. said it had been tracking each of the leaders for months and when a number of them appeared to gather in the same place an airstrike was ordered.




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