It's estimated that Somali pirates took in about $60 million in ship ransoms last year. The exact amounts paid are rarely disclosed by the shipping companies, so estimates have to be made based on rumors and pirate chatter. Most of the ransom goes to middlemen and warlords, but there's enough to attract thousands of greedy and fearless men to the coastal villages where the pirate gangs are based.
The Transitional Government is openly complaining that only about $80 million, of the $250 million pledged by foreign donors, has been delivered. The foreign donor nations complain that too much of the aid money gets stolen, and insist on controls and auditing for money provided. The difficulty in doing that has slowed delivery of the aid money. International surveys show Somalia as the most corrupt nation in the world (Afghanistan is number 2).
Al Shabaab (with a few thousand gunmen) loudly announced that they had joined forces with the smaller (with a few hundred gunmen) Islamic radical group Ras Kamboni. Both groups also proclaimed that they were allied with al Qaeda and the worldwide Islamic revolution. This deal also included a peace deal within al Shabaab, in which members who were against involvement in international Islamic terrorism, either left the organization, or agreed to shut up about their opposition. Al Shabaab used terror and threats against dissident members in order to work out this deal. Al Shabaab wants to appear strong, because they are getting weaker. Many new recruits are coerced, with threats of being accused of heretical beliefs and punished if they do not join. Desertions are increasing, and the recent civil war within al Shabaab was simply another symptom of these problems.
February 1, 2010: In Mogadishu, AU (African Union) peacekeepers and al Shabaab mortars exchanged fire, leaving at least twelve civilians dead, and dozens injured. Al Shabaab was using civilians as human shields.
January 30, 2010: The UN answered calls for sending UN peacekeepers to Somalia by insisting that this would only happen when there was peace in Somalia. This is in recognition of the fact that no countries are willing to send troops to fight in Somalia.
January 29, 2010: Al Shabaab launched attacks on AU peacekeepers in Mogadishu. One peacekeeper was wounded, but 19 al Shabaab fighters and civilians were killed.
January 28, 2010: Djibouti has agreed to send 450 peacekeeping troops to Mogadishu next month. The troops are being trained for Mogadishu conditions now. As a neighbor of Somalia, Djibouti has an interest in seeing things quiet down next door.
China has agreed to have its warships off Somalia join the international anti-piracy patrol (called CGPCS, or Contact Group of Piracy off the Coast of Somalia). This would mean China would eventually take a turn leading the flotilla. China has operated independently for over a year, seeking to safeguard only Chinese ships, and merely staying in touch with CGPCS. But this proved inefficient, and Chinese naval officers off Somalia asked their government for permission to join the international group. Meanwhile, the anti-piracy patrol has concluded that most of the ships being captured these days, are ignoring anti-piracy measures. Apparently about a quarter of the merchant ships moving through the Gulf of Aden are operating this way, and the pirates seek them out.
Al Shabaab has banned video games, which are very popular with adolescents (and played in small shops where one or two game consoles are set up for play by the hour.) All video games must be gone by the end of the month in al Shabaab controlled areas.
January 27, 2010: Fighting continues in central Somalia, with Hizbul Islam reuniting with al Shabaab to fight Sufi and clan militias.