Somalia: It's America's Fault


June 18, 2010: The piracy, persistent violence and general growth of illegal activity (including smuggling and Islamic terrorism) in Somalia has proved very difficult to cope with. In the past (before the European colonialists showed up in the 19th century) a form of order was imposed by having more reasonable (and often non-Somali) powers hold the coastal cities and towns, enabling trade with the outside world. One had to accept a near constant state of war, or just the  banditry, with the interior tribes. There were periods of peace, as warlords established temporary kingdoms, but there was never the notion that peace was something that would last. The Somalis were constantly at war with their neighbors, usually in the form of raiding into Kenya and Ethiopia, and sometimes getting attacked in turn by "punitive raids" (to discourage raiding, for a while anyway.)

These days, local Arab and African governments are looking to the West (the owners of most of the  ships being plundered) to deal with the problem. The West is looking to the United States to take the lead. The U.S. got burned (by the Somalis and the mass media) the last time (1993) it tried to bring peace to Somalia and is not eager to send troops back in. American military commanders have been blunt in admitting that another invasion is the only solution that will work (they have thousands of years of history to back them up.) But world opinion is against foreign powers once more taking control of the coastal towns, as a way to halt the piracy and cope with the more violent tribes of the interior. So the situation is allowed to continue, despite the increased violence against foreign food and medical aid groups, which is causing these aid efforts to cut back or shut down operations.

On the Kenyan border, refugees trying to get out of Somalia have to endure demands from Kenyan police and border guards for bribes and sex. The Kenyan police have long been corrupt, and Kenyans and Somalis have an ancient, antagonistic and violent relationship. Kenyan efforts to close the border are not very effective because of the corruption, and superior fighting abilities of the Somali gunmen. Kenyans have mixed feelings about the bad habits of Somalis. In addition to the raiding and violence, the Somalis don't get along with each other. This means that the Somalis are unable to unite for an attack on their neighbors. So while the Kenyans officially plead for the Somalis to unite and defeat the Islamic militias and terrorists, there is some comfort in the persistent disunity of the Somalis.

The first trial of Somali pirates in Europe ended with a Dutch court sentencing five Somali pirates to prison (five years). After they get out, if not sooner, the convicted pirates are expected to litigate for asylum and residency in Holland.

Islamic radical groups, particularly Hizbul Islam, have forbidden Somalis to watch World Cup football (soccer) games. Dozens of offenders have been arrested, and at least two have been executed. Many TV sets  and satellite dishes were destroyed. This particularly violent reaction to World Cup viewers is partly the result of a split within Hizbul Islam. The more radical members are shifting their allegiance to al Shabaab, while the more moderate groups are trying to keep Hizbul Islam intact. The major disagreement between the two Islamic groups is participation in international Islamic terrorism (working with al Qaeda).

June 12, 2010: In Mogadishu, 13 people died when soldiers and police working for the Transitional Government (TG) fought each other. The cause of the battle was police trying to stop the soldiers from robbing civilians. This has always been a problem in Somalia, where giving a man a gun tends to change his concept of property rights.

Somali pirates attacked a Yemeni tanker as it exited the Red Sea and entered the Gulf of Aden. But an armed security detachment on the tanker fired back and drove off the pirates. One of the security men was wounded, as were some of the pirates. More ships are carrying armed security guards. This, plus the three dozen warships patrolling Somali coastal waters (and a growing number of maritime patrol aircraft and UAVs) have made it more difficult for the pirates to capture ships. But the payoff is so large (millions of dollars per ship taken) that the pirates have an economic, and emotional, interest in keeping at it.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close