Somalia: Bleak House


August 23, 2012: The new parliament has yet to select a new president to actually run, or try to run, the country. The leading candidates are all considered tainted (corrupt and likely to steal foreign aid) by the international donor community. The major thieves named, or implied, in a recent UN corruption investigation deny they stole anything over the last eight years, even though the evidence against them is overwhelming and often quite obvious. Prospects for the new government are not good. Those Somalis who most often attain leadership positions have proved rapacious and incompetent, except when it comes to stealing aid for themselves, their families, and, to a lesser extent, their tribe (called clans in Somalia). This is a common pattern in failed states and chronically poor areas in general. But to the UN, giving up is not an option, despite bleak prospects.

Many EU (European Union) members are ready to stop participation in the international anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. It's expensive and there is a sense that the pirates are in permanent decline. As of this June only eight vessels and 215 crew were being held for ransom compared to 23 vessels and 501 crew in June 2011. It's been noted that no ship with armed guards has been attacked. The use of armed guards was long resisted, largely because of the fear that it would cause more violence. That has not happened, as the pirates do not press attacks on ships that fire back. The armed guards are usually professionals and have the advantage of height (and a more stable firing platform), better training, and superior weapons. Shipping companies and others close to the situation warn that the pirates are not going out-of-business. The pirates are searching for new technology and tactics and are trying to get larger ransoms for the few ships they do take. In other words, the pirates are not going away and neither should the anti-piracy effort.  Leaders of the anti-piracy operations believe that going after the financiers and people who supply the pirates with weapons and consumer goods is doing a lot of damage to the pirates. But it is understood that the piracy problem can be eliminated only once the ports the pirates operate from are shut down. That is not going to happen as long as the pirates are better armed and wealthier (and able to bribe officials) than what passes for local government (in most cases, Puntland).

Al Shabaab is largely destroyed as a military force but is still operating terrorist cells and death squads. These clandestine operations will take longer to shut down and al Shabaab may turn into a criminal gang before that happens. That's the usual pattern in situations like this.

August 20, 2012: On schedule, the new parliament met for the first time and 215 members were sworn in. The two chamber Somali National Constituent Assembly (275 from the Lower House and 54 representing the 18 administrative regions in the Upper House) was selected by clan leaders and screened by outsiders to eliminate the obvious criminals, Islamic radicals, and incompetents. This caused some friction but resulted in a more professional group than the transitional government that has been operating, without much success, for eight years. A UN audit found that transitional leaders and officials stole 70 percent of the foreign aid they were given to distribute. Many members of the transitional government tried to join the new parliament and some succeeded. The UN and other foreign donors warn that if the stealing doesn't stop (or at least sharply decline) the foreign aid will stop. 

August 19, 2012: Uganda is willing to send more Mi-24 gunships to replace the four that crashed on the 12th after encountering bad weather on their way to Somalia. African air forces do not take good care of their aircraft and their personnel are not of the highest quality. Uganda could probably use some Western assistance here.

August 15, 2012: Three al Shabaab men were killed while trying to enter Uganda to carry out terrorist missions.

In Kismayo, the southern port that is al Shabaabs last urban stronghold, about a dozen mortar shells were fired at al Shabaab bases in the city. This was apparently part of a larger operation where Kenyan troops moved closer to Kismayo. This operation, which has apparently been going on for a day or two, left 73 al Shabaab men and two Kenyan soldiers dead.

August 14, 2012: Kenya has decided to postpone the attack on Kismayo because of the loss of four Mi-24 helicopter gunships that crashed while flying in from Uganda.





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