Somalia: The Islamic Conundrum


April 24, 2015: Somali officials, responding to Kenyan anger at recent al Shabaab attacks inside Kenya, announced a major offensive, using soldiers and peacekeepers, to shut down the few remaining al Shabaab bases in remote areas near the Kenyan border. This would make it more difficult for al Shabaab to operate inside Kenya. Meanwhile al Shabaab is finding fewer and fewer areas in Somalia where they can establish bases for training and preparing for attacks. Thus while there are still headline-attracting attacks the overall level of al Shabaab activity is declining. For Islamic terror groups you are not really dead until you are no longer in the news.

The April 2nd university massacre (that left 148 Christians dead) has Kenyans demanding extreme measures to deal with the continuing Somali Islamic terror violence in Kenya. In response the Kenyan government has ordered the UN to move its huge Somali refugee camp (containing over half a million Somalis) in northern Kenya into Somalia. Kenya is also cooperating in halting the use of local banks to handle international money transfers between expatriate Somalis and their kin in Somalia and Kenya. The Kenyans have begun construction of a security fence along the Somali border. Kenyan police are arresting more local (Kenyan) Somalis suspected of al Shabaab sympathies and pressuring the ethnic Somali citizens of Kenya to be more cooperative in the effort to find al Shabaab operating in Kenya. American UAVs operating out of Djibouti and Kenyan manned reconnaissance aircraft are scouring southern Somalia, especially the area near the Kenyan border, for al Shabaab activity. The Kenyans are bombing anything they suspect is al Shabaab even if it often turns out not to be. The Kenyans don’t care about dead Somali civilians and would be content to clear all Somalis from both sides of the border. That may not be official policy but that is where the Kenyans are going.

None of these actions will halt al Shabaab terrorism inside Kenya, but together they will reduce it and to many Kenyans that is a worthwhile goal. Unfortunately each of these solutions has unpleasant side effects. Moving the refugees into Somalia is expensive and time consuming and the UN can delay for years actually doing it and there’s not much the Kenyan government can do about that.

The international effort to halt illegal money transfers to terrorists is under fire because of collateral damage to civilians. In 2014 nearly all international banks implemented an agreement to halt such transfers to Somalia, because a small portion of that money ended up financing al Shabaab. American banks eventually complied, as had British banks earlier. In addition to money raised by al Shabaab supporters among the half million Somalis living in the West, al Shabaab in Somalia also “taxed” remittances sent to families there. Some 40 percent of the Somali population is dependent on these remittances, which make up about a third of the $4 billion Somali GDP. The remittance money is the difference between life and death for many families, especially when there is a drought. There are illegal ways to transfer cash (like halwa) that are more expensive and more subject to fraud but that means many Somalis will get their remittances anyway, only at a higher cost. The counter-terrorism experts make the case that anything that will diminish financial support for al Shabaab helps. That’s because al Shabaab is a major source of terrorist violence in Somalia and Kenya and will continue to exist as long as it is getting cash.

The security wall along the 869 kilometer Somali border is unlikely to be finished because of high cost and the government corruption that cripples so many major efforts. The wall would cost more than Kenya can afford as the most effective security wall was built by the Israelis at a cost of $2 million per kilometer. A less effective wall would slow down illegal border crossers but that would not keep determined Islamic terrorists out.

Kenya is also blocking visits from foreign Islamic clerics with a reputation for Islamic terrorist sympathies. Islamic clergy already in Kenya are being investigated because such clerics have often been found at the center of Islamic terrorist cells or recruiting activities. The growing hostility towards Moslems inside Kenya is forcing local Moslems to make difficult decisions.  About 76 percent of the Moslems (four million people) in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya is largely Christian with a Moslem minority (12 percent of the population) that has been harboring Islamic terrorists. In addition to nearly 600,000 Somali refugees Kenya also hosts nearly 300,000 other refugees from Ethiopia, Sudan, Burundi and Congo. Many Kenyans feel that the rest of the world does not appreciate what a heavy burden this places on Kenya and resent criticism of their efforts to deal with the Islamic terrorism. Unfortunately Islam discourages introspection, accepting blame or internal reform. This Islamic terrorism continues to survive.

A recent analysis of the security situation worldwide produced a list of the most dangerous countries. These were (starting with the most dangerous); Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Ukraine and Egypt. Studies like this are done mainly to find the least violent nations. This provides investors and tourists with useful information. For a long time Somalia has been regarded as an unpromising place to invest, mainly because of the corruption and violence of the tribes that dominated the interior. The coastal cities were, and still are, a better place to do business. But you never escape the danger created by the unruly interior. Islamic terrorist violence simply provides another good reason to say away. The Islamic terrorist violence in Kenya (and other nations south of Somalia) is almost all the result of Somalis or Somali influence. What is keeping the Islamic terrorism going is the endemic corruption and bad government in Africa, which is particularly bad for young men, most of whom either emigrate or resign themselves to a dim and uncertain future. But these conditions also produce a steady flow of desperate young men willing to kill for the chance that radical Islam might be the solution to the many problems that trap them in poverty and repression. Radical Islam is not the solution but, nor was the belief in radical socialism before it. Islamic terrorism seems more promising than the solutions that do work but take decades or generations to get it done.

Among the many victims of al Shabaab violence in Kenya is the local economy. All Kenyans used to shop in Somali and Moslem neighborhoods but that has been much reduced by fear of Islamic terrorist violence. Foreigners have also noted the Somali terrorism. One result of this has been a noticeable decline (about 14 percent) in foreign tourists arriving in 2014. The decline has accelerated in 2015. For Kenya, tourism normally accounts for 11 percent of GDP, so a decline like this is widely felt. 

April 23, 2015: In Mogadishu another senior army officer was killed by al Shabaab assassins.

In northern Kenya a group of armed al Shabaab robbed passengers on a bus travelling on a rural road near the Somali border. The robbers fled after identifying a local tribal chief among the passengers and taking him prisoner. A little later the al Shabaab men hijacked a truck and took their loot and passengers towards Somalia. Before the al Shabaab could reach Somalia they were halted by some elders from the tribe of their captive and were offered to negotiate a ransom for their chief. The negotiations did not succeed, in part because the tribal negotiators did not have a lot of cash with them and because the al Shabaab men suspected, correctly, that the tribal elders had also summoned Kenyan soldiers. So the al Shabaab killed their captive and fled across the border. This sort of banditry has been going on for centuries but the al Shabaab carry it out more frequently and more viciously. The non-Somali tribes that dominate Kenya are, for the first time in history, better armed compared to their Somali tormentors and demanding that the Somalis be forced to stop the raids, robberies and murders.

April 21, 2015:  In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide bomber killed ten people in a restaurant.

The United States imposed sanctions on two al Shabaab leaders.

April 20, 2015: In the far north (Puntland) a bomb killed ten UN aid workers riding in a bus.

April 19, 2015: In the south (Lower Shabelle) an al Shabaab ambush left three peacekeepers dead.

April 18, 2015: In the far north (Puntland) al Shabaab gunmen killed a local politician. This was another effort to persuade local politicians to ease up on their efforts to suppress al Shabaab.

April 14, 2015: In Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked the Education Ministry compound, leaving ten dead.

Further south, in Tanzania, police acting on a tip raided a mosque, encountered armed resistance, but chased down and eventually arrested ten men. One of the fleeing suspects was killed by some civilians who joined the chase. Weapons, bomb components and Islamic terrorist literature were found. All the suspects were apparently affiliated with al Shabaab.

April 10, 2015: The Somali government has announced rewards for information leading to the capture or death of eleven al Shabaab leaders. The bounties range from $100,000 to $250,000 and the government says it will keep the names of informants secret. Given the corruption in Somalia, there is some doubt that such secrecy will not also be for sale. The Kenyan government recently offered a bounty of $217,000 for the al Shabaab leader believed responsible for the April 2nd university massacre that left 148 dead.

April 8, 2015: Kenya issued a list of 85 individuals and businesses believed to have links to al Shabaab and other Islamic terrorist groups. Police have already made dozens of arrests but fewer than ten suspects proved to be worth keeping locked up for further investigation. Police have found that one of the four dead al Shabaab attackers was a Moslem Kenyan from an ethnic Somali family. The dead terrorist was well educated and his father was a government official. His father had reported his son missing and was working with police to find him before the university attack. It was later discovered that his son had joined al Shabaab and received weapons training in southern Somalia. Police were also trying to defend themselves from charges of incompetence because it took police seven hours to arrive and enter the university after the shooting there was reported. This sort of incompetence is not unusual with the police and the government is under increasing pressure to fix that particular problem.

April 6, 2015: Kenyan Air Force planes bombed two suspected al Shabaab camps in southern Somalia.





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