Somalia: Those Responsible Must Be Punished

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March 22, 2017: There is another major famine situation in Somalia and the government is appealing to the international community for emergency food shipments. Not many foreign donors are responding and those that are demand assurances that the food will get to those who need it. Some donors, like Malaysia, are willing to send aid as long as they can also send soldiers to ensure the food is not looted. In Somalia food aid rarely reaches the hungry. This has been documented. In 2015 UN investigators reported detailed evidence of massive theft of aid money sent to Somalia. Often over 70 percent of the aid money was stolen, using false documents created in Somalia and Kenya to deceive UN officials. These incidents occurred between 2010 and 2013, the last major famine period during which over 250,000 Somalis died from hunger and related diseases. The auditors were not able to gain access to bank data so could only estimate the amount stolen. The UN is criticized for not doing more auditing inside Somalia but the UN has to deal with the fact that the people doing the stealing (local aid officials, gangsters and Islamic terrorists) have killed persistent auditors in the past and will do so again. As a result recruiting qualified people for this work is difficult. The persistence of this corruption is the main reason why fewer countries are willing to provide aid money for Somalia. The new government says it will be different this time but donor nations have other, safer, places to send their aid.

There are some hopeful signs, especially the increased willingness of Moslem nations to help out. Since opening its new embassy in Mogadishu in mid-2016 the Turks have gone on to build a military compound between the capital and the airport. The new embassy compound is near the beach and is the largest Turkish embassy in the world. Since 2011 Turkey has provided more than $900 million in aid for Somalia and the new military base will be used to train Somali soldiers as well as troops from other parts of Africa. Turkey is making a statement; that is will help Somalia and will not be driven out by threats. Turkey has always provided Turkish security personnel for its embassy. The local outlaws and Islamic terrorists quickly found that the Turks were as tough as their reputation implied. Al Shabaab still makes threats against the Turks in Somalia, but usually chooses a less dangerous target.

Al Shabaab cannot make as many attacks as it used to and suffering defeat going after the Turks makes little sense, even to Islamic radicals. The new embassy and military base are part of a growing Turkish presence in Somalia. Turkey has been a major provider of aid to Somalia from Moslem nations. Western countries still provide most of the aid to Somalia and Turkey is trying to encourage wealthy Moslem nations to change that, at least when it comes to Moslem nations in need. Turkey established an embassy in Somalia in 2011 (one of the first nations to do so) and a Turkish airline was one of the first to establish regular commercial service to Somalia in 2012. Senior Turkish officials (including the president) have visited Somalia, despite al Shabaab threats, and that gave other potential investors and aid donors encouragement. Encouraged by the Turkish example non-Moslem nations are now reopening their embassies. In 2013 Britain did so. British diplomats were withdrawn in 1991 and had been gone ever since. But embassies are one thing, massive food or economic aid that must be sent all over the country is another.

The new (as of February 22nd) president has a lot of popular support, especially in the security forces. The new president has been fighting corruption for years and made progress in reducing the incidence of corrupt officials (often senior officers) stealing payroll and other money meant for the soldiers and police. The new president also called on al Shabaab to make peace, but that was promptly rejected by the al Shabaab leaders. The new president formed a new government in record time and so far so good.

March 21, 2017: In Mogadishu the government announced the 26 cabinet ministers of the new government. The new president and several of the new officials are Somalis who spent much time in the West and are expected to be more efficient and less corrupt. Several hours later two separate suicide car bomb attacks in the city left ten dead and at least fifteen wounded. Al Shabaab took credit. The Islamic terrorists cannot hold territory like they used to but they can still make and set off bombs in public places. If al Shabaab can’t control territory they can still lay claim to a lot of headlines.

March 19, 2017: In the north the Puntland government fired the head of the counter-piracy department for failing to prevent the recent piracy incident where a coastal tanker was taken and held for four days by Puntland based pirates. Puntland has largely eradicated Puntland-based piracy by unofficially regulating it. Coastal shipping, which is essential for all coastal towns and cities in Somalia, is “protected” by bribes and understandings with local clan leaders and gangsters. Some things you can do (like smuggle goods and people to and from Yemen and attack certain foreign ships) and some things, especially piracy against “protected” ships, are forbidden. Those responsible must be punished.

There are still occasional attempts to take large commercial ships. In October 2016, for the first time since mid-2013, pirates attempted to take a large ship. Some 600 kilometers off the Somali coast a 51,000 ton (DWT) British chemical tanker was attacked by a speedboat containing armed men. The armed guard on the tanker fired on the speedboat as it approached the tanker and the men in the speedboat fired back. The tanker increased speed, changed course and got away. These large ships still carry armed guards and crews who know how to deal with Somali pirates.

There were problems with pirates in the north for a while, but these seagoing brigands were mainly preying on foreigners and the foreigners with navies responded. The pirates were largely out of business in 2012, the last year they captured a large ship that could yield a multi-million dollar ransom. The few pirates still in business now try to grab the smaller foreign fishing ships. Even that became more difficult because the international anti-piracy patrol was still off the coast and during the first six months of 2016 pirate activity off the Somali coast reached its lowest levels since 1995. Since then much of the foreign anti-piracy patrol has been disbanded but the large foreign ships stay away from the coast and keep their armed guards.

March 18, 2017: In the south (Bay region) soldiers clashed with a group of al Shabaab gunmen and killed seven of them. Several soldiers were wounded during the nighttime incident.

March 17, 2017: In the south, outside Kismayo, Somali special operations forces carried out a raid that caught six al Shabaab leaders who had assembled in a remote location for a meeting. The six leaders, and several of their followers, were killed.

In the north, near the Yemen coast a Yemeni smuggler boat carrying Somalis was attacked at night by a helicopter and a warship as it moved near the coast with its lights out. The attackers were apparently from the Arab Coalition blockade off Yemen, established in 2015 to prevent Iran from smuggling weapons and other military supplies to the Shia rebels in Yemen. Soon after the smuggler boat came under fire passengers waved flashlights to indicate that the boat was full of illegal migrants not Iranian weapons. The helicopter gunship and warship went away and the shot up smuggler boat returned to Yemen with survivors. At least 42 people on the crowded boat were killed. The smugglers said they were trying to reach Sudan. Until the Yemen civil war broke out in 2015 people smuggling from Somalia (Somaliland) and Djibouti was a major criminal enterprise with over 10,000 foreigners arriving each month and then being moved north. The smuggling gangs had arrangements, especially with tribal leaders, throughout Yemen to allow the movement of the smuggled foreigners, for a fee. After 2015 the traffic began to go both ways with thousands of Yemeni refugees reaching Somaliland (often on smuggler boats that had carried African refugees to Yemen) each month. Somaliland is very poor itself but it is the cheapest foreign destination to get to. Few of these Yemeni refugees move south into Somalia but these refugees are a burden for Somaliland. Meanwhile the movement of Somalis (and other Africans) to Yemen continued with 100,000 arriving in 2015 and 115,000 in 2016. The civil war keeps most of these illegal migrants in UN supported refugee camps. Those with money can hire smugglers to take them across the Gulf of Aden to Sudan and from there to the Mediterranean coast and another boat to Europe.

March 15, 2017: In Mogadishu a night time raid on an al Shabaab hideout resulted in the arrest of several al Shabaab members and the death of their leader, who refused to surrender and fired on the soldiers.

March 13, 2017: For the first time since 2012 Somali pirates seized a large ship (a 1,800 ton coastal tanker headed for Mogadishu). The eight Sri Lankan crewmen and the ship were taken to the port city of Bosaso in Puntland. The pirates had reinforcements waiting but the Puntland security forces also showed up, surrounded the tanker and after four days persuaded the pirates to surrender. The crew and ship were sent on their way. The pirates and local fishermen participated in taking the tanker and later demanded a large ransom and the elimination of illegal fishing by foreign trawlers. No ransom was paid. The problem is that there is no one in Somali who will enforce any ban on foreign fishing trawlers. Instead there is always a local Somali gang or government official willing to take a bribe and ignore the illegal fishing. Somalis have found it more difficult to deal with the local corruption and prefer to blame foreigners for their problems.

In Mogadishu two al Shabaab car bombs left six dead and about twenty wounded.

March 12, 2017: In Mogadishu a local journalist was wounded when a bomb planted in his car went off. Al Shabaab regularly threatens journalists who accurately report what the Islamic terrorists are doing in Somalia. Elsewhere in Mogadishu hundreds of Somali soldiers demonstrated demanding that the new government deal with the continuing problem of pay for soldiers arriving late or never because senior officers or government officials have stolen it. The new president said he would deal with that.

March 7, 2017: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) al Shabaab leader Hussein Mukhtar surrendered.

Further south, near the Kenyan border Kenyan peacekeeper patrols encountered two roadside bombs leaving one soldier dead and five wounded. The losses would have been worse but in one incident the troops were travelling in an armored vehicle that was heavily damaged while protecting the troops inside.

March 2, 2017: Some 30 kilometers northwest of Afmadow (620 kilometers south of Mogadishu) Kenyan peacekeepers raided an al Shabaab camp. Nine Kenyan soldiers were killed and many more wounded. The Kenyans were assisted by artillery fire and air support. Al Shabaab lost at least 57 dead as they fled the hidden camp. Five al Shabaab trucks were also destroyed and much equipment was seized. It is believed that Kenyan aerial surveillance spotted the large group of al Shabaab assembling in the camp. Afmadow is a major trading center inland from the port of Kismayo and al Shabaab has been desperate to maintain some presence in the area because they can extort money from local merchants.

Further south, across the border in northeastern Kenya, al Shabaab gunmen went to a school in a refugee camp for Somalis and kidnapped three Kenyan teachers and took them back to Somalia, to be held for ransom.

 

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