The UAE (United Arab Emirates) stands accused of trying to buy Somali political support for its business interests. The current crises began when UAE was recently accused of trying to bring in enough cash to bribe Somali politicians who would then support UAE goals. The UAE has been a major supplier of foreign aid to Somalia, providing nearly half a billion dollars’ worth since 1993. The UAE supports a united Somalia, with Puntland and Somaliland rejoining Somalia. The Somali parliament opposed a 2017 UAE effort to build and control a new port in Somaliland. The UAE has been trying to change minds in the Somali parliament but denies the bribery charges. The UAE is also trying to get Somalia to take sides in the Qatar dispute.
That, in turn, comes right back to Somalia and its problems with Puntland and Somaliland. Somalia considers these two areas part of Somalia but is unable to make reunification happen. These two statelets and Somalia seek out foreign allies and generally leave each other alone. But now Somaliland has agreed to a deal that would enable a UAE company to turn Berbera (the major port of Somaliland) into a major conduit for Ethiopian imports and exports. This would be facilitated by expanding the port and building a rail and road link to landlocked Ethiopia. This would make it more difficult for Somalia to regain control over Somaliland because so far the two statelets have been unable to gain any international recognition of their independence. The Berbera deal could change perceptions. In addition to that, another UAE firm has a 2016 deal to upgrade the port of Bosaso in neighboring Puntland.
Backing Somalia in this dispute is Qatar, which is currently feuding with the UAE and most other Arabian states. Because of that in mid-2017, a UAE diplomat offered the Somali president an $80 million bribe to turn against Qatar in that diplomatic dispute. The bribe was turned down but the Somali leader made a case for allowing Somalia to be neutral in this matter. Somali needed all the foreign aid it could get and Qatar and the other Gulf States were major donors as was Turkey, which was siding with Qatar. A Turkish firm has been running the port of Mogadishu since 2014 and investing over $100 million to improve and upgrade the port. The Turks have improved port security and made it a lot easier (cheaper and safer) to move goods in or out of the country via the Mogadishu port. Qatar, like Turkey, has mainly invested in projects in or near Mogadishu. The coastal cities of East Africa, from Djibouti south to Madagascar, have long benefitted from wealthy Arab traders seeking new economic opportunities and willing to invest in risky areas. But what is now Somalia and Djibouti was always considered one of the riskiest areas to invest in because the Somali tribes were more likely to get into destructive disputes with the coastal towns and cities the Gulf Arabs built trading facilities in.
Then there was the United States, which was also trying to maintain good relations with all concerned and would not appreciate it if anyone used large bribes to cause more unrest in Somalia. This crisis began in June 2017 with an unexpected escalation in an Arabian dispute that could threaten Somali access to foreign aid from the wealthy Gulf States as well as the growing Turkish presence in Somalia. It began when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic, economic and military relations with tiny Saudi neighbor Qatar. Ambassadors were expelled, borders were closed and Qatar was made to feel very unwelcome. Yemen and several other Moslem nations followed suit. The expulsion comes after years of criticisms regarding Qatari support for Islamic terrorism and the perception among Arab states that Qatar could not be trusted. Cutting ties with Qatar was partly retaliation against the Qatar based and Qatar subsidized al Jazeera satellite news network which often reports on real or imagined (depending on who you ask) bad behavior by Sunni Arab governments and their security forces. Qatar also openly supports Palestinian terror group Hamas. Al Jazeera reporters have a hard time avoiding arrest (or worse) in Egypt and other Moslem states but they are often abused by Islamic terror groups as well. Qatar is also seen as siding with Iran in the current struggle between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in the region and the small Arab Gulf states like Qatar, Kuwait and the member states of the UAE have survived for centuries using these methods. One could say Qatar has been too successful and the current unpleasantness is the price of that success. As is the local custom secret meetings are being held, demands discussed and agreements made. The feud is still going on as are efforts to settle it.
Qatar was one of the first Arabian states to return to Somalia. In mid-2014 Qatar reopened its embassy in Mogadishu, the first time in over 20 years Qatar had an embassy there. At the time nine other nations had embassies in Mogadishu (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iran, Libya, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Britain and Yemen.) UAE aid efforts have been increasingly active in Somalia since 2015. This is part of a more active and determined attitude towards aid to Moslem nations suffering from violence and natural disasters. As recently as 2014 the UAE regularly warned its citizens to stay away from Somalia (as well as Afghanistan, South Sudan and many other areas) due to security concerns. Yet the UAE has centuries of commercial relationships with the coastal cities of East Africa. But Somalia is a special case since it has never been a united country, just a few coastal towns and cities to trade with and has resisted unification. As a result businessmen and gangsters from the UAE have long facilitated much illegal behavior in Somalia because that was about the only kind there was. Somalia does not want to lose any of these allies nor does it want to offend Ethiopia, which has played a major role in defeating al Shabaab.
Saudi Arabia has offered to mediate the Somaliland port dispute but that is not likely to settle the matter right away. Meanwhile, Ethiopia wants its new sea link via Somaliland operational as soon as possible but has to wait until the Arabs settle their differences.
Somali Politics And Unity
Another problem inside Somalia is an ongoing debate over what form of government the country should have. A 2012 conference in London by most Somali factions has created a new, federal, form of government. This recognizes that Somalia has long been partitioned by clan politics and would likely stay that way no matter what type of government the parliament agrees on.
In 2013 the Somali government found itself negotiating with the clans of Jubaland about establishing a federal form of government where the regions (including independent Puntland and Somaliland in the north) would have a lot of autonomy. In return, the central government would provide muscle to help control bandits and warlords throughout the country. The central government also controls most of the foreign aid coming in. The is growing acceptance for the federal form of government but many politicians prefer to try and concentrate maximum power in the central government.
A powerful central government is unpopular with clans and the clan leaders, who are accustomed to having no government at all ordering them around. For nearly all the last few thousand years the clans answered to no one except for the occasional empire builder. European colonial powers arrived in the 19th century and established a central government that didn’t really take; nor did similar efforts by previous conquerors. Once all the colonial powers were gone by 1960, the newly established Somali government began to come apart, a process that was complete by 1991 and no one has been able to get all the clans to submit to a new central government since. To make matters worse most of the educated Somalis fled in the 1990s and few have come back. Meanwhile, public education has been absent in most of Somalia for two decades and the literacy rate is under 40 percent (and under 30 percent for women). Public health has been largely missing for two decades and life expectancy is about 52 years. Outside of Somaliland and Puntland, it’s under 50 years.
In 2015 Puntland was offered some of the foreign military going to rebuild the Somali armed forces. While this seemed fair and a good use of military aid it was never implemented because of continuing negotiations to get Puntland and Somaliland to rejoin Somalia as federal states. In theory, this is a good idea but the people of the north feel Somali is still too corrupt and poorly governed by even a federal form of government to work. Eventually but not yet. All is not perfect in the north. Since the 1990s the two statelets that comprise northern Somalia (Puntland and Somaliland) have been having some internal problems but much less so than in Somalia. Northern Somalia has been better governed since breaking away from Somalia in 1990 to form Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million). The other two-thirds of the Somali population to the south has been in perpetual chaos since 1990 and the new government is still a work-in-progress. The two statelets also have a festering border dispute that periodically flares into armed clashes. What helps keep the peace up there is the sorry state of the Somalia government down south.
The Remaining Al Shabaab Threat
The leaders of the 21,000 man AU (African Union) peacekeeper force believe al Shabaab has ceased to be a major threat but the Islamic terrorists continue to successfully hide in plain sight and carry out terror attacks, including bombings and assassinations. Dealing with al Shabaab operating like this is more of a police job and requires cooperation from the local clan and civic leaders. Despite that most of the nations contributing peacekeepers (especially Ethiopia and Kenya) would prefer to keep the AU force in Somalia beyond the current 2021 departure date. The neighbors don’t want to withdraw the peacekeepers before the job is done.
The al Shabaab attacks have mostly hurt civilians, even though the main target is usually security forces. In the last three years, about 3,000 civilians have been killed or wounded by these attacks. This is about twice the casualties the security forces (army, peacekeepers, police, clan militia) have suffered. Somalia has always been a very violent place and that many casualties for this nation of 15 million is not unusual. The peacekeepers are all Africans from neighboring countries and their commanders understand the violent nature of Somalia, which has been sending raiders into neighboring areas for centuries. Somalis are more accepting of this sort of thing than the neighbors. That may explain why Somalia can be so corrupt while also have a population that considers themselves relatively well off.
Bad But Happy
Somalia is considered the most corrupt nation in the world. Somalia has been rated the most corrupt nation in the world for over a decade. Despite positive press releases from the government, outside observers cannot see any real progress. In 2017 Somalia ranked 180 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption compared to 176 out of 176 countries for 2016.
Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually Syria/14, South Sudan/12 and Somalia/9) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85. The current Somalia score is 9 (down from 10 in 2016) compared to 35 (34) for Ethiopia, 28 (26) for Kenya, 26 (25) for Uganda, 20 (18) for Eritrea, 16 (14) for Yemen, 12 (11) for South Sudan, 16 (14) for Sudan, 17 (14) for Libya, 27 (28) for Nigeria, 31 (32) for Mali, 40 (37) for Morocco, 42 (41) for Tunisia, 20 (20) for Chad, 33 (35) for Niger, 71 (66) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 61 (60) for Botswana, 75 (74) for the United States, 33 (34) for Algeria, 25 (26) for Cameroon, 39 (36) for Benin, 40 (43) for Ghana, 43 (45) for South Africa, 21 (21) for Congo, 45 (45) for Senegal, 40 (40) for India, 73 (72) for Japan, 37 (37) for Indonesia, 54 (53) for South Korea, 18 (17) for Iraq, 40 (41) for Turkey, 49 (46) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 30 (29) for Iran, 15 (15) for Afghanistan, 32 (32) for Pakistan, 29 (29) for Russia and 41 (40) for China. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Somalia’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012, when it was 8.
Despite the corruption situation the recent UN sponsored World Happiness Index put Somalia at 98 out of 156 nations rated. The top ten are all the usual suspects (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia). The neighbors of Somalia had Happiness Index rankings similar to the corruption survey. Kenya is at 124, Uganda at 135, Yemen at 152, Sudan at 137, South Sudan at 154, Ethiopia at 127, Iran at 106, Israel at 11, Bangladesh at 115, Burma at 130, Turkey at 74th, Afghanistan at 145, Jordan at 90, Lebanon at 88, Palestinian Territories at 104, Egypt at 122, UAE at 2o, Saudi Arabia at 33, Kuwait at 45, Russia at 59, the U.S. at 18, Japan at 54, South Korea at 57, Libya at 70, China at 86, Venezuela at 102, India at 133 and at 156 (last place) Burundi. Communist dictatorships like North Korea and Cuba block access to data needed for the survey and were not rated.
May 1, 2018: In Mogadishu gunmen shot dead (in a market) a Somali woman who worked for a foreign aid organization.
April 30, 2018: After two weeks of political maneuvering Mohamed Mursal Abdirahman was elected the new speaker of the parliament. He replaces Mohamed Jawarim who resigned under pressure on the 9th. Jawarim was accused of taking substantial payments from the UAE to organize support for the UAE in the parliament. There were ten contenders for the speaker's job and Abdirahman won because he had been a successful Minister of Defense, a post he had to resign from recently in order to compete for the speaker's job. The parliament is as divided and corrupt as ever. Abdirahman was also a former ambassador to Turkey which, like the UAE, is providing military aid to Somalia.
April 29, 2018: In the south Kenyan troops raided an al Shabaab training site and rescued 13 Kenyan men (of Somali ancestry) who had been recruited in Kenya for well paid jobs on fishing boats. The three recruiters, who are still being sought, gave the recruits some money and arranged for a boat to get them to Somalia where the Kenyans discovered there were no fishing jobs but that al Shabaab was recruiting and apparently the Kenyans were being pressured to accept or else. One of the Kenyans got the word out to his family who contacted the Kenyan government and that led to a successful search by Kenyan peacekeepers in southern Somalia.
April 28, 2018: In the north (Galmudug) an al Shabaab suicide bomber entered a restaurant where the explosion killed three militiamen and two soldiers. In the south, near the Kenyan border, a large landmine planted in a rural road destroyed a passing vehicle, killing five and wounding many more.
April 27, 2018: The government is integrating some pro-government militias in the north (Galmudug, on the Puntland border) and south (Jubaland, on the Kenya border) into the military. But first government officials are being taught how to operate the equipment that will quickly obtain digital fingerprints and a headshot of each militiaman on the payroll. The foreign aid donors insist on this sort of thing to limit the number of “phantom (non-existent) soldiers” on the payroll whose pay is stolen by some officer or politician.
April 24, 2018: Outside Mogadishu al Shabaab attacked a peacekeeper base but were repulsed.
April 21, 2018: The UAE declared that it still supported a unified Somalia and its agreement to build a new port at Berbera in Somaliland was agreed to by the president of Somalia. But now Somalia denies that and the Berbera deal is in danger.
April 18, 2018: In the north Puntland is trying to convince the UAE to keep its military support facilities in Puntland. Two days earlier Puntland security forces tried to prevent UAE personnel from leaving the Bosaso naval base, where the UAE trains the Puntland Marine Police, and all see that this coast guard force is paid on time. UAE military personnel got into a dispute with airport security at Bosaso who insisted all baggage of the UAE personnel be scanned before the UAE citizens could get on their aircraft. The Puntland government quickly responded to UAE complaints and sent officials to the UAE to try and keep the Bosaso facility open.
April 17, 2018: In Hiran (a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) Al Shabaab lost at least 30 men as soldiers cleared al Shabaab forces from the road between the towns of Beledweyne and Mataban. The army was working with local militias to shut down groups of al Shabaab gunmen who were controlling the roads and demanding bribes from vehicles or simply looting some vehicles.
April 16, 2018: In Mogadishu, the government acknowledged that the $9.6 million it had seized a week ago from UAE officials was indeed payroll and other expenses for the 2,400 Somali soldiers the UAE has trained and supported. These are some of the most reliable troops in the army but these soldiers are now angry with the government for causing the UAE to halt its support. The government said it would use the $9.6 million for payroll but gave no assurances that the troops would receive their pay on time and in full. This led to fighting at the former UAE training base between pro-UAE and pro-government soldiers.
In the northwest (Middle Shabelle region 120 kilometers from Mogadishu) al Shabaab attacked an army vehicle with a roadside bomb and gunfire, leaving two soldiers dead and several wounded. The soldiers fired back and drove off the al Shabaab gunmen.
April 15, 2018: The UAE closed its military training facility outside Mogadishu where, since 2014, several thousand Somali soldiers had been trained there. The UAE apparently was unable to get all the military equipment out of the abandoned facility fast enough. There was not enough security for the camp after as it was being closed and all the weapons and military equipment shipped back to the UAE. While the camp was being shut down it was attacked and looted by Somali soldiers who had been trained there, knew the layout of the place and what to steal. About 600 weapons were stolen and were noticed when they showed up at the local arms market. The UAE did manage to get most of the equipment in the camp into shipping containers and on a ship before the camp was looted. The government is now seeking to find and arrest the former soldiers involved in the looting. By the 22nd the Somali Army had taken over the UAE base and was disbanding the army units the UAE had trained and provided pay for. These soldiers, at least the ones who stayed in the army, would be dispersed to other army units. Also closed was a hospital in Mogadishu that the UAE supported. This hospital provided free treatment and medicines for up over 200 people a day. Patients were mainly those who could not afford to pay for medical care.
April 14, 2018: In Mogadishu two al Shabaab car bombs and subsequent gunfire left 17 dead, most of them policemen.
April 13, 2018: In the south (Lower Shebelle) al Shabaab detonated a bomb during a football (soccer) match in the coastal town of Barava (or Barawe) killing five spectators and wounding about a dozen. Al Shabaab considers football un-Islamic and sinful.
April 11, 2018: In Hiran (a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) an American UAV used a missile to destroy an al Shabaab truck bomb near the port town of Cadale.
April 9, 2018: In Mogadishu Mohamed Jawari, the speaker of the Parliament, resigned as speaker. This comes after a month of growing pressure from a majority of parliament members to resign because Jawari was opposed to constitutional changes that would create a federal system of government and allowing all adults to vote.
April 8, 2018: At the Mogadishu airport security personnel discovered $9.6 million in cash arriving from the UAE. Officially the cash was to pay soldiers but many politicians believed it was for Mohamed Jawari, the speaker of the Parliament, and the primary ally of the UAE in parliament. Jawari was blocking constitutional changes. The UAE pointed out that it had long provided regular pay for over 2,400 Somali soldiers, including an elite counter-terrorist unit and that these soldiers were effective in part because they were paid on time.
April 6, 2018: In Mogadishu, two separate al Shabaab suicide car bombs left six dead and over a dozen wounded.
April 5, 2018: Some 370 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu an American UAV used a missile to destroy an al Shabaab vehicle and kill three al Shabaab gunmen outside Jilib.
April 4, 2018: Outside Mogadishu an al Shabaab roadside bomb hit a civilian vehicle, killing four people and wounding nine.