Somalia: Chasing The Impossible Dream


October 8, 2018: Another problem inside Somalia is making the federal state elections work. These are supposed to be held by the end of 2019 and things are not going well. Somalia currently has five federal states; Puntland in the far north, Galmudug just south of Puntland, Hirshabelle (Central State), Southwest State and Jubaland on the Kenya border. Somaliland in the northwest is also considered a federal state of Somalia but refuses to cooperate and continues to consider itself an independent nation. The problem is few other nations, or the UN, will recognize that.

In 2016 the federal government agreed to give the federal states some autonomy and the ability to elect local leaders (especially a state president). But the current de facto leaders don’t trust the national government and believe the central government will interfere with the state elections and otherwise limit the autonomy of the states. The federal form of government is supposed to provide the states with 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. There was 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. 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 for 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 the 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 establishment of a lasting central government is still a work-in-progress.

Another factor in all this is that the international community is not willing to provide the food, medical and cash aid (that keeps about a third of the population from starving to death or fleeing to adjacent nations like Kenya, Ethiopia and Yemen) unless Somalia proves it can govern itself. That aid pays for the current government, the Somali military (still a work in progress) and the peacekeeping force. The key problem is that despite their dire situation the Somalis still cannot agree how to govern themselves as a national state. The natural state of what we call Somalia has been, for thousands of years, a dozen or more separate entities that have never voluntarily come together to govern themselves. Unity seems to be an impossible dream.

The State Of Al Shabaab

Al Shabaab controls portions of the Central State, Southwest State and Jubaland. With revenue obtained from those territories al Shabaab has survived despite major losses since 2012. One reason for al Shabaab surviving, particularly in the south, along the Kenyan border, is the fact that al Shabaab has come to dominate many areas of non-terrorist criminal activity. This includes smuggling and various criminal activities in Kenyan refugee camps and large Moslem communities in coastal cities and communities. When it comes to raising money and doing business in general, especially outside of Somalia, al Shabaab is practical and puts it Islamic ideology aside. Al Shabaab takes advantage of the police corruption in Kenya, where the largely Christian police are particularly brutal towards Kenyans who are ethnic Somalis as well as the Somali refugees.

About 76 percent of the Moslems (four million people) in Kenya are ethnic Somalis who are citizens. Kenya is largely (80 percent) Christian with a Moslem minority (12 percent of the population) that has been known to harbor Islamic terrorists. Most Kenyan Moslems live in coastal cities like Mombasa (where about a third of the 1.1 million population is Moslem). A lot of ethnic Somalis and Moslems live in northeastern Kenya.

Since 2014 Kenya has been trying to force all Somali refugees living outside refugee camps to move to a refugee camp. That has not been very successful. While the UN criticized this measure the government is under tremendous public pressure to reduce the Somali terrorist threat and many Somali refugees have been caught supporting or carrying out terrorist activities. Despite resistance, refugees continue to be sought and forced to go to the camps. For years there have been at least 500,000 Somali refugees, most of them in two Kenyan camps near the Somali border. The UN runs the camps but has no control over some 50,000 Somali refugees living mostly in the Somali neighborhoods of Nairobi and Mombasa. Kenya also hosts several hundred thousand 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. While Kenya has managed to reduce the number of al Shabaab attacks inside Kenya it has not been able to eliminate the al Shabaab presence.

October 4, 2018: The government told former al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow that he was ineligible to run for president of the Southwest State of Somalia because he had not complied with all the terms of his surrender and amnesty deal. These state presidential elections have to be carried out by 2019 and Robow has a chance of winning. This ban is all about Robow refusing to renounce Islamic terrorism or support for an Islamic religious dictatorship has the best form of government. Robow never denounced al Shabaab but surrendered to the government last year to avoid getting killed by rival al Shabaab factions. At the start of 2018 al Shabaab officially declared one of their former senior leaders, Mukhtar Robow, an apostate and called on all good Moslems to try and kill him. In mid-2017 Robow effectively aligned himself and his faction with the government. These negotiations were kept somewhat quiet but by late June 2017, it became difficult to hide. That was when several hundred additional troops passed through Hudur, the capital of the Bakool region in central Somalia. The soldiers were there in case fighting broke out between Robow and other al Shabaab factions that wanted to kill him for negotiating with the government. Robow has been feuding with other al Shabaab leaders since 2010 over strategy and since 2013 has essentially declared that his al Shabaab faction (from his Rahanweyn clan, which dominates the region) was going to defend clan territory and do little else for al Shabaab. That meant al Shabaab men could move through Bakool but government forces would be resisted.

Back in 2012, the U.S. had offered a $5 million reward for anyone who would make it possible to capture or kill Robow. But in mid- June 2017 that reward was quietly withdrawn and by August the U.S. made peace with Robow. This soon led to several al Shabaab leaders demanding that al Shabaab mass its depleted forces and punish Robow for this suspected betrayal. Many al Shabaab still blame Robow for the loss of Mogadishu in 2011. That mess began in 2010 when Robow (then al Shabaab deputy commander-in-chief) split with the group and withdrew his forces from Mogadishu. That also meant he was no longer the spokesman for the group or the deputy commander. The weakened and disorganized al Shabaab forces were then much less able to resist the pro-government clans/peacekeeper offensive to take control of the city.

Robow's complaint was that foreign terrorists were increasingly taking over al Shabaab, sometimes killing those who objected. At the time six al Qaeda foreigners were members of the ten-man Sura Council (the al Shabaab supreme command) versus four Somalis. The defection of Robow meant al Shabaab lost about a quarter of its gunmen. That was when al Shabaab began recruiting more teenagers (who are easier to recruit but aren't as effective in combat) to replace the older, more experienced men they were losing to combat injuries, desertion and defection. Al Shabaab also has to contend with the fact that most Somalis now hated the Islamic radicals and were increasing demonstrating that attitude by fleeing areas ruled by al Shabaab.

The feuding among senior al Shabaab leaders has never really ended but that sort of thing rarely makes the news. One exception occurred in early 2013 when al Shabaab ordered one of their more visible leaders, American born (but with a Syrian father) Abu Mansoor al Amriki (Omar Hammami) to turn himself in or be hunted down and killed. Hammami did not surrender and was caught by al Shabaab and killed in September 2013. Because Hammami was an American citizen that was considered news in most of the world. It all began at the end of 2012 when Hammami was expelled from al Shabaab and accused of spreading discord and disunity inside al Shabaab by going public about a dispute within al Shabaab over enforcing Islamic lifestyle rules. Hammami also accused al Shabaab leaders of corruption and incompetence. Al Shabaab quickly announced that Hammami was no longer their spokesman. Hammami has been with al Shabaab for seven years and had become a public face of the terrorists via his video releases on the Internet. Hammami grew up in Alabama, but came to Somalia and joined al Shabaab in 2006. Once he began appearing in al Shabaab videos he became a target for those fighting Islamic terrorists. The FBI named Hammami one of their most-wanted felons in late 2012 but that did not help get him out of Somalia safely.

In mid-2017 the Somali government did not want Mukhtar Robow to get killed by al Shabaab because that would cause more fighting in central Somalia and enable al Shabaab to continue moving through an area that is the safest route for al Shabaab from northern to southern Somalia. Robow made a peace deal with the government and al Shabaab suddenly has a much more difficult time moving from north to south and, in effect, al Shabaab forces in the south (mostly near the Kenyan border) and north (mostly in Puntland) were isolated from each other and easier to defeat. Robow took advantage of the situation and made the best deal (for himself and his clan) he could with the government.

October 1, 2018: In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomb hit a peacekeeper convoy, killing two civilians as well as the bomber. Some peacekeeper vehicles were damaged.

In the south (40 kilometers northeast of Kismayo) an American UAV missile strike killed nine al Shabaab fighters. So far in 2018, the U.S. has carried out at least 24 of these air attacks in Somalia compared to 31 for all of 2017 and 15 for 2016. These air attacks are often a side effect of intel agencies (like the CIA) collecting intelligence (aerial surveillance and electronic monitoring) on Islamic terrorist activity in the region. This information is used to track changes in al Shabaab forces and capabilities and identify targets the Somali special operations forces can go after. These attacks are meant to disrupt al Shabaab operations or eliminate (capture or kill) their key leaders. These raids get noticed but the Somali special operations troops also carry out some surveillance missions which are purposely kept out of the news because these operations are mainly about future attacks.

September 30, 2018: In the south (50 kilometers northeast of Kismayo) peacekeepers and army troops pushed al Shabaab out of the town of Jamaame and surrounding areas the Islamic terrorists had long controlled.

September 21, 2018: In the south (50 kilometers northwest of Kismayo) al Shabaab clashed with American and Somali special operations troops. The Islamic terrorists were repulsed by gunfire and airstrikes, losing 20 dead and many more wounded. All but two of the dead were caused by the UAV airstrikes.

September 18, 2018: The Kenyan Air Force has received nine AS350 from the UAE (United Arab Emirates). The UAE forces have been operating some AS350s since 2008 and supplied trainers for pilots and maintenance personnel. The AS350 is a 2.2 ton helicopter that can carry six people (including the pilot) and be armed with machine-guns and rocket launchers. Cruising speed is 245 kilometers an hour and endurance per sortie is about four hours. The Kenyan Air Force already operates nearly a hundred helicopters, most of them similar to the AS350.

September 13, 2018: The United States is spending $12 million to refurbish the 3,100 meter (10,000 food) airstrip at Camp Baledogle (110 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu). This facility was originally built by the Russians in the 1980s and taken over by the Americans in 2010 and gradually rebuilt and expanded as a training facility and main base for Somali special operations troops and an air base for military air transports and UAV activity. The UAVs spend most of their time collecting information that is used to track changes in al Shabaab forces and capabilities and identify targets the Somali special operations forces can go after. These attacks are meant to disrupt al Shabaab operations or eliminate (capture or kill) their key leaders. These raids get noticed but the Somali special operations troops also carry out some surveillance missions which are purposely kept out of the news because these operations are mainly about future attacks.

September 11, 2018: In Mogadishu raided an al Shabaab safe house and encountered four armed al Shabaab men including local leader Abukar Hassan Adde. The police were after Adde and wanted him alive but while the other three al Shabaab men surrendered Adde fought to the death.

American and Somali special operations troops clashed with al Shabaab 60 kilometers west of Mogadishu. One Somali soldier was killed. An American UAV was involved and several missiles were fired. Al Shabaab losses were unknown.

September 10, 2018: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a suicide care bomb to attack a government compound, killing six and wounding many more.


Article Archive

Somalia: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or 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. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close