Donor states cut their contributions to Somalia by a third in 2018 (to under $900 million) compared to 2017. The donor community is losing patience with the endless violence and self-destructive corruption that persists in Somalia. What it has come down to 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 (and its $340 million a year budget), the Somali military (still a work in progress) and peacekeeping operations. The key problem is that despite their dire situation the Somalis still cannot agree on how to govern themselves as a nation. 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. During October the fighting between various clan and regional faction (as opposed to al Shabaab violence) caused over 20,000 more people to flee their homes. Many ended up in refugee camps around Mogadishu. UN and other foreign mediators have so far been unable to get the various warring factions to settle their disputes.
Somali leaders are aware of the problem and thought they could solve some of them with a federal form of government Currently there are 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.
The federal government concept was put into operation during 2016. It was agreed that the federal states would have 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. Corruption and violence eventually caused Doctors Without Borders to abandon Somalia in 2013, after trying, since the early 1990s, to operate effectively. Doctors Without Borders is famous for persisting under the most arduous and dangerous conditions. This medical charity rarely abandons an area that is in need but Somalia turned out to be one of the few situations that proved intolerable. Many other international aid organizations have given up on Somalia.
Many foreigners and Somalis feel Somalia is still too corrupt and poorly governed for even a federal form of government to work. Eventually but not yet. One encouraging sign has been the relative peace and prosperity in the north (Somaliland and Puntland). However, 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 establishment of a lasting central government is still a work-in-progress.
The pleas from the UN and other aid organizations for donations to help Somalia are increasingly ignored and the money distributed to disaster areas where the money simply does more good. Increasingly those most willing to step up and stay involved with Somalia are neighboring countries, who have centuries of memories of violent Somalis raiding throughout the region. The neighbors would like to just ignore Somalia, like the rest of the world is increasingly doing. But when Somalia is a neighbor ignoring the problem is not an option. For nations threatened by international Islamic terror attacks originating in Somalia there is a need to stay involved, but as little as possible. And that’s what the Americans and other Western counter-terror operators are doing.
While most of Kenya has been free of al Shabaab violence there is still a lot of it and it is concentrated in northeastern counties (provinces) of Mandera, Garissa, Isiolo, Wajir and Marsabit that border Somalia. Kenyans in the northeast want something done. In addition to bordering Somalia, there are several other reasons for all the Somali violence in this part of Kenya. First, there is the pervasive corruption in Kenya (and Africa in general). 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. That brutality and discrimination make Kenyan Somalis reluctant to cooperate with police in finding al Shabaab terrorists. 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 and that is a problem when most of the soldiers and police are Christians and non-Somali. Some Kenyans in the northeast believe the Somali violence would decline if Kenya pulled its peacekeepers out of southern Somalia. Others point out that much of the Somali violence in Kenya is financed by Somali criminal activity in Kenya. Pulling the peacekeepers out of southern Somalia would just make it more difficult for Somalia and the remaining peacekeepers to pacify the south. Moreover, pulling Kenyan peacekeepers out of Somalia would not help to persuade the many Somali refugees in Kenya to go home.
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 25, 2018: In the south (Jubaland), an American UAV missile strike killed two al Shabaab fighters. So far in 2018, the U.S. has carried out at least 28 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.
October 23, 2018: In the north (Somaliland). a major outbreak of clan warfare has left over fifty dead and over 120 wounded in three days of violence.
October 22, 2018: In the southeast (Lower Shabelle region), a peacekeeper ambush killed a senior al Shabaab official (who was in charge of al Shabaab finances in Lower Shabelle).
October 16, 2018: Pirates attacked a 180,000 ton bulk carrier some 430 kilometers off the coast. A speedboat full of armed pirates approached the bulk carrier from the rear and were nearly close enough to attempt boarding when the armed security detachment on the bulk carrier opened fire and after a two-minute gun battle the pirates backed off. Since the speedboat was too small to have operated so far out to sea by itself the anti-piracy patrol deployed aircraft and ships to search for the mothership the speedboat must have operated with. The next day a recon aircraft spotted the speedboat being towed by a larger fishing boat some 300 kilometers off the coast. The mothership was tracked back to its base on the Somali coast. The pirates knew how this played out and abandoned the mothership before a piracy patrol boarding party showed up on the 21st to seize the ship, tow it out to sea and blow it up. The piracy patrol checked its records and found this mothership had been sighted before but never caught in the act (towing the speedboat involved in a failed attack).
October 14, 2018: Iran has been identified as a major player in the illegal charcoal exports al Shabaab controls. Because al Shabaab earns so much money from the charcoal exports (over half a million dollars a month) the exports were banned by the UN in 2012. Al Shabaab adapted by putting the charcoal in bags identifying it as coming from other parts of Africa. Iran has been found taking part in that deception as well by taking the smuggled Somali charcoal and, for a fee, putting it in bags labeled “Product of Iran”.
October 13, 2018: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) two al Shabaab suicide bombers attacked a popular restaurant and a nearby hotel, leaving 19 dead and over 40 wounded.
October 12, 2018: In central Somalia (Galmudug), American UAV missile strikes killed at least 60 al Shabaab men and destroyed a major base camp. The large gathering of al Shabaab members in the open was a graduation ceremony for new members of al Shabaab.
October 10, 2018: In northeast Kenya (Mandera) two Christian teachers were killed by al Shabaab after being accused of spying on the Islamic terror group. The day before al Shabaab publicly executed five Somalis they had seized and accused of spying. Al Shabaab is desperate to halt the increasingly effective air strikes on their bases. These attacks not only destroy a lot of weapons and equipment but frequently kill or wound senior al Shabaab leaders. Much care is taken to keep secret the movements of al Shabaab leaders but still, they get hit by these air strikes. So Al Shabaab looks for spies. Many, if not most of those it identifies and kills are not guilty and this costs al Shabaab more good will and cooperation from locals. The Americans and Kenyans (whose warplanes carry out most of the attacks) won’t reveal how they find their targets. For the Americans, much of the successes comes from aerial surveillance and analysis of data. Kenya relies more on HUMINT (human intelligence, as in spies and tips).
October 9, 2018: Pakistan is no longer participating in the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. The reason is the American refusal to pay for the fuel the Pakistani warships use while on patrol duty. That money was considered part of what the U.S. paid Pakistan to participate in counter-terror operations. All that aid has been cut because Pakistan refuses to halt support for Islamic terrorists who operate in Afghanistan, India and other nations in the region.