Somalia: What We Are

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September 23, 2019: The government has been able to increase its 2019 budget 13 percent to $390 million. The economy's growth provides most of the increase. Foreign aid, which is still 43 percent of the budget, was only up 9 percent. Local income comes from taxes and fees. So far the GDP growth for 2019 has been 2.9 percent. The economy is improving despite another drought in the south and the continued presence of al Shabaab and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). These two Islamic terror groups are evolving into criminal gangs because that’s how it usually goes once a radical group has run out of momentum. These Islamic terrorists survive via income from smuggling, extortion and outright theft. This process is easier in Somalia because the locals are not as hostile to that sort of thing as other cultures are. This is what makes Somalis so unpopular outside Somalia. The abundance of such corrupt and amoral behavior also makes it difficult for Somalia to become and remain united or stable.

Jubaland Goes Rogue

The federal government is cutting economic aid to the Jubaland region down south on the Kenyan border. The federal government accuses Ahmed Madobe, the recently elected Jubaland state president, of corruption. That includes rigging recent elections. The federal government believes Ahmed Madobe is pursuing a long-term plan to turn Jubaland into an independent state like Puntland and Somaliland up north.

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 the 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.

This Jubaland feud got started back in 2013 when the federal government agreed to recognize the Ras Kamboni militia as the dominant power in the area along the Kenya border that had earlier declared itself the independent state of Jubaland. The peace deal allowed the clan behind the Ras Kamboni militia to rule the area for two years as a semi-autonomous region. After that, it was back to negotiations. Ahmed Madobe, the Ras Kamboni leader believed that in two years they would be strong enough to keep Jubaland independent. The government believed that in two years they will be strong enough to make Jubaland a part of Somalia again. Neither belief was accurate. This strategy was also a threat to the two northern statelets of Puntland and Somaliland.

The 2013 arrangement was not a peace deal but a ceasefire. Back in mid-2013, Ahmed Madobe proclaimed himself the president of Jubaland. Kenya backed Ras Kamboni, as it always had. The other Jubaland clans did not initially accept Ras Kamboni as their leader but did not feel strong enough to continue fighting over the issue. The prize here was the port of Kismayo because whoever controlled it grows rich from fees charged businesses to use the port and market places. Ras Kamboni claimed control but that did not go unchallenged because there’s too much money involved. Ras Kamboni has long had the most powerful armed force down there and in 2013 it had the tacit backing of the Somali government and Kenya as well. That has since changed and Ahmed Madobe is accused of doing business with al Shabaab in order to finance his independence effort and maintain control of Kismayo.

September 22, 2019: In the south (Lower Shabelle region), al Shabaab carried out a major attack on the military base at El Salin and captured it briefly. About a dozen of the attackers died along with 20 soldiers in a 40 minute battle. Another 18 soldiers were wounded and these were among the troops who briefly withdrew from the base until reinforcements and daylight arrived so the base could be reoccupied. This particular base has been frequently fought over and last changed hands in early August when the army captured it from al Shabaab, along with three other bases. This area is economically important to al Shabaab and they are willing to fight to get it back.

September 21, 2019: Neighboring Ethiopia revealed that it had recently arrested members of al Shabaab and ISS in the capital and the area near the Somali border. Since 2017 Ethiopia has been having problems with fighting between ethnic Somalis in Ogaden and the non-Somali Oromo people who live to the west. The Ethiopian province of Ogaden, which comprises most of eastern Ethiopia contains a largely ethnic Somali population. To the west of Ogaden is Oromia, where the largest minority in Ethiopia (the Oromo) predominate. There have long been territorial disputes along the Ogaden-Oromia border and these have flared up again in 2017 and took a while for the government and armed forces (many withdrawn from Somalia) to deal with.

Many Somalis believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. Islamic radicals in Somalia have long sought to conquer Ogaden but the dominant Christian Ethiopians have been defeating these efforts for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas has been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway. In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary.

In early 2018 Kenya hosted another round of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front). This was part of a larger effort to bring peace to Somalis throughout the region (mainly Somalia but also Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti). Somalia is playing a role in trying to make peace between Ethiopia and its Somali minority in Ogaden. For example, in August 2017 Somalia arrested Abdikarin Sheikh Muse, an ethnic Somali who was an Ethiopian rebel leader hiding out in Somalia. Muse was taken to the Ethiopian border and turned over to Ethiopia, which had requested this. That, as expected, caused some protest demonstrations by Somalis who believe Ogaden belongs to Somalia. The newly elected Somali president survived this and remained popular. Most Somalis have mixed feelings about Ogaden. The Ethiopians have been defeating Somali efforts to seize Ogaden for generations. That is not going to change, especially since oil and gas has been discovered in Ogaden, and drilling is underway. Abdikarin Sheikh Muse is a leader in the ONLF and Somalia has long been a convenient refuge. In 2015 Somalia and Ethiopia signed an agreement to not provide rebels from the other nations with sanctuary. Meanwhile Ethiopia is having problems in Oromia, the region west of the Ogaden, which is populated by Moslems who are hostile the Christian Ethiopians who run the country and the Somalis in neighboring Ogaden. The unrest in Ogaden and Oromia has faded and the recent arrests apparently involved al Shabaab operatives planning a terror attack in the Ethiopian capital and ISS recruiters operating in Ogaden. These arrests took place in the capital, Ogaden and Oromia.

September 20, 2019: In the north (Puntland), the local ISIL faction (ISS, or Islamic State Somalia) released photos in the Internet showing its latest batch of a dozen recruits undergoing training. This was all going on at a new training camp that is, from the looks of it, also in the Balri region of Puntland. Releasing this information is also a rebuke to al Shabaab. At the beginning of 2019, al Shabaab carried out a major offensive against the much smaller ISS based in the mountains around Bari at the northeast tip of Puntland. Al Shabaab quietly moved over a hundred additional fighters into the area during December as part of an effort to wipe out its troublesome rivals once and for all. During December al Shabaab failed in several attacks but kept at it and in January the fighting ended as al Shabaab declared ISS finished. That was an exaggeration and the Americans carried out several airstrikes against surviving ISS members in Puntland after the al Shabaab offensive. ISS is still quite small but it is known to have recruiters operating in Somalia and Ethiopia. In addition ISS is officially recognized by ISIL leadership and that means it still gets new members from other countries as well as some cash and other help from ISIL resources.

September 19, 2019: in the north, Somali pirates released one of their four remaining hostages because this Iranian man was very sick and in danger of dying in their custody after four years of captivity. The hostage was released without ransom and moved to the Ethiopian capital for medical care. The pirates are still demanding high ransoms for the remaining three, which no one seems willing to pay. Pirates are still present off the coast but are not considered a major threat to vital shipping lanes anymore. During 2016, in large part because of increased seaborne attacks by Abu Sayyaf off the southern Philippines, Southeast Asia replaced the coasts of Somalia and Nigeria as the area with the worst piracy problem. In 2015 there were 178 attacks on ships at sea worldwide but none off Somalia and less than a hundred off Nigeria. The most active area was Southeast Asia. In 2016 Southeast Asia accounted for over 35 percent of the pirate attacks worldwide. By 2017 anti-piracy efforts by the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia had reduced the local threat and the current piracy hotspot is off the West Africa coast, particularly off Nigeria.

Worldwide piracy has been declining since 2012 because most of the Somali pirates were shut down. At that point, activity shifted back to areas where it had been a problem for centuries, like the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia and areas near the Malacca Strait. There most of the attacks are robberies of the crew and stealing of portable valuables. The crewmen are usually not hurt and based on their experience it appears most of the pirates come from Malaysia and Indonesia and were largely amateurs. There were some professionals in action in 2014. These fellows were able to hijack ships long enough for cargo to be transferred at sea to someone who could resell it and this provided far more money for the pirates than the more common robbery incidents. But those professional pirates are gone, in part because theft that large left a data trail that police and intelligence agencies could pick up and follow. In 2015 Malaysia and Indonesia joined forces to run more helicopter and warship patrols through areas where most of these less costly robbery attacks were taking place. This sort of quick reaction patrol could move in quickly enough to catch pirates before they and their loot could disappear into one of the many coves or villages that dot the Malaysian and Indonesian coasts. Police also went after the middlemen (“fences”) who buy the valuable (and portable) electronics these “grab and go” pirates prefer. If you find the fence you can often find his suppliers. In any event, these robber pirates are more numerous and being amateurs can quickly drop out and, as far as the police are concerned “disappear.” Some of these small-time pirates are believed to have been in the business, on and off, for over a decade. The police want to make some arrests and well publicized prosecutions (and convictions) to discourage many of these amateur pirates from returning to robbery.

The Somali pirates are victims of their own success. Because of their continued threat, the International Anti-Piracy Patrol remains and large ships take many precautions to avoid capture.

September 17, 2019: In the south (Lower Juba), an American airstrike killed two al Shabaab gunmen outside Kismayo. This attack was in response to an earlier al Shabaab ambush of an army patrol in the area. Because of continued use of the Kismayo port for smuggling and extorting money from foreign aid groups, there are a lot of al Shabaab operating between Kismayo and the nearby Kenyan border. So far in 2019, there have been about fifty airstrikes against al Shabaab and ISIL targets in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. That’s more than the 47 for all of 2018.

September 14, 2019: In the northwest (Middle Shabelle region 120 kilometers from Mogadishu), al Shabaab used a roadside bomb to kill five local officials. Elsewhere in the area, al Shabaab attacked a village, killing nine civilians.

In the south (Lower Juba), an al Shabaab death squad murdered three local officials. All three of these al Shabaab attacks were part of a campaign to terrorize local clans and government officials into cooperating with al Shabaab.

In the far north (Somaliland), the government announced that the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has turned a partially built UAE military airbase over to the Somaliland government so that the airbase can be completed as a second airport for the city of Berbera. The existing Berbera airport was built in the 1970s by Russia and is no longer adequate to handle the amount of local air traffic. The UAE is a major investor in Somaliland and since 2017 a UAE company has been turning 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 is opposed by Somalia because that makes it more difficult to regain control over Somaliland as part of Somalia. So far the two separatist regions of Somaliland and Puntland 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.

September 3, 2019: In the south (Jilib), an American UAV used a missile to kill at least one al Shabaab gunman.

August 29, 2019: Somalia persuaded Kuwait, Poland and Belgium to back an effort to deny the Kenyan request that the al Shabaab UN designation as a terrorist organization be raised to the same level as al Qaeda and ISIL. Currently, al Shabaab’s lesser terrorist designation allows foreign aid organizations to pay al Shabaab large fees in order to distribute aid in areas where al Shabaab has a large presence. This form of extortion is a major source of income for al Shabaab and al Shabaab has demonstrated in the past that it will block all aid if it is not paid. Kenya gets victimized by this because some of the areas al Shabaab controls in southern Somalia are on the Kenyan border and the larger (because of the aid group payments) al Shabaab presence enables the Islamic terrorists to regularly raid Kenyan targets just across the border. Foreign aid groups believe paying the bribes to al Shabaab is worth the cost in additional Islamic terrorist mayhem because many civilian lives are saved. In 2014 Britain was persuaded by this to use its UN veto to block a similar proposal.

 

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