Somalia: Another Pointless Reshuffle


August 3, 2020: The feud between the Somali president and prime minister was revived as the prime minister was removed from his office. Parliament voted almost unanimously (170-8) to oust Hassan Ali Khaire from his post as prime minister, a job he was appointed to by the president in 2017. That appointment had to be approved by parliament and could be reversed at any time with a vote of no-confidence.

Khaire was ousted because he was unable to organize national elections or control al Shabaab violence. Not mentioned was the massive and continuing corruption or the efforts by Turkey, Qatar and the UAE to buy control of some coastal assets. A further complication is that Qatar and Turkey are allies of Iran. Turkey provides some aid, mainly military training for the Somali army. Qatar is believed to provide aid in the form of bribes for specific politicians. This eliminates the more normal payment method whereby money is provided as foreign aid and most of it is stolen by politicians. The U.S. alone has seen over a billion dollars’ worth of aid disappear like that. This latest political misfire is not going to encourage the Americans to increase aid and will likely lead to less U.S. aid. Most other aid donors have backed away from Somalia, where so little of aid given reaches those it was intended for.

Now there are rumors that Turkey will begin using its training facility and connections throughout the Somali military to recruit mercenaries for the Turkish Libyan invasion force. Rumors are still rumors, even in Somalia but dirty business and massive corruption are a fact.

The bad guys in this latest upheaval are the Somali president (since early 2017) Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and clan politics. The president, a Somali exile with American citizenship, came to power with a lot of popular support, especially in the security forces. That was because Mohamed promised more vigorous action against al Shabaab. Mohamed had credibility in this area because he was perceived as 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. Note that this can be interpreted as rearranging the list of who gets what when the stolen foreign aid is distributed. That’s an old Somali tradition.

The new president and prime minister in 2017 were another well paid (by donor nations, especially the U.S.) effort to make some progress with the corruption. In 2017 this was seen as crucial because many traditional aid donors were reluctant (or simply refusing) to send aid, even for a catastrophic drought. The donors would only relent if the Somali government made a convincing effort to curb the theft of foreign aid. After numerous tries over the last two decades donors are abandoning Somalia. For over a decade Somalia has been rated as the most corrupt nation in the world and that assessment is clearly justified.

The current crisis actually began in June when the National Independent Electoral Commission told parliament that it was impossible to hold elections for parliament and a new president as scheduled on November 27. That current presidential term expires on February 8th, 2021. The delay was blamed on the usual suspects; political deadlocks, poor security (bandits and Islamic terrorists), bad weather (floods this time) and covid19. To assure a minimum level of legitimacy, the six million eligible Somali voters must be registered biometrically, which requires special equipment that has not yet been obtained because the Electoral Commission does not have enough money and needs at least $70 million to set up 5,000 polling stations and carry out the biometric registration. More time is also required but it is not going to be enough. None of this is a surprise.

The first parliamentary elections finally took place in 2016 and the new legislature was installed at the end of 2016. This was supposed to have taken place months earlier but did not because too many of the current politicians’ regard elections as a threat to their income (from corruption). Some foreign donors correctly saw the delays as a ploy so the interim government could stay in power longer and steal more aid money. This led to threats to halt aid if elections for parliament and president were not held. That worked, sort of, and the electoral process lurches forward, if only to keep the free money coming.

The presidential election (or selection, by the parliament) was supposed to take place by the end of January 2017 but took a lot longer. Part of the problem was political with many of the clans (tribes) maintaining armed militias and refusing to abide by a “one man, one vote” system. That is, some clans demand more (foreign aid and other resources) than their numbers justify. A compromise was worked out to accommodate that. In effect the new parliament was created by a “selection” rather than a national election. The national parliament has 275 members who were elected by 14,025 “voters” selected by 135 clan elders. The 54 members of the upper house of parliament are selected by local (state or regional) assemblies.

A Western style election (in which all adult citizens can vote) was not expected until the early 2020s, if ever. The current president was selected by the 2016 parliament and that means all manner of deals were made in return for support of one candidate or another. The major aid donors quietly made it clear that if the new government did not curb the rampant theft of foreign aid, there will be a lot less of it and thus the new president is expected to be more effective in curbing corruption. The current government did not do much to reduce the corruption and foreign aid declined.

Somalia has a hard time pleading poverty because so much foreign aid gets stolen by Somalis before it can reach the people who need it and whose desperate plight caused foreign donors to donate in the first place. The failed, so far, election preparations can be expected to continue failing with or without additional time and money. No one wants to admit that Somalia is a failed state, but fewer and fewer donors want to keep sending aid to Somalia only to find that most, or all of it was stolen. There are many other needy areas where most of the aid gets to those who need it.

Somalia has seen growing prosperity over the last decade since al Shabaab was defeated (but not destroyed) and lost control of all but a few rural areas. Al Shabaab now spends most of its time going full gangster because some bills must be paid. The rest of the time al Shabaab does the Holy Warrior thing to intimidate civilians in areas it controls and keep the government off balance. For Somalia it’s business as usual as it has been for centuries. But now there’s Internet and cell phones, but those two innovations have not made any fundamental changes in Somalia, at least not yet.

August 1, 2020: There is still concern about the covid19 coronavirus epidemic, mainly because it favors older victims, meaning it could kill key political, military and terrorist leaders. The virus is more often fatal to older people and most leaders were older and felt vulnerable. In early April the Somali Minister of Justice died of covid19. He was brought the capital a week earlier and taken to the only hospital in the country that can treat covid19. Tests showed that he was infected, and he was isolated. This was the second covid19 death in Somalia. The first victim was a 58-year-old man who had not been outside the country and died four days before the Finance Minister.

In March the government announced that one of four Somalis who had just returned from China had covid19. This was the first such case known to be in Somalia. If covid19 gets loose in Somalia the local health system won’t be of much help because the local health system is largely non-existent. So far about 3,200 Somali covid19 cases have been confirmed and 93 Somalis have died from the virus. That comes to 202 confirmed cases per million population and six confirmed covid19 deaths per million. There has been no widespread quarantines or restrictions on movement. Most Somalis still live in rural villages that get few outside visitors. But several million Somalis live in cities, refugee camps or large towns. In those urban areas there are many epidemic diseases and covid19 is not considered as much of a threat as existing threats like cholera, infections and a lack of antibiotics or the annual influenza. In the West there are easy cures available for all that but in Somalia a lot of curable conditions are incurable threats. Covid19 is another incurable condition and not as nasty as many other Somalis deal with daily. Nevertheless, al Shabaab has warned its members and supporters to take precautions to avoid transmission of the virus to other Holy Warriors. Despite that official policy many local al Shabaab leaders still allow crowded assemblies in mosques, military training or religious schools.

In Kenya there are 409 infections per million and seven deaths. Ethiopia has 162 cases per million and three deaths. Most of Africa is showing low rates of infection and death because health care throughout Africa is unable to handle, much less count, something like this.

July 25, 2020: Parliament removed the prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire from office. The vote of no-confidence was 170-8. Khaire, a refugee with Norwegian citizenship, was one of many exiles who came back to assist. Confidence was lost because Khaire was unable to organize national elections or control al Shabaab violence. Not mentioned was the massive and continuing corruption. After the prime minister was removed Internet service in Mogadishu was cut for 31 hours. There were some Internet shutdowns in other parts of the country but most of it was in the capital. Apparently, the government ordered the Internet blackout and told Internet providers to plead ignorance of why the Internet was down. Since the government can quickly put an Internet provider out of business, the Internet companies follow orders.

July 16, 2020: Off the north coast Somalia warships from Japan, South Korea and Spain took part in two days of naval exercises. The ships are part of the anti-piracy patrol. Pirate activity is way down and some nations have their anti-piracy ships spend of their time watching the coast of nearby Yemen (where some pirates have been operating) and the entrance to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, where there has been a lot of arms smuggling (to Shia rebels in northwest Yemen) by Iran.

July 13, 2020: In Mogadishu al Shabaab used a suicide car bomber to attack the convoy containing the head of the Somali military. The attack failed when security personnel spotted the suicide car bomber and fired on him. That led to the explosives detonating before reaching the convoy. A civilian bystander was killed, along with the suicide bomber and few other people in the area wounded.

July 12, 2020: In the north an Egyptian diplomatic delegation visited Somaliland and offered diplomatic recognition, investment and the establishment of a small military base to look after Egyptian interests (like the nearby entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal) in the area. Somaliland officials agreed to consider the offer. So did neighbors Ethiopia and Kenya who both criticized the Egyptian moved. The UAE and Turkey have been trying to establish similar deals in Somalia (including separatist Puntland and Somaliland).

July 8, 2020: In Mogadishu a roadside bomb was used against a police vehicle, leaving two policemen dead and two nearby civilians wounded.

July 4, 2020: In Baidoa (250 kilometers southwest of Mogadishu) al Shabaab set off a bomb outside a restaurant, killing five and wounding ten.

In Mogadishu an al Shabaab suicide car bomber sought to reach a police facility inside the port area but was stopped by alert police and detonated short of the goal. Two policemen and five civilians were wounded.


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