Somalia Islamist government best hope against piracy

The big news coming from Somalia these days is the increasing number of naval forces meant to combat piracy at the Somali coast.

On Boxing Day, China sent three navy ships to join the United States, Britain, Russia, India, Malaysia, French and other forces. However, this will not solve piracy until the situation on mainland Somalia gets better. Unfortunately, the world is still in denial as far as the influence of Somali Islamists is concerned.

Regardless of their often brutal methods, Somali Islamists are currently the only force capable of restoring stability in Somalia and ending the piracy menace. Instead of spending billions of dollars on ineffective naval patrols, the international community should simply accept the forthcoming Islamic led leadership.

Just a few weeks ago, Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi super tanker thousands of miles away from the international naval armada. Once a ship is in the hands of pirates, there’s little that a navy can do without risking the lives of the captured crew. That again goes to prove that stability in Somalia is the best safeguard against piracy.

The international community still has incredible faith in the Somali Transitional Government even though it only controls the central town of Baidoa and parts of the capital. With Ethiopian soldiers expected to depart in coming days, the demise of the unpopular Transitional government is sealed.

While Islamist fighters sweep up the remnants of Somali government forces from the countryside, President Abdullahi Yusuf got into a fight with Parliament that led to his resignation. It is amazing that a government can fight itself even as its main backers are leaving. In any case, more than half of legislators and the Cabinet are permanent residents of neighbouring countries.

Ethiopian soldiers invaded Somalia in December 2006 for the same reasons they are leaving today: the Islamist movement had over-run the Transitional Government. The West and neighbouring governments such as Ethiopia and Kenya, are paranoid about Islamic movements. Military operations were supposedly meant to support President Yusuf but in reality, they were intended to vanquish the Islamists.

Ethiopian soldiers and US airstrikes overwhelmed Islamic fighters with sheer firepower. Kenya closed its borders to prevent escaping fighters – even refugees were stopped at the border. The final showdown in the 2006 war took place at Ras Kamboni, a coastal jungle on the borders of Kenya and Somalia. Fire from American AC-130 gunships devastated entire villages and few survived. Not even chicken were spared.

Drawing on Somali nationalism, the Islamists began an Iraq style insurgency in 2007. Ethiopia is widely resented by Somalis and the intervention, coupled with US airstrikes, was viewed as an occupation of Muslim land. Many in Somalia believe that Yusuf gets his orders from Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi – another object of intense hatred in Somalia.

The militant Al-Shabab youth group took up the fight on behalf of the Islamists. What began as a low-level campaign of random explosions grew into a full scale war by mid 2008. It is said that fighting in Somalia in 2008 was the worst since the fall of the last Somali government in 1991. Large areas of the capital city, Mogadishu, were deserted by fleeing residents.

With a divided Transitional government, Ethiopia realized that the war is good as lost, hence its decision to leave.

Meanwhile, in a move that replicates previous mistakes, the African Union has called for African peace keeping forces to prevent the fall of the Transitional government. Few African countries have volunteered and only Uganda and Burundi heeded the previous call for troops. The AU peace-keepers are currently confined to the Mogadishu airport, which regularly comes under attack from the Al-Shabab.

The Islamists have always been against piracy, which they describe as unIslamic. During their 6 month administration back in 2006, piracy ceased when they raided pirate dens.

This might be the best opportunity to reduce piracy’s threat to international commerce by engaging in meaningful talks with the Islamists. After close to 20 years of chaos, an Islamic government in Somalia is better than no government at all.

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Uganda, Burundi to leave Somalia

By Scott A Morgan

If reports from East Africa are true then it appears that Ethiopia will not be the only nation pulling its forces out of Somalia. As a matter of fact the AU Mission in Somalia may be on the verge of collapse.

What could be the influence that would have both Uganda and Burundi consider pulling their troops out of the country? The two countries currently have just over 2800 peacekeepers in the country. The mission which has been in Somalia for a year has to this date failed to halt the violence that permeates the country.

The Transitional National Government which attempted to unify Somalia under a centralized administration is limited to its power base and seat of parliament at Baidoa and the war ravaged capital of Mogadishu. The rest of the country is either under the control of militias or have some form of autonomy that has not been challenged. The increase in the acts of piracy this year cannot be overlooked either.

The decision by Uganda to remove its peacekeepers should not be a huge surprise to many. A deadline for the LRA to once again sign a peace accord with the government has expired. Since there was an ultimatum in place who knows what actions will be taken? Also there has been a ratcheting of tensions along the border with the DRC. Tutsi rebels have seized several border towns and outposts in recent days. So it is possible that Kampala needs the boots back home.

The situation in Burundi however appears more stable. There have been some crackdowns against the political opposition this year and there are chances that Burundi could be drawn into the various conflicts that appear to on the verge of erupting in the Great Lakes of Africa.

At this time the African Union is asking for the UN to send a Stabilization Force to the Somalia. Twice before, the UN has attempted to restore order in Somalia and both attempts have failed. So will the third time be the charm for the UN? Could it restore a strong central government in Somalia or should this country be broken up? Time will tell which will be the proper policy.
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The author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle is available at morganrights.tripod.com
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Somalia needs 3 State solution

By Scott A Morgan

The concern that has been shown by various governments including the United States regarding piracy in the Gulf of Aden has merit. But such as in similar crisis situations, it seems that the West and other maritime interests would rather address a symptom of the problem instead of the root cause.

There has not been a functioning government in Somalia since the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in 1991. Needless to say that there is no way to address social and financial problems that the struggling fishermen have. The breakdown in law and order in the country has created a situation where piracy has become a viable means to support families and communities.

So why have the Western and other powers suddenly become galvanized to take action in this situation? Well the numbers just happen to speak for themselves. In this calendar year, over 90 vessels have been seized in the Gulf of Aden. The payment of subsequent ransoms to free the hostages has netted the pirates an estimated US$150 million so far this year. So, several nations have deployed warships in an attempt to interdict this trade.

We have heard that this is an attempt to solve the piracy issue but what about the root cause? There have been several recent reports that indicate that the Transitional National Government (TNG) is on the verge of collapse. Its influence has been degraded to the point that it only maintains power in Mogadishu and Baidoa. If the TFG collapses as many expect, what will be the next course of action?

In early 2009, the breakaway region of Somaliland will hold elections for President and Parliament. This region has had a massive PR campaign to show that it is a stable part of Somalia. The region of Puntland has been aggressively targeting the pirates as well. The Islamists are in control of Southern Somalia meaning the old state of Somalia may not return at all.

If there is a solution that unites the perpetually clan-driven politics of Somalia into a central government, this would be welcome. But it appears that the two year long effort to have the TNG restore a legitimate government to Somalia is failing and could collapse in the near future. It is possible that if the TNG falls then the incidents of piracy could actually increase both in numbers and in the specific search of targets.

Whether or not the TNG fails may not be a bad option. Having three regional governments (Somaliland, Puntland and the Islamist South) with strong central powers and appropriate international backing and/or aid may be something that has to be considered. This could be the impetus for some form of intervention.

Failure to address the problem now could spread it to neighboring states such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea and Yemen. This will not be a problem that could be easily solved by throwing money at it. Instead, it requires some nation building but on a scale that is yet to be determined.

It appears that the easy answer is to have naval patrols in the Gulf of Aden. But when will the real issue be addressed?

West to blame for Somali piracy

The escalation in piracy attacks by Somali gangs is a consequence of poor judgement exercised by Western powers in replacing an Islamist government with warlords who have no interest in peace.

Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The decision to destroy the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) in 2006 was backed by the East African nations of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Ethiopia sent its own army to occupy Central Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu.

With the port of Mombasa under threat from Somali pirates, Kenya must be regretting its decision. Then again, the fear of Islam could blind the Kenyan authorities to the realities of Somalia.

By mid 2006, the UIC had won control of central and southern Somalia from clan warlords. A great chunk of Somali territory came under the UIC after joint consultations with respective clan elders. After 16 years of lawlessness, Somalis were finally ready for peace.

After taking over Mogadishu, the UIC began consolidating a home-grown administration. Courts were formed to administer justice and arbitrate between the people. Police forces were set up, checkpoints were abolished altogether. The prices of consumer goods dropped drastically because it was no longer necessary for businessmen to bribe bandits who used to place road blocks at every street corner.

More relevant to this story, the UIC completely stopped sea piracy during its short tenure of office. Piracy in Somalia is controlled by criminal gangs with some affiliation to ethnic militia. These are exactly the kind of groups UIC wanted to stop in order to bring lasting peace to Somali people.

With the end of lawlessness in Somalia, a mini-boom emerged. People returned to long-abandoned suburbs of Mogadishu. Business people living in exile in the Middle East began returning to Somalia. Aid shipments, which had stopped because of rampant piracy perpetrated by warlords, resumed. Rehabilitation works began at the ports of Mogadishu and Kismayu.

Alas, the fear of Islam in the region began taking hold. Kenyans are known to be skeptics but when it comes to Islam, it’s easy to believe anything thrown their way. Kenyans were told that the UIC wanted to conquer the whole East African and create an Islamic Caliphate, where everyone would be forcefully converted to Islam.

The propaganda machine was incredible considering that the UIC did not even manage to control the whole of Somalia. The northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland were still outside the UIC.

UIC, perhaps, made a mistake by getting involved in the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict. By accepting weapons from Eritrea, the UIC drew the wrath of Ethiopia. It was not long before the Ethiopian Army drove into Somalia in December 2006, with the assistance of US intelligence and AC-130 cannon fire.

Needless to say, chaos engulfed Somalia from January 2007. The UIC top command fled to Eritrea as rank and file were annihilated from the air, the ground and the sea. Kenya blocked its borders to fleeing refugees, as suspected UIC fighters were arrested at Ras Kamboni. Many of the detainees were sent to Ethiopia.

The Transitional Federal Government took its time moving into Mogadishu. President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed has always preferred living in Nairobi. The irony of Somali’s Transitional Government is that its President is himself a warlord who declared Puntland a separate state. Inspite of leading the transitional government, the ailing President and his allies have not allowed the transitional government to exercise authority over Puntland.

Now, the interesting part is that most of Somali piracy is centered in Puntland. The region controlled by militia loyal to the Somali president is the same region where pirates are running amok! Is this a coincidence? It is very difficult to understand why the international community does not see the link between piracy in Somalia and the impotence of the transitional government. The Transitional Government is nothing more than a collection of ethnic warlords that have brought Somalia into global notoriety as a failed state. Why anyone expected the same people to unite and bring peace to suffering Somalis remains a mystery.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost for the Western world. Ships are getting attacked almost daily inspite of an armada of naval vessels in the Indian Ocean. Top Western naval commanders have publicly stated that there’s nothing much they can do about piracy without infringing on Somali’s sovereignty.

Kenya is also paying the price for its sins. The latest pirate hijacking took place not far from the port of Mombasa. Unless peace is restored to Somalia, there’s increasing likelihood that Kenya’s coast could be overrun by Somali pirates. Shipping activity to the entire East and Central African region will be paralyzed. Unfortunately, the Kenya Navy is missing in action if recent events are any indicator.

The next best option is to accept the reality of Islamic-led government in Somalia. An Islamic government cannot be a threat to the region because the problems in Somalia require hundreds of years to solve. They will need to rebuild roads, schools, power supply, water systems, judiciary, parliament and the rest of the institutions associated with governance. An Islamic government in Somalia will have neither the time nor resources to create the so-called Caliphate of Horn of Africa.

The Islamists have proved through practical action that they can eradicate piracy, smuggling and drugs trade in Somalia if given the chance. Well, the imposition of Sharia law certainly sends shivers across the Western world but a country that has been in chaos for 17 years needs a radical solution. Western style democracy cannot work in Somalia under the present circumstances of explosions, kidnappings and clan warfare. It’s better to have a strict government than no government at all.

One Somali migrant to Yemen was asked why his people risked crossing the Gulf of Aden only to land in the Middle East’s poorest country. The migrant answered that it is better to live in a poor country with peace than a rich country in chaos.

Blackwater sending ship to Somali coast

By kenyanobserver on October 23, 2008

The recent piracy off the coast of Somalia that resulted in the hijacking of a Ukrainian ship carrying heavy artillery and tanks headed for Kenya has caught the attention of Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial North Carolina based, military contractor.

According to a Forbes article, Blackwater is in the process of assembling a naval fleet. The first ship with a crew of 14, the MV MacArthur, is scheduled to head to the Gulf of Aden sometime before the end of the year. Blackwater is known to provide military support on land and air, so apparently they are now looking for ships should the demand for this service rise.

Blackwater says that they have been contracted by private shippers to provide security and passage through this part of the Indian ocean now known as the most dangerous waterway in the world.

Somali pirates have been operating with impunity off Somali’s coast and have been making with millions of dollars from ransom money. It was just a matter of time before a solution such as this came up. Judging by what we have seen in Iraq, these pirates are in for some very interesting times indeed.

AFRICOM yet to rise to occassion

by Scott A Morgan

Even though it does not have a forward deployment base or a permanent location, the unfolding pirates saga in Somalia is an interesting way for AFRICOM to begin.

The Pentagon’s African Command or AFRICOM got off to a shaky start. Most African countries declined to host it soon after it was inaugurated by President George W. Bush to secure US interests in Africa. AFRICOM is the newest military command of the United States.

As efforts to restore a functioning government in Somalia continue to flounder, there has been an increase in piracy in one of the world’s busiest shipping regions. The United States, among other nations, has deployed both naval and Special Forces to the region in an effort to curtail criminal and terrorist activity.

The vessel that was recently seized has intelligence specialists concerned not only about the cargo but where the cargo was eventually headed to. After all this is one of the most violent regions in the whole world, The MV Faina is a container ship of Ukrainian registry captured within the last two weeks. Part of its cargo was 33 T-72 main battle tanks.

Now a guessing game has begun. The pirates have demanded over $20 million in ransom. There are reports that the tanks were headed to Mombasa, Kenya. The Kenyan Government has stated they purchased the armor from Russia. There have been reports that the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) had acquired the weapons. US intelligence believes that this is an effort to go around the arms embargo against Sudan.

Let us look at these three scenarios: First of all, the Sudanese Government. This would not be the first time the Russian Federation has attempted to break sanctions against Sudan. As a matter of fact the Russians have supported Sudan in the UN on more than one occasion. so this is plausible but, if it were so, the armor could have been unloaded at Port Sudan.

What about the claims of the Kenyan Government? Well the armor was headed to a Kenyan port. This could give the claims some form of legitimacy. There are still concerns regarding abuse in the Mt. Elgon region to the west of the country but, on the whole, peace and stability are increasing in Kenya.  Unless the armor is meant to defend the northern border with Somalia and/or Ethiopia.

This brings us to the Government of Southern Sudan. This is an autonomous region of Sudan that fought a long protracted insurgency against Khartoum. There is still a level of distrust towards Khartoum to this very day. Also in recent weeks there have been clashes with the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) which is a Ugandan militia. The LRA was to have signed a Peace Deal with the Ugandan government after Southern Sudan negotiated a peace accord. When it came time to the signing ceremony, the LRA did not show.

With the armor being seized by pirates its possible that the tanks could end up being used in Somalia unless either ransom is paid or the vessel is liberated by naval elements that have surrounded the ship at this time.

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The Author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet. It can be found at morganrights.tripod.com
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Tank scandal blows government credibility

The credibility of Kenya is being torn to shreds as evidence emerges linking the government with arms trafficking in the Great Lakes region.

It began two weeks ago when a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 Russian made T-72 tanks was hijacked by Somali pirates on its way to the Kenyan port of Mombasa. Initially, it was reported that the tanks and heavy artillery were destined for Southern Sudan.

Kenya’s government claimed the deadly cargo, saying it had bought it for the military. However, the pirates denied the assertions saying that the ship’s documents showed the owner of the cargo as the government of South Sudan. Southern Sudan military commanders and diplomats strenuously denied knowledge of the cargo.

Strangely enough, the United States Navy, which is surrounding the captured ship, has said that the tanks were going to Southern Sudan.

Kenyan officials had, in the meantime, produced documents proving that they ordered the weapons from Ukraine in a ‘government – government’ deal. Soon after, the Nation newspaper of Kenya published aerial photographs of a previous consignment of tanks being ferried to Southern Sudan on a train. This week, the BBC released documents proving the weapons did infact belong to Southern Sudan.

An official from a sailor’s union at the Mombasa port, who gave reporters details of previous weapon consignments to Southern Sudan, was last week arrested by Kenyan police and charged with possessing marijuana. He is currently awaiting trial.

Regardless of the truth, this saga makes Kenya’s government stink like a corpse. Denials, production of evidence and counter-evidence have created the impression that the government is confused. Neither President Mwai Kibaki nor Prime Minister Raila Odinga have spoken on the tanks.

If the tanks and ammunition really belong to Kenya, it shows a perverse sense of priorities. It means the government is spending billions of shillings on weapons while people displaced by political and ethnic clashes languish in desperation.

After the formation of the giant cabinet back in April, President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila launched an international appeal for Kshs31 billion (US$431 million) to assist in reconstructing homes, government facilities and businesses destroyed in the clashes. Obviously, Kenya’s leaders would rather buy guns than build schools, homes and hospitals.

If the tanks do not belong to Kenya’s military, as is widely believed, then Kenya is violating a United Nations arms embargo on Sudan. That would put Kenya in the pariah status of states accused of supplying weapons for killing and maiming defenceless civilians. With Southern Sudan in dire need of development assistance, the world must be wondering why Kenyan authorities are sending weapons there.

Its also scandalous that an arms shipment of this magnitude – regardless of ownership – did not have a Kenya Navy escort. The Somali coast is notorious for piracy and this year has seen pirate attacks double over last year’s count. The sea around Somalia is patrolled by NATO navies whose presence is tenuous at best. Piracy is a threat to Kenya’s shipping and military analysts are wondering why the Kenyan Navy is out of action.

Kenya traditionally purchases arms from the Western bloc (NATO). If it is confirmed that the T-72 consignment belongs to Kenya, the purchase would mark a radical departure from previous trends. At the moment, Kenya is also buying second-hand jet fighters from the Kingdom of Jordan. At least that’s one consignment whose destination is not in doubt.