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.


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.
The author publishes Confused Eagle on the Internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle is available at

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?

Government in circles over captured tanks

With Somali pirates holding at ransom 33 powerful tanks and world powers staring helplessly, Kenya’s government is running around in circles amidst controversy over the true destination of the weapons.

Last Thursday, Somali pirates seized a ship carrying more than 30 military tanks. Initial reports indicated the tanks were ordered by the government of Southern Sudan. Later on, Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua confirmed that the tanks were heading to Kenya.

“The cargo in the ship includes military hardware such as tanks and an assortment of spare parts for use by different branches of the Kenyan military,” Mutua said.

The pirates from the Somali district of Puntland denied Kenya’s claims, citing documents within the ship pointing to the ultimate destination of the cargo as South Sudan. The United States, which has a warship actively monitoring the hijacked vessel, has announced that the deadly cargo was headed for South Sudan.

What makes the saga intriguing is that Sudan is under a United Nations arms embargo; hence the government of South Sudan has categorically denied ownership of the arms shipment. Over the years, Kenya has been a close ally of the South Sudanese, right from the days of guerrilla conflict between the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement and the Khartoum government.

Press interviews with Kenyan military personnel shows that the Army neither ordered the tanks nor was it aware of an incoming shipment. On the other hand, it has been reported that Kenyan authorities are in possession of documents confirming ownership of the captured weaponry.

Amidst this potentially explosive situation (no pun intended), Kenya’s political leadership is still immersed in its never-ending game of retrogressive ethnic politics. Hardly a word has been heard from President Mwai Kibaki. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Raila Odinga is engaged in maneuvering within the ODM party in readiness for the 2012 presidential elections.

Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka has drawn the ire of many by insinuating that he was an ‘acting’ commander in chief while President Kibaki was attending the UN Heads of State summit in New York.

It has been rumored that the tanks are indeed for the Kenyan military but were ordered without the knowledge of army chiefs by politically-connected persons. Military contracts tend to be highly lucrative due to secrecy in procurement.

In spite of having suffered the side-effects of Somalia’s lawlessness in the past 17 years, Kenya has taken a complete back seat in the search for stability in the Horn of Africa. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) crafted in Nairobi in 2004 was a patchwork of warlords with no interest in creating a peaceful society. TFG President Abdullahi Yussuf is the warlord for Puntland, where piracy activities are centered.

Problems in Somalia worsened in December 2006, when the United States decided to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). By mid 2006, the UIC had succeeded in creating a functional government in Somalia for the first time since clan warfare wrecked the country in 1991.

During the short-lived reign of the UIC, piracy in the Indian Ocean almost ceased but with its overthrow, piracy has grown faster than before.

Typical of its lack of foresight, the Kenyan government provided logistical support and intelligence that enabled the US and Ethiopia to remove the Islamists from power.

Somalia war returns to the limelight

Long forgotten by the world, the crisis in Somalia is back in the limelight as Somali pirates hijack dozens of ships, thereby threatening shipping routes in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Islamic insurgents have intensified attacks against a US backed government and now control Somalia’s port city of Kismayu. It is feared that renewed fighting will disrupt food supplies to millions of Somalis currently living in camps and ravaged by drought and flooding disasters.

Incidentally, most of the pirate gangs are based in the region of Puntland, controlled by militiamen loyal to Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf. Recently, though, pirate activities have spread to the south of the country as violence rages.

Problems in Somalia worsened in December 2006, when the United States decided to overthrow the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). By mid 2006, the UIC had succeeded in creating a functional government in Somalia for the first time since clan warfare wrecked the country in 1991.

During the short-lived reign of the UIC, piracy in the Indian Ocean almost ceased but with its overthrow, piracy has grown faster than before.

The United States fears that the UIC will create an Islamic caliphate in East Africa. Ethiopia, which is battling a Somali insurgency in its Ogden province, supported the US and sent troops into Somalia. Kenya, which also has a Somali minority, closed its border and arrested dozens of UIC fighters. US and Ethiopian airstrikes destroyed the Islamic Courts militia, forcing the movement underground and its leaders into exile.

This year, the Islamic Al-Shabaab youth group has intensified attacks against President Yusuf and the Ethiopian Army resulting in heavy losses on all sides. A few Ugandan soldiers in the African Union peacekeeping force have died in the fighting. In August, Al-Shabaab recaptured the southern city of Kismayu. Last Tuesday, Al-Shabaab threatened to shoot down any aircraft landing or taking off from Mogadishu Airport. Private airline operators kept off, further undermining the US backed government.

Between 1960 and the 1980s, Somalia was a theatre for proxy wars between the United States and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the Somali president at the time, General Mohamed Siad Barre, shifted loyalties between the two powers several times. Somalia is attractive to world powers because of its strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea.

General Barre exploited rivalries between Somali clans to stay in power. By 1990, the countryside was plunged into lawlessness by clan fighting and defections from the Somali Army. General Barre was scorned as, ” the Mayor of Mogadishu.” In 1991, Mogadishu was no longer safe and Barre fled into exile. He died in Nigeria a few years later.

A United Nations intervention ended in 1993 after the UN and the United States got entangled in the complexities of Somali clan politics. Several UN and US soldiers were killed during the intervention. Meanwhile, warlords fought for control of highways, towns, plantations, airports and sea ports.

In 2004, the Somali Transitional government was formed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. The transitional government was doomed to fail as it was composed of warlords. President Yusuf himself was a warlord in the self-declared Republic of Puntland, where Somali piracy is centred. Infighting among the warlords prevented the Transitional government from settling in Mogadishu.

Somali warlords are believed be sponsored by multinational companies, regional and international powers eager to influence events in Somalia. The biggest culprits are the Arab world, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the United States.

Amidst the vacuum, Somali Muslim clerics united under the Union of Islamic Courts. They begin setting up administrative, judicial and security structures in Mogadishu. By 2006, the UIC controlled most of Somalia, except President Yusuf’s Puntland and the northern breakaway region of Somaliland.

For the first time in 15 years, the Somali people had a real chance of peace under a stable government with popular legitimacy. Unfortunately, the US war on terror crushed those hopes. The US accused the Islamic Courts government of sheltering terror suspects, and of having an expansionist agenda. Since the overthrow of the Islamic Courts, fighting in Somalia assumed a fresh intensity never seen since 1991.

As long as the Somali crisis was confined to the people of Somalia, the world could continue with business as usual. With Somalis now attacking ships and capturing hundreds of sailors from across the world, this may be the time to talk with the Union of Islamic Courts.