12 June 2009

Friday Feature: Somalia

Somalia At-A-Glance

Background (Source CIA World Factbook):

  • British-ruled British Somaliland merged with Italian Somaliland to form Somalia in 1960.
  • In 1969, Mohamed SIAD Barre led a coup and established an authoritarian socialist rule that kept the country relatively stable until the regime collapsed 1991.
  • In 1991, Somalia descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy, with northern clans establishing an independent Republic of Somalia.
  • In October 2004 Abdullahi YUSUF Ahmed was elected as President of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia. An interim parliamentary government was formed, known as Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs).
  • In January, 2009, parliament elected Sheikh SHARIF Sheikh Ahmed as president. SHARIF appointed Omar Abdirashid ali SHARMARKE, as prime minister.
  • TFIs are working toward national elections in 2011.

Capital: Mogadishu

Total Area: 637,657 sq km (slightly smaller than Texas)

Population: 9,832,017

Major infectious disease risk: HIGH

Ethnic groups: Homogeneous - Somali 85%, Bantu and other non-Somali 15%

Religions: Sunni Muslim

Languages:Somali (official), Arabic, Italian, English

Literacy: 37.8% of people age 15 and over can read and write.

Government type: no permanent national government; transitional, parliamentary federal government

Legal system: no national system; a mixture of English common law, Italian law, Islamic Sharia, and Somali customary law

Judicial branch: following the breakdown of the central government, most regions have reverted to local forms of conflict resolution

Economy: largely based on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, and telecommunications. Estimated GDP- $5.524 billion

Communications: Internet users-98,000; Cell phones- 600,000; 4 TV stations

Military: no national-level armed forces

Refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs): 1.1 million IDPs (civil war since 1988, clan-based competition for resources)

International Challenges

Piracy: Since the fall of the Barre regime in the 1990s, piracy off the Somali coast has been a significant and escalating problem.

  • Antonio Maria Costa of UNODC, reports that this year alone, as of Mid-May (2009), there have been at least 80 piracy attacks off the Horn of Africa. According to the US State Department, the number of piracy attacks have doubled in the past year.
  • What's the Harm?
  1. Piracy challenges the authority of the transitional government and threatens regional stability.
  2. It threatens the commercial and security interests of UN Member States.
  3. Piracy has caused shipping costs to rise and has interfered significantly with humanitarian food aid shipments, since 90% of the World Food Program's shipments arrive by maritime transport.
  • How Did it Happen in Somalia?
  1. Fishing had been a major industry in Somalia's economy. During the turmoil and intrastate conflict of the 1990s, the income from fishing dropped off substantially.
  2. With no maritime law enforcement to guard the coast, the fish supply dwindled due to the encroachment of international fishing poachers.
  3. Some bands of local fisherman from certain clans decided to take maritime security into their own hands and began their own patrols. But they learned it was easier - and more lucrative - to rob and kidnap than to protect. They had a good strategic location (with lots of international commerce) and no organized government to interfere.
  • Who Are These Pirates?
  • They are mostly young men (20-35) coming from Puntland and Somaliland. A BBC report classified the pirates into three main categories:
  1. Local Somali fishermen, considered the brains of the pirates' operations due to their skill and knowledge of the sea.
  2. Ex-militiamen who used to fight for the local clan warlords, used as the muscle.
  3. Technical experts who operate equipment such as the GPS devices
  • There are estimated to be between 1000-1500 armed pirates operating within 4 or 5 pirate gangs, many of which attempt to portray themselves as Robin Hood-like defenders of Somalia, which of course they are not.
  • Globalsecurity.org describes a couple of the main players in the Horn of Africa's piracy game:
  1. The so-called "Somali Marines" are the biggest fish in the pond. They are probably the largest and most tactically sophisticated of the Somali pirate gangs, and operate within a hierarchical, navy-like command structure.
  2. The "National Volunteer Coast Guard" (NVCG), commanded by Garaad Mohamed, is said to specialize in intercepting small boats and fishing vessels around Kismayu on the southern coast.
  3. The "Marka group", under the command of Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad (also known as Yusuf Indha'adde), is made up of several scattered and less organized groups operating around the town of Marka.
  4. The "Puntland Group" composed of traditional Somali fishermen, usually operating in that region.
  • Pirates are Somalia's version of the U.S. "Gangstas." A local resident interviewed by the BBC, described them this way
    "They have money; they have power and they are getting stronger by the day. [...] They wed the most beautiful girls; they are building big houses; they have new cars; new guns." Hunter, Robyn (October 28, 2008). "Somali pirates living the high life". BBC. Retrieved on 2008-11-20.
  • Recent Trends in Piracy:
  1. Late last year (2008), pirate gangs began to extend their reach and area of operation beyond their familiar stomping grounds in the Gulf of Aden (even North in to the Red Sea) and further out from the Somali coast. It is speculated they are possibly targeting ships headed for the port of Mombasa, Kenya. (Source: AllAfrica.com)
  2. As of late May, 2009, Somali pirates were estimated to be holding about 200 hostages, whom they use to extort ransom from shipping companies that want to get back their cargo, vessels and crew. Last year (2008), Somali pirate groups took in about $30 million in ransom revenue (I assume, that is before taxes) according to Donna Hopkins, the U.S. State Department program manager on piracy issues.
Domestic Challenges

  • Political Instability: Somalia has had only about 6 months of relative stability throughout the past two decades.
  • Lawlessness: Out of the entire area of Somalia, which is about the size of Texas, the central government only controls a few blocks of Mogadishu, the Capital.
  • Poverty: As much as 73% of the Somali population live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. Three million Somalis subsist on emergency food handouts from international agencies.
  • Islamist Fighters Seeking Control: On May 8, 2009, there was marked resurgence in fighting (mostly in the northwest areas of Mogadishu) between what remains of the transitional federal government's military forces and the Islamist opposition groups/movements, Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam. Interestingly, clashes have also been reported between the Islamist fighters and the pirates (Source: Agence France-Presse ).
  • Displaced persons: The fallout from the surge of armed conflict in Mogadishu is the displacement of thousands - probably at least 117,000 - of Somalis who just within the past month have been forced to flee their homes. Most of them are women and children. Compounding the problem are reports of rape and sexual exploitation of women during flight and in ostensible places of refuge. (Source: http://allafrica.com/stories/200906100969.html)

Why Has Somalia Recently Been in the News?
Current SITREP
  • Islamist resistance fighters who took up arms after the Ethiopian invasion have forced the United States-backed Ethiopian troops to retreat in many places.
  • Government forces have been trying since mid-May to dislodge rebel Islamist fighters who have taken control of most of the capital and the countryside.
  • In the past couple of months, the Islamists have been targeting prominent individuals and senior officials connected with the new government.
  • Roadside bombings and suicide attacks have been occurring with increasing frequency in Mogadishu. Ethiopia may again be prompted by the U.S. to dispatch its troops to Somalia to deal with the Shabaab.
  • More than 50,000 people have fled the capital and are trying to find shelter in the already overcrowded refugee camps inside the country and in Kenya.
  • Since the start of the new cycle of war in Somalia in 2007, following the Ethiopian occupation, around 18,000 civilians have been killed and more than a million reduced to the status of refugees.
Looking to the Future

  • Ready solutions to this complex of upheaval are not easy to come by. Clearly there is an array of problems that requires multi-level solutions.
  • Numerous groups have focused on maritime security, including the East African Seafarers' Association, International Maritime Organization, and the United Nations Security Council. Using military escorts for commercial traffic is costly and not feasible on a large scale. A new generation of anti-piracy technology is emerging that may hold some promise for deterrence. These include devices that emit ear-splitting noise to repel pirate encroachment; a millimeter wave energy beam that burns its target from within; a host of nonlethal devices that can be used aboard ship; and a system that sprays a slippery gel across ship surfaces making it difficult for pirates to board and to access the crew (or at least giving the crew time to get to a secure area).
  • Most immediately, it will be necessary to disrupt the piracy enterprise, by dismantling coastal bases and support networks, but without more, this will have a limited effect because the lawless environment will make it easy to rebuild.
  • There is some consensus that it will be difficult to have an enduring solution to Somali piracy on the sea, without some land-based intervention. Amb. David H. Shinn - US Ambassador to Ethiopia for 30 years (1969-99) makes this point quite succinctly:
"Nearly everyone who has studied this problem has concluded that the only way to substantially eliminate Somali piracy is to establish an effective Somali national government that is committed to ending piracy and has the land-based and maritime resources to accomplish the task. There is no prospect this will happen soon, although there is positive movement in this direction. It is equally essential to take into account Somali grievances such as illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Somali waters."