April 3, 2015: Islamic terrorism and other forms of disorder appear easier to deal with than the endemic and crippling corruption that has prevented efficient (or any) government and greatly limited economic growth. The basic problem is the traditional clan (tribal) form of government persists and this system depends on what Westerners regard as corruption. But to most Somalis looking out for your clan (no matter what the cost to your neighbors) is a tradition too many Somalis are unwilling to give up. The current government has some Western trained officials but they are not able to make the fundamental changes needed to save Somalia from itself. Foreign donors are running out of patience in the face of continual theft of foreign aid and money intended for government services (health, security, infrastructure and so on). As a practical matter there is no single Somalia but dozens of heavily armed clans that consider themselves sovereign and entitled to grab what they can any way they can. The current Somali government budget is $216 million and largely comes from foreign aid donors. Because most of this budget is still stolen by senior government officials most foreign aid (over a billion dollars a year) is spent by foreign aid officials in Somalia. The government does not like this because that aid is much more difficult to steal.
Another destructive and persistent Somali tradition is the warlords. Most of these are just well organized and heavily armed gangsters, but some, like the current al Shabaab, are religion-based. The religious leaders, because of modern communications, attract fans, recruits and donations from the international Islamic community which helps keeps these groups in business much longer than in the past. Better weapons (assault rifles and explosives) make these religious fanatics more lethal.
The most recent al Shabaab attack in Kenya has Kenyans desperate for a solution. Somali atrocities in Kenya are nothing new. For centuries the Somalis have raided south into what is now Kenya. During the colonial period (mid-1800s to 1960s) the foreign troops sharply cut the raiding activity. The post-colonial armed forces were better armed than the old tribal militias and that continued to prevent large scale Somali raids and massacres (and looting and slaving which was what the raiders were mainly interested in). The Islamic terrorists are bringing back ancient memories of Somali violence in Kenya and there are no easy solutions to this form of raiding. These attackers are suicidal and only interested in killing Kenyans and getting lots of publicity for it. Some Kenyans are calling for the expulsion of all Somalis, including those who are Kenyan citizens and whose families have been in Kenya for generations. Others call for building a “security wall” along the 869 kilometer Somali border. That would cost more than Kenya can afford as the most effective security wall was built by the Israelis at a cost of $2 million per kilometer. A less effective wall would slow down illegal border crossers but that would not keep determined Islamic terrorists out. Al Shabaab says they make these murderous attacks because Kenyan troops are in Somalia but Kenyans know that Somalis also do it because Somalis have always done it.
Another problem with groups like al Shabaab is their ability to publicize themselves. The Internet and a ravenous (for titillating headlines) media eager to spread the more outrageous claims and threats of these fanatics gives the terrorists the sort of attention they crave and that encourages more young fanatics to get involved. But the growing number of al Shabaab leaders who have defected or been captured tell a different story than the mass media. Apparently the well-publicized alliance of al Shabaab with al Qaeda was all style and no substance. Yet some al Shabaab leaders are seeking to trade up and establish a similar (fictional but useful) relationship with ISIL. The defectors also point that the recruits and financial assistance from outside Somalia is also more fable than fact. Now it is estimated that fewer than 200 foreigners have joined al Shabaab over the years. Al Shabaab also gets nearly all its financial support locally, mostly from criminal enterprises (mainly extortion and theft). The worst part of this religious warlord tradition is that modern media capabilities make it more difficult than in the past to crush these murderous groups. If these religious warlords use modern media (especially the Internet) they just keep on going and that’s what al Shabaab is doing.
April 2, 2015: In northeast Kenya (Garissa) at least four al Shabaab gunmen attacked a university campus before dawn. The attackers let Moslems flee but killed all the Christian students and staff they could find. Thirteen hours later it was over with at least 150 people dead. Four of the attackers (and that may have been all there were) had been cornered and killed when they refused to surrender. Over 500 students and staff managed to get away from the attackers. This was the 17th al Shabaab attack in Kenya since 2012 and Kenyans are desperate to do something to halt this Somali terrorism. The first 16 attacks left 312 dead but the latest one increases the total deaths by nearly fifty percent.
March 27, 2015: In Mogadishu six suicidal al Shabaab men attacked a well-guarded hotel popular with foreigners and affluent Somalis. All the attackers died as did 18 people in the hotel, including four of the soldiers providing security. There were about 30 wounded and al Shabaab claimed that some of the attackers escaped.
March 26, 2015: In Mogadishu a senior al Shabaab leader and three followers were caught preparing for an attack and arrested.
March 25, 2015: For the first time since 2012 Somali pirates captured a foreign ship. In this case it was a slow moving ocean-going fishing trawler. This vessel was Iranian and that may be a problem for the pirates as there is a possibility the Iranians will respond with military force rather than a ransom payment. The Iranian ship was fishing illegally in Somali waters as were two South Korea trawlers. These "freezer trawlers" are up to 100 meters (310 feet) long and have facilities on board to store hundreds of tons of frozen fish. These ships normally stay at sea months at a time and have crews of 15-30. The pirates don't get as large a ransom for fishing ships as they do for larger cargo and tanker ships. This is particularly true of the coastal freezer trawlers, which are often old and worth less than half a million dollars each. The owner cannot pay whatever ransom the pirates often demand for these ships. These trawlers are all over the Indian Ocean, between Africa and India, and early on the pirates realized that they could hide two speedboats on these vessels and the fishing crew could be used to operate the ship, in addition to twenty or so pirates as passengers. But coast guards in the region, and the international anti-piracy patrol in general, were soon paying closer attention to all those fishing ships. If you know what to look for, and look closely, you can detect which ones are run by pirates. The names of captured fishing ships were known, and added to a “wanted” list distributed to all ships in the anti-piracy patrol and coast guards in the region. There was a sense of urgency with this because the pirates treated the fishermen much more savagely (starving and beating them, often to death). While trawlers were preferred for mother ships at least one group of pirates used a small (95 meter long) tanker instead. The motherships have been largely absent since 2012 and it is unclear what is going to happen to the captured Iranian trawler. Meanwhile the anti-piracy patrol is warning trawlers and the companies that own them to stay away from the Somali coast. When these trawlers are fishing illegally they can expect no protection from the anti-piracy patrol. When under attack the trawlers can call for help but because trawlers move slowly while working and are close to shore there is rarely time for anti-piracy forces to reach them in time. To many (especially Somalis) the illegal fishing is simply another form of piracy.
March 22, 2015: In the south (130 kilometers south of Kismayo) soldiers and peacekeepers took control of Kuday Island near the Kenyan border. Kuday was the last al Shabaab base in southern Somalia.
March 16, 2015: Kenyan jets bombed suspected al Shabaab targets in southern Somalia, in reaction to get another al Shabaab attack in Kenya the day before.
March 15, 2015: In northeastern Kenya, 100 kilometers from the Somali border, al Shabaab gunmen attacked a market place killing at least four people before fleeing.