Date: Monday, 16 July 2018
Al Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu and against the security forces continue but are not escalating towards regaining control of territory. That ended in 2011 when al Shabaab, after increasing the areas it controlled since it first appeared in 2006m lost control of Mogadishu and much else besides. Al Shabaab has been on the defensive ever since. This defeat was a gradual process that the Islamic terrorists resisted violently. Al Shabaab related violence left some 4,000 people dead in Somalia and Kenya as recently as 2016. That was the most for any Islamic terrorist group in Africa that year. But the violence al Shabaab brings with it had noxious side effects for all concerned, including al Shabaab. There was growing local opposition to al Shabaab and local militias became more capable and more aggressive in confronting and defeating al Shabaab. Add to that the AU peacekeeping force and the Somali Army (despite being crippled by corruption and clannishness) and al Shabaab has lost its control over people’s lives. This can be seen in Mogadishu where night life and commerce have returned, with al Shabaab unable to prevent un-Islamic activity (music, dancing and watching videos). The economy is thriving and expatriates are returning and investing.
Foreign aid is another matter as most of it goes to the government where it is largely stolen rather used for what the donors intended. This problem appears intractable. Too many Somalis take it for granted that if there is any foreign cash or goods given to the government is fair game for any Somali (be they a government official or not) to take for himself, his family and his clan. There are not enough Somalis who believe in the idea that “Somalia” is a nation that deserves loyalty and honest government. At this point most Somalis are not willing to provide that loyalty and honesty to any governing entity beyond the clan their family belongs to. That means anyone not from your clan is a foreigner although if they are from another Somali clan you can easily speak with them (and often get into an argument). Many clans have bitter feuds with other clans. In theory Islam is supposed to unite all Somalis but that does not work either. Al Shabaab discovered this the hard way and still suffers from the clan disease.
Al Shabaab continues to have internal problems. Some of this appears due to the fact the supreme leader of al Shabaab died recently, from kidney failure. This became known in late June and was not a surprise because the deceased had been in bad health for some time and stayed hidden and, apparently, largely inactive. This would account for the apparent factionalism within al Shabaab with groups in different parts of the country appearing to operate independently without regard to any overall strategy (than one of “survive.”)
In late 2015 Somalia was declared free of polio but so far in 2018 nearly a dozen new cases have been reported. Being declared polio free means an area has been a year or so without a case of polio. The last outbreak was in 2013, the first in Somalia since 2007. The 2013 outbreak involved over 200 people, mostly children, who were infected and because al Shabaab was on the defensive it was possible to rapidly inoculate potential victims and prevent the spread of the disease. Al Shabaab is no longer obsessed with halting polio vaccination so this latest outbreak will be easier to deal with and vaccination efforts are underway in areas where the new cases have shown up.
Polio is a viral disease that can only exist in a human host and if no humans have it the virus dies out in a population. Smallpox was eliminated in the 1970s using this approach but polio has been more difficult to eradicate because a growing number of Moslem clerics came to believe that the vaccination program was actually a Western plot to poison Moslems (despite the fact that many of those being vaccinated were not Moslem). Between the numerous radical Moslems in Africa opposing vaccination and general chaos in places like Congo and Central African Republic polio has survived in Africa. A recent polio outbreak in Congo is apparently connected to outbreaks in Somalia and Nigeria. So far in 2018 there have been 28 cases of polio detected in Congo combat zones, including one case near the Uganda border. In all three nations a major part of the problem is not being able to get vaccination teams to war zones.
These new cases, on examination (to classify the genetic code of the virus) are actually the result of a rare capability of the polio vaccine used, which employs a weakened version of the polio virus to induce the body to develop an immunity. But a very small number of new cases (one for every 10-20 million doses of vaccine) will cause another case of polio. Since 2000 over ten billion doses of this attenuated vaccine have been used and with numbers that large the vaccination effort has to be ready to go after reappearance of polio in those rare cases. Despite this flaw the attenuated vaccine is, overall, more effective than earlier versions.
In Somalia and Nigeria you had the additional problem of Islamic terrorists who oppose vaccination because they believe it is a Western plot to poison Moslem children. This has been the problem in Nigeria since 2016 and health experts have been struggling to wipe out polio among the many rural people who spent years living under Boko Haram control. Boko Haram always opposed polio vaccinations. This became a big issue (and a major disappointment) because in early 2016 it was announced that Nigeria had eliminated polio. As part of a worldwide effort, Nigeria had reduced polio infections from over 1,200 in 2006 to none in 2014. But that did not include large areas of Borno State where health officials could not go because of Boko Haram. Once public health officials got access to those people they found polio had survived. Decades of effort to eradicate polio are still being compromised by Islamic radicals in places like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, even the Islamic terrorists have come to agree that polio vaccination is a good thing and vaccination is catching up the few unvaccinated kids. That leaves Nigeria where Islamic conservatives up north have been preaching against polio vaccinations for years insisting that the medicine is actually a Christian plot to poison Moslems. This polio surviving in northeastern Nigeria helped the spread of polio to Somalia and Congo and will probably spread some more before it can all be tracked down by vaccination efforts. The reappearance of polio has been found (after examining the genetic makeup of the virus) to be a combination of attenuated vaccine causing a rare reappearance plus older strains spreading because of fleeing refugees who are infected.
July 14, 2018: In Mogadishu three Al Shabaab men were killed, along with three defenders, during an unsuccessful attack on the presidential compound. The attackers used one suicide car bomber and another bomb in a stationary vehicle.
July 10, 2018: In the south, across the border in Garissa Country Kenya, al Shabaab gunmen crossed from Somalia, knocked out local communications and attacked a police base near the Dadaab Refugee Camp. The police retreated from their base after three were wounded. That attackers looted the base, taking a vehicle, equipment and supplies. Police reinforcements eventually showed up and now police are searching for any of the attackers still in Kenya. This raid took place despite increased police and army patrols along the border.
July 8, 2018: Britain has delivered 49 construction vehicles, worth over $7 million, to make it easier for the AU peacekeepers to rebuild roads and enable quicker reinforcement and resupply of peacekeepers all over the country. What the AU peacekeepers would like the most would be helicopters, both transport and gunships. Only Western nations are able to supply this sort of thing and none are willing to send troops back to Somalia. The U.S. operates helicopters and UAVs out of a base in neighboring Djibouti but these are only used for specific (as designated by the Americans) counter-terrorism operations. The UAE and Turkey, both wealthy Moslem nations providing aid to Somalia, could provide air support but have not. The Turks want to stick with training troops and providing some aid for needy Somalis. The UAE recently shut down its aid efforts in Somalia over a refusal of the Somali government to take sides (despite some generous bribes) in the feud between pro-Iran Qatar and the rest of the Gulf oil states. Turkey sides with Qatar and it appears that the Somalis in general decided that since the Turks are the more effective soldiers it was best to seek neutrality. The Turks were OK with that but the UAE was not and left. In the end the AU peacekeepers still have no air support.
July 7, 2018: In Mogadishu al Shabaab set off two bombs in the city in support of an attack on the Interior Ministry. Five people died and 21 were wounded as the attack on the ministry compound was defeated. Later in the day al Shabaab used a roadside bomb in the southeast (Lower Shabelle region) to kill a former government official. Three other people were wounded.
July 4, 2018: In the north (Galmudug, an autonomous region of Somalia just south of Puntland) clan militias clashed with the Islamic terrorists over al Shabaab efforts to recruit teenage boys as fighters. Two days of fighting left 17 dead militiamen, soldiers and Islamic terrorists. Al Shabaab has an uneasy and often violent relationship with the clans up there in an area that has little Somali government presence and no AU peacekeepers but some assistance from nearby Somali Army forces. Galmudug was formed in 2006, has a population of about 1.8 million and considers itself an autonomous region of Somalia rather than an independent state. Because of the continued presence of al Shabaab up there some pirates continue to operate out of a local port town controlled by al Shabaab. Northern Somalia had more success in shutting down the pirates but still has to cope with al Shabaab factions.
In the 1990s Puntland (2.5 million people) and Somaliland (3.5 million), which formed northernmost Somalia, declared themselves independent. Somalia was unable to do much about it but as Somalia began forming a government after 2010 it eventually established economic and diplomatic relations with the two separatist areas. In 2014 Puntland cut diplomatic relations with Somalia over a Somali plan to reunite the northern province of Mudug at the expense of Puntland. Back in the 1990s clan wars in Mudug caused the province to be divided. The northern part joined Puntland while the southern half did not. Now Somalia wanted to reunite Mudug and Puntland saw that as aggression. Somalia says it will work with the UN to do it peacefully but Puntland still sees it as a land grab. Meanwhile some of the Mudug clans in the Puntland want to join with the Mudug clans in Somalia to form a separate state and are willing to fight Puntland over the issue. At the same time Puntland is threatened by Somaliland because of territorial disputes. It is more peaceful in the far north but that is a relative term in this part of the world.
Another side-effect of the Puntland feud is that it prevents Galmudug from keeping pirates from resuming use of local ports like Hur and Hobyo which long served as a base for pirates until Galmudug shut down most pirate gangs in 2012. The pirate gangs continued to operate out of Puntland ports but these ports were more closely watched by the anti-piracy patrol. Somali pirates in general have been remarkably unsuccessful since 2012, most of them looking for other work (fishing, smuggling) or settling for small targets like foreign fishing ships.
July 2, 2018: In Mogadishu a roadside bomb went off when there were no vehicles around. One person was killed and another seven pedestrians were wounded.
July 1, 2018: AU officials met and agreed to postpone the planned start of eliminating the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia. Before this decision the Somali peacekeeping force was to be reduced by 1,000 troops by the end of 2018.
In Mogadishu al Shabaab fired three mortar shells at a peacekeeper camp near the airport but missed and hit a residential neighborhood, leaving five civilians dead. Peacekeepers quickly sent troops towards where the mortar was apparently fired from and the al Shabaab mortar team fled.
June 25, 2018: Outside Mogadishu (30 kilometers south of the city) an al Shabaab roadside bomb killed two soldiers. Further south (lower Juba) soldiers killed seven al Shabaab men. One of the dead turned out to be a foreigner (a Tanzanian). Two al Shabaab men were also captured during this operation.