Monday, September 5, 2011

Pearls of the Sun God, Part 1

We begin a new series looking at the situation in Somalia.

In addition to the civil war, which has been going on for two decades now, the situation in Somalia is once again complicated by drought which threatens many Somalis with starvation.

We begin with excerpts from Somalia famine: UN warns of 750,000 deaths, from September 5, 2011:

As many as 750,000 people could die as Somalia's drought worsens in the coming months, the UN has warned, declaring a famine in a new area.

The UN says tens of thousands of people have died after what is said to be East Africa's worst drought for 60 years.

Bay becomes the sixth area to be officially declared a famine zone - mostly in parts of southern Somalia controlled by the Islamist al-Shabab.

Some 12 million people across the region need food aid, the UN says.

The situation in the Bay region was worse than anything previously recorded, said senior UN's technical adviser Grainne Moloney.

"The rate of malnutrition [among children] in Bay region is 58%. This is a record rate of acute malnutrition," she told journalists in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.

This is almost double the rate at which a famine is declared.

"In total, 4 million people are in crisis in Somalia, with 750,000 people at risk of death in the coming four months in the absence of adequate response," the UN's Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) says.

Bay is in southern Somalia, part of a region that is controlled by the Al Shabaab Islamist militants that are affiliated with Al Qaeda. Its capital, Baidoa, was the national capital for a short time during the 2000's. Al Shabaab is battling the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is the internationally-recognized national government of Somalia, for control of this and other regions of Somalia.

The drought is, of course, a problem in much of East Africa, but its impact on Somalia, especially that part of Somalia controlled by Al Shabaab, is worse, because of insecurity and the attitudes of the militants.

Skipping down:

Unni Karunakara, head of medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), says al-Shabab's restrictions on aid workers mean many people in Somalia cannot be helped - and says aid agencies should be more open about this when appealing for more money.

"The grim reality of Somalia today is we are not able to get to south and central Somalia, which we consider to be the epicentre of the crisis," he told the BBC World Service.

"What is needed is a better representation of the challenges that aid agencies, including MSF, face in delivering assistance in Somalia today.

"Even if we are able to get food and supplies to the main ports of Somalia, I think there is a real challenge in being able to deliver that assistance - what I call the 'last-mile' problem."

Some officials from al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaeda, have accused Western aid groups of exaggerating the scale of the crisis for political reasons.

Somalia's TFG is having problems with Al Shabaab even in the nation's capital. We review Somalia: Govt forces clash with armed militias in Mogadishu dateed September 3, 2011 (I have made some minor edits, in [brackets], though it is still a little rough; importantly, however, we appreciate the efforts of the journalists to bring this information to a much wider audience by writing in English):

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – The forces of Somali interim federal government forces clashed [with] armed militias dressed in government military uniform[s] who have checkpoints in the war weary Mogadishu by taking illegal money from public buses.

The government forces including police and military on Saturday morning launched a security crackdown in parts of the capital in a bid to clear out all checkpoints manned [by] armed militiamen.

Local residents said heavy firefight[s] rocked parts of Wadajir district southwest of the Somali capital.

They said the two parts used both heavy and light weapons during the armed confrontation.

But, after hours of taking over the checkpoints, Somali soldiers came under counter attack from the militias, erupting fierce fighting there.

However, there have been casualties but not known so far the number of dead people and injuries.

Meanwhile, the district commissioner of Mogadishu's Wadajir told Shabelle that government forces attacked civilian people in the district, looting properties. But he declined to give further details about the casualties.

(Control of Banaadir, the region where Mogadishu is located,
as of March 13, 2010; map prepared by Kermanshahi.)

Armed men in government uniforms seem to be a significant problem in Mogadishu. We consider Armed men force 300 families to flee from IDPs camp in Mogadishu , Sepember 5, 2011:

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – Armed men dressed in Somali government military uniforms have forcedsome 300 famine displaced people to flee from IDPs [Internally Displaced Person - EL] camps in Mogadishu’s Hodan district.

Witnesses said the internationally displaced people at Tarbunka area in Mogadishu were bullied and intimidated by armed men.

The witnesses said the armed assailants also destroyed and tore down IDPs makeshift settlements and huts.

Mohamed Ali, one of the people forced to flee, told Shabelle that there are no any casualties during the incident.

Ali asked Somali government to save them from the armed men who accustomed to bother the IDPs.

The TFG is working with African Union countries to bring more peacekeepers into the country, especially to stabilize the capital. From Somalia says more peacekeepers will be deployed to Mogadishu, September 5, 2011:

MOGADISHU (Sh. M. Network) – The Somali government has said additional peacekeeping forces form some of African countries will be deployed to the horn of African nations.

Transitional Federal Government (TFG) Defense Minister Hussein Arab Isse reported that 3,000 additional peacekeepers will be deployed to Mogadishu in October, composed of troops from Djibouti and Sierra Leone.

The African Union (AU) held a technical workshop on the AU Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to identify the next steps in Somalia.

Late last month, a military spokesman Major Ken Jabbie said Sierra Leone will send a battalion of 850 soldiers to boost an African Union mission in war-torn Somalia after April next year.

Jabbie said a five-man reconaissance mission was already in Mogadishu where the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is supporting government troops who have recently fought bloody battles with the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab rebels who want to topple the administration.

On August 9 the AU made an urgent call for 3,000 more troops to secure the war-battered capital after Shebab rebels, who had controlled around half of the city, pulled out of the city claiming a change in military tactics.

The 9,000-strong mission is currently made up of troops from Uganda and Burundi.

Driving out the Al Shabaab militants is important, as they are widely perceived to be the reason why a drought has resulted in a famine that is killing thousands and threatening hundreds of thousands in Somalia. From Could Somali famine deal a fatal blow to al-Shabab? by Farouk Chothia, August 9, 2011:

Somalia's militant Islamist group al-Shabab is in crisis, as it battles to cope with the famine that is far worse in areas under its control than other parts of the country, leading to reports of splits in the leadership of the al-Qaeda-linked group.

The famine has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee the Lower Shabelle and Bakool regions in search of food.

Many are escaping to the capital, Mogadishu, where over the weekend the group made what it called a tactical withdrawal of its forces from the northern suburbs that were under its control.

Others are walking for days to reach camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia, arch-foes of al-Shabab.

"It is not a good picture for al-Shabab," says US-based Somali journalist Abdirahman Aynte, who is writing a book on the movement.

"Nearly 500,000 people have left. Al-Shabab cannot do anything about it. They have become bystanders."

He says al-Shabab - formed as the youth wing of the now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts in 2006 - had genuine support when it took power in most of south and central Somalia, as people longed for an end to the lawlessness that has gripped the country since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991.

"Even though al-Shabab had draconian laws, they were somewhat popular because of the stability they provided," says Mr Aynte.

"Government areas were not safe - even soldiers were involved in robbing and looting. In al-Shabab areas, you will have your hands amputated if you steal. It was a deterrent."

Kenya-based Somali journalist Fatuma Noor, who travelled through al-Shabab territory last year, says the famine has damaged the group's credibility.

"Al-Shabab are losing support. People are saying that the drought in the region was caused by a lack of rains, but the famine was man-made. They are asking - why has it been only in al-Shabab's areas?" Ms Noor says.

The connection between Al Shabaab and the famine is in part due to Al Shabaab's practice of extorting money from agencies that want to help. Skipping down:

"Al-Shabab has a humanitarian co-ordination office, which charges a registration fee of $4,000 to $10,000 (£2,400 to £6,000). They also charge a project fee - 20% of the overall cost of digging a borehole or setting up a feeding centre," Mr Aynte says.

The al-Shabab observer who preferred anonymity says the group's leadership is heavily divided over the food crisis - something the UN could have exploited to gain access to starving people.

Al-Shabab's southern leaders - especially Muktar Ali Robow, who comes from famine-hit Lower Shabelle, and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is seen as the elder statesman of Somali Islamists - favour accepting Western aid.

However, they were overruled by the overall leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who has led al-Shabab into forging close ties with al-Qaeda.

"Robow's people are directly affected by this famine. So he wants aid agencies to come in. But Godane is suspicious of the UN and doesn't want them in Somalia. So he blocked it," the observer says.

"Robow is now accusing Godane [who hails from the breakaway region of Somaliland] of letting people starve."

The accusations of some factions allowing people loyal to other factions to starve is helping build rivalries.

Furthermore, like any street gang in an American city, control of turf means the ability to extort money from lucrative activities going on in that turf - and Al Shabaab has recently suffered military setbacks, resulting in a loss of control of parts of Mogadishu, which Al Shabaab's leaders have spun as a maneuver rather than a battlefield loss.

Additionally, Al Shabaab's use of the charcoal industry - which cuts trees to make charcoal which is exported to the Arabian Peninsula - as a source of income may have intensified the drought, as some environmental experts claim that cutting trees contributes to reduced rainfall. Regardless, Al Shabaab's extortion of local business activities means that Al Shabaab is no longer dependent on foreign funding, though extortion of aid operations would be a nice bonus.

The fact that Al Shabaab is losing credibility may be causing people to cooperate with government and African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) forces against Al Shabaab. From an AMISOM press release entitled AMISOM finds bomb-making factory in Mogadishu, from August 15, 2011:

A large bomb-making factory has been discovered by African Union troops in northern Mogadishu. AMISOM troops yesterday uncovered a cache of bomb-making components including improvised detonators, switches for suicide vests and a considerable amount of explosives.

The find came after a two-day operation to dislodge a number of extremists who were still occupying a former steel factory located north of Wardhigley District. There was clear evidence that the site was being used as a centre for the manufacture of suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices with which extremists have targeted innocent civilians, as well as government and AMISOM troops.


Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the AMISOM Force spokesperson said,

"We owe this success to the help and support from the people of Somalia, with whom we continue to rely on for information and tip-offs. This is a serious setback to the extremists who wish to harm the civilian populace."

This is in addition to the report of Al Shabaab weapons discovered in Bakara Market from two days previously:

Somali Police and African Union troops uncovered a large store of artillery shells in a disused house yesterday in Bakara Market from where the extremist militant group has recently withdrawn. It is believed these munitions were being stockpiled for use in making improvised bombs.

After a tip-off from residents in the city the Somali police went to the shell-damaged house in the centre of Bakara Market. When African Union troops, AMISOM, were called in they discovered 137 artillery shells of 155mm calibre. The extremist group, who until recently had been fighting soldiers of the African Union and Somali government, are not known to have the artillery weapons to fire these shells.

Of course, what I find interesting is how, under Islam, a fellow Muslim is supposed to be a fellow Muslim; only infidels are categorized (Russians, English, Croats, Serbs...). Yet, the reality is that Al Shabaab uses clan affiliation as a means of dividing up Somalis, and setting them against the government - even as Al Shabaab leadership apparently allows some Al Shabaab-affiliated clans to starve while permitting others to get food.

More to follow.

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