Current Situation Analysis
Somalia is located in eastern Africa, bordering the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, east of Ethiopia, south of Djibouti and north of Kenya. In 1991 the Somali central government had collapsed and many years of civil war had completely destroyed a very old socio-economic fabric of the Somali nation. Somalis originating from Horn of Africa have noticeable communities in East Africa, Middle East, Europe, Australia and North America. They become a global community so do their problems. International jihadists, pirates and exodus of refugees are the realities of Somalia today and are posing a danger to the world trade and security. For the past 5 years Somalia tops the list of the failed states according to the Foreign Policy Journal yearly world assessment report.
The Political Structure
Many attempts to establish a government has failed and the international community has supported one failed Transitional administration after another, in the hope of stabilizing Somalia’s intractable crisis. The world community have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to both alleviate the unparalleled the humanitarian crisis that has devastated Somalia since 1991. In October 2004, after protracted talks in Kenya, the main warlords and politicians signed a deal to set up a new parliament, which later appointed a president. United Nation backed Transitional Federal Government TFG was formed and controls no more than a few blocks of the capital, Mogadishu, with the help of African Union troops.
Much of the rest of the country is held by insurgent groups, dominated by Al-Shabab, which wants to impose a strict version of Islamic law throughout Somalia. Al-Shabab means ”youth” in Arabic. The north-west part of Somalia unilaterally declared itself the independent Republic of Somaliland. The territory, whose independence is not recognized by international bodies, has enjoyed relative stability.
Transitional Federal Government (TFG)?
The Council on Foreign Relations – The product of two years of international mediation led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development – IGAD, the TFG is the fourteenth attempt to create a functioning government in Somalia since the end of Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime in 1991. Formed in late 2004, the TFG governed from neighboring Kenya until June 2005. Parliament did not convene on Somali soil until February 2006, when it met in a converted grain warehouse in the western city of Baidoa because security concerns kept the legislature from entering Mogadishu. Even when it did convene, the TFG lacked cohesion, which undermined its power. In July 2007, after months of delay, the TFG convened a reconciliation conference. Key parties, including moderate Islamists, were invited to the conference but chose to boycott instead. As a result, most experts deemed the conference a failure. The TFG currently governs from southern Mogadishu, where the security situation remains dire.
Because TFG members earned their posts through protracted negotiations, rather than elections, Somalia is not a democracy. That is set to change in 2009, when Somalis are scheduled to vote in the first elections in more than twenty years. Few analysts, however, anticipate the government will last until the vote. In an April 2008 report on Somalia, Africa expert John Prendergast called the TFG “feeble, faction-ridden, corrupt, and incompetent.”
One of the pressing issues today is the growth of Islamist Extremists, homegrown terrorism and suicide bombers. The “martyrdom” of an American-Somali man, Shirwa Ahmed, who blew himself up in Somalia fighting for Al-Shabaab, is an indicative of this development. Shirwa Ahmed was the first US suicide terrorist. He and a group of young men radicalized in Minneapolis have joined Al-Shabaab in Somalia and even used Facebook to reach out to other possible recruits within their social networks in Minneapolis.
Al-Shabaab meaning The Youth is one of Somalia’s Islamist groups. This group controls much of the southern region bordering Ethiopian and Kenya. However, building a modestly coherent profile of Somalia’s Islamist groups is a great challenge, because there is no primary written material on policy, ideology and organizational structure. Despite the recent frictions and divisions, they remain highly secretive. The largest and main powerful of these Islamist groups in Somalia known so far is called Al-Shabaab. As a point of clarification, and for purposes of simplicity this document refers only to Al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab grew to prominence during the rise of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) early 2006. Some of its leaders have ties to Al-Qaeda, known world terrorist organization. The United States, the European Union, and many regional governments have viewed its rise with alarm.
Today it is the most powerful single armed faction in Somalia, controlling more territory than any other group. They even control minute details of personal lives, from the way people dress and work to interactions between men and women. They attempt to forcefully homogenize Islam, zealously enforce a harsh interpretation of Sharia, and foster a general climate of fear and claustrophobia like an authoritarian administrative style, which has deeply alienated large segments of the Somali society within and outside Somalia. The punishments for even minor offenses are often summary, arbitrary, and cruel.
A climate of fear prevents most people from speaking out against abuses of power. Freedoms women took for granted in traditional Somali culture have been dramatically rolled back. In many areas, women have been barred from engaging in any activity that leads them to mix with men and in many areas, Al-Shabaab officials require women to wear a particularly untraditional heavy type of abaya, a form of Islamic dress that covers everything but the face, hands, and feet. Women who fail to do so are often arrested, publicly flogged, or both. Unfortunately, it is not only women who suffer from Al-Shabaab’s brutal attempts to enforce their edicts. Many young men are threatened by Al-Shabaab militiamen for engaging in activities like playing soccer or carrying a cell phone that contain western music, while – according to the Unicef Somalia’s Chief of Communications Mr. Denise Shepherd-Johnson who confirmed testimonies – many children and young people are brainwashed into the war and are being trained in basic arms techniques as well as more sophisticated skills such as assassination, intelligence collection and use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs); Al-Shabaab on the record introduced IEDs into Somalia. It has also introduced the use of suicide bombers, a tactic unheard of in the past. Suicide is taboo in the Somali culture, and its introduction into the country by Al-Shabaab has come as a shock to most Somalis.
The long-standing absence of authority in the country has led to Somali pirates becoming a major threat to international shipping in the area, and has prompted Nato to take the lead in an anti-piracy operation. BBC
Last year, pirates took 1,181 people hostage off the Somali coast. About half were released after the payment of ransoms, a few have died of abuse or neglect and around 760 are currently in captivity. They are usually held prisoner on their own hijacked vessels, some of which are employed as mother-ships from which the pirates stage further raids. So far this year, there have been 35 attacks, seven of them successful. In March, when the monsoon abates and the Arabian Sea grows calmer, the pace of the attacks will quicken.
The problem has worsened sharply in recent years. There were 219 attacks last year compared with 35 in 2005. Ransoms paid last year climbed to $238m, an average of $5.4m per ship, compared with $150,000 in 2005. At the end of last month Jack Lang, a former French minister who advises the UN on piracy, warned the Security Council that Somali pirates were becoming the “masters” of the Indian Ocean. He puts the economic cost of piracy at $5 billion-7 billion a year (see article). The price in human misery is unquantifiable.[i]
In 2011, the plight of the Somali people was exacerbated by the worst drought in six decades, which left millions of people on the verge of starvation and caused tens of thousands to flee to Kenya and Ethiopia in search of food.[ii]
Deprived of food long enough, the bodies of starving people break down muscle tissue to keep vital organs functioning. Diarrhea and skin rashes are common, as are fungal and other infections. As the stomach wastes away, the perception of hunger is reduced and lethargy sets in. Movement becomes immensely painful. Often it is dehydration that finally causes death, because the perception of thirst and a starving person’s ability to get water are both radically diminished.
Thousands of Somalis have already suffered this tragic end, and it is likely to kill tens of thousands more in the coming months. The famine now starving Somalia affects 3.7 million people, according to the U.N. World Food Program. Writing on his personal blog, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Edward Carr, who works on famine response, estimates that on current trends Somalia’s south could see 2,500 deaths a day by August.
For all its horror, starvation is also one of the simpler forms of mortality to prevent — it just takes food. Drought, poor roads, poverty — all are contributing factors to the risk of famine, but sustenance in the hands of the hungry is a pretty foolproof solution. As a result, famine deaths in the modern world are almost always the result of deliberate acts on the part of governing authorities. That is why widespread starvation is a crime against humanity and the leaders who abet it should be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC).[iii]
[iii] FP Link: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/07/25/famine_is_a_crime