This week, for the sixth time in a row, Somalia topped Foreign Policy's Failed States Index, reinforcing its image as "the most failed of failed states." And while it's true that the country remains fragmented, with two autonomous breakaway regions, a persistent terrorist threat from al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab fighters, and foreign-financed warlords in the wide swaths of the country beyond the sovereign control of the central government, Somalia has taken tenuous steps toward asserting self-governance in the past year. The mandate of Somalia's transitional government ended in August 2012, and since then the country has come under the control of a new government in Mogadishu, formed under the auspices of a constitution approved in 2012.
In step with these developments, the new Somali political scene is quickly acquiring the trappings of other, more functional governments -- including the country's first think tank. Established in Mogadishu in January 2013, the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS) has begun writing reports and policy papers to advise the nascent Somali government, international organizations, and other local actors. In its first six months, HIPS has provided commentary and guidance on topics as diverse as Somali refugees in Kenya, educational opportunities in Somalia, and domestic diplomatic initiatives in Kismayo and the self-declared state of Somaliland.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
It's been more than a year since Omar Hammami, an American-born jihadist in Somalia who made a name for himself with lo-fi propaganda rap productions, posted a video telling viewers he feared for his life. The threat he felt came not from the Somali government, which he had come to fight against in 2008, or from the U.S. government, which has branded him a wanted terrorist, but from his own comrades in al-Shabab, the Somali affiliate of al Qaeda.
Since then, Hammami has been hiding out in Somalia, but he's hardly kept a low profile online. He is the apparent operator of the @abumamerican Twitter account, from which he has criticized al-Shabab's leadership and communicated with journalists and terrorism analysts -- he even gave an interview for a profile by Danger Room's Spencer Ackerman. In the past week, though, his luck living on the lam has been running out.
Last Thursday, Hammami live-tweeted what he claimed was an assassination attempt in which an al-Shabab gunman shot him in the neck in a coffee shop (he quickly posted pictures of blood running down his neck and soaking his shirt). Then his hideout was assaulted by militiamen who, after a shootout, reportedly hauled Hammami before an al-Shabab tribunal. According to Hammami's account on Twitter, the tribunal released him and several members of al-Shabab's leadership issued a fatwa protecting Hammami, but others in the organization still promised to pursue him. Yesterday, as Shabab-affiliated forces closed in around the village where he remains in hiding, Hammami seemed to think he could be killed shortly:
May not find another chance to tweet but just remember what we said and what we stood for. God kept me alive to deliver the mssg 2 the umah— abu m (@abumamerican) April 29, 2013
Today he did find another chance to tweet, reporting that a militia from the Somali province of Gedo is threatening to kill him "even if they lose 100 despite defections."
The apparent end of Hammami's life on the run is certainly high drama, but it's also a rare glimpse into the divisions in al-Shabab's leadership. There have been tensions in the organization before, but "it has not, to my knowledge, resulted in such a public display of discord," wrote Katherine Zimmerman, a senior analyst for the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project, when reached by email by FP.
There seems to be bad blood between Hammami and al-Shabab's emir, Ahmed Abdi Godane, who also goes by the kunya Abu Zubayr. In Hammami's telling, he went into hiding after a fight he had with Godane over the role of foreign fighters, taxation issues, and trial procedures. "i told him every last detail in person," Hammami told Ackerman in his interview, "leading to the beginning of the oppression." As militiamen gathered last Friday to drag him to the tribunal, Hammami saw Godane's hand: "abu zubayr has gone mad," he tweeted. "he's starting a civil war."
Hammami believes the decision to pursue him has driven a wedge between Godane and his deputies. And sure enough, after he was released by the tribunal, several senior leaders -- Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the deputy emir, Hassan Dahir Aweys, a Shabab official who ran a rival militia until 2010, and Ibrahim Haji Jama Mead, a member of al-Shabab's Shura Council -- issued a fatwa protecting Hammami. "The fatwa," Zimmerman writes, "does indicate that these three have, and will continue to, position themselves on the side of protecting Hammami."
But that doesn't necessarily mean al-Shabab is headed for civil war, as Hammami suggests. "It is still not clear to me that the divisions over the treatment of Hammami and the fighters with him will result in an actual split within al Shabaab," Zimmerman writes, stressing previous tensions in the organization's senior leadership. Specifically, she cited Robow's 2010 decision to withdraw his troops from Mogadishu after rejecting Godane's strategic approach to the city, Aweys's public disagreement with Godane over whether al-Shabab should have a monopoly on jihadist groups in Somalia, and a message Mead addressed to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he expressed opposition to Godane's leadership. Despite their differences, Zimmerman points out, they've all remained stakeholders in the organization: "When these divisions surface, some are quick to assume that the group is weaker, but time and again, the group has remained united despite the divisions."
What's more, the internal fight over Hammami's fate doesn't split along what seems to be al-Shabab's largest internal fault line. That would be the fight "between the 'globalists' and the 'nationalists,'" writes Zimmerman, "those who sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Somalia for the purpose of supporting al Qaeda's vision of jihad, and those who appeared to seek an Islamic caliphate as an end-state." Both Godane and Hammami are in the globalist camp (Hammami's even rapped about it); Robow and Aweys have tended to side with nationalists.
At the end of the day, Hammami seems to be caught in the middle of these rivals' power plays. And though the debate over his fate might not tear the organization apart, his desperate tweets do shine a light on the leadership's stark divisions.
MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
It has been a particularly rough week for al-Shabab. The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist militia that has been battling for control of Somalia for the past few years has suffered three major setbacks in the course of a few days.
Just last month, prominent al-Shabab-affiliated cleric Sheikh Aboud Rogo was fingered in a leaked UN report on Somalia as a key recruiter for the group in East Africa with strong ties to al Qaeda. On the morning of Aug. 27, he was shot in his car along with several members of his family as they drove through Mombasa, Kenya.
No assailants have been identified, but crowds of thousands of Rogo's outraged supporters have taken in the streets of Mombasa to protest his death. At least one person has been reported dead so far and two churches have been vandalized by mobs, Jeune Afrique reported.
According to the U.N. report, Rogo was a key figure in the leadership of the Muslim Youth Centre (MYC) -- also known as Al-Hijra -- one of al-Shabab's main support networks in Kenya:
"The MYC relies heavily on the ideological guidance of prominent Kenyan Islamist extremists including Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a radical cleric based in Mombasa, Kenya, known associate of member of Al-Qaida East Africa and advocate of the violent overthrow of the Kenyan government. In consultation with Rogo, MYC has not only changed its name, but reorganized its membership and finances in order to permit its organization, the Pumwani Riyadha Mosque Committee (PRMC) in Nairobi, to continue funding Al Shabab."
Only a few days before Rogo's death, the U.N. Security Council announced that it was implementing targeted sanctions against Abubaker Shariff Ahmed, another Mombasa-based Kenyan national with deep links to al-Shabab. Ahmed has been in prison for over two years in Kenya for his involvement in a grenade attack on a Nairobi bus depot that killed three.
According to the Security Council resolution, Ahmed has six known aliases and is "a close associate of Aboud Rogo." Rogo's name is the only one mentioned in the Security Council resolution condemning Ahmed. Both men were placed under sanctions by the U.S. at the same time on July 5, 2012.
Also on the morning of Aug. 27, the AFP reported that African Union AMISOM troops captured the coastal al-Shabab stronghold of Marka:
"The loss of Marka, some 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, is another major blow for the insurgents, who have been on the back foot for several months."
Al-Shabab was pushed out of Mogadishu, the Somali capital, last year and has suffered number of further defeats over the past several months. However, they still maintain control of the two port cities of Barawe and Kismayo, their main stronghold.
Whether these events represent different strands of a coordinated regional crackdown on al-Shabab activities or whether the group is encountering a rather startling wave bad luck remains unclear.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
In media, timing is key to breaking news and getting recognized for original journalism. But it can also sting you, as Vogue and Condé Nast Traveler learned during the Arab Spring after publishing, respectively, a glowing profile of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad and a list of the "15 Best Places to See Right Now" that included Libya.
Today, the New York Times fell victim to the timing trap. The paper led its print edition with a story by Jeffrey Gettleman entitled "A Taste of Hope in Somalia's Battered Capital," only for a suicide bomber to attack a gathering of Somali officials this morning in Mogadishu's National Theater, killing the heads of Somalia's Olympic committee and soccer federation, among others.
Gettleman had even mentioned the National Theater in his piece (key lines in bold):
Outside, on Mogadishu's streets, the thwat-thwat-thwat hammering sound that rings out in the mornings is not the clatter of machine guns but the sound of actual hammers. Construction is going on everywhere - new hospitals, new homes, new shops, a six-story hotel and even sports bars (albeit serving cappuccino and fruit juice instead of beer). Painters are painting again, and Somali singers just held their first concert in more than two decades at the National Theater, which used to be a weapons depot and then a national toilet. Up next: a televised, countrywide talent show, essentially "Somali Idol."
Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, which had been reduced to rubble during 21 years of civil war, becoming a byword for anarchy, is making a remarkable comeback. The Shabab, the fearsome insurgents who once controlled much of the country, withdrew from the city in August and have been besieged on multiple sides by troops from the African Union, Kenya, Ethiopia and an array of local militias.
Today the theater is a scene not of cultural renaissance but of carnage:
Yet only weeks ago, when the theater was reopened, the atmosphere at the Chinese-built complex very much matched Gettleman's description:
On Twitter, some people are tweaking the Times for being a bit trigger-happy on the optimism ("NYT story on
#Somalia illustrates the danger of proclaiming peace in such
places; new violence was bound to happen," argued the Atlantic Council's Barbara Slavin), while others are simply discouraged ("Wanted so badly to believe NYT's article on Somalia today," photographer Ed Suter wrote. "Guess it was a bit premature").
The Times, for its part, has put the two stories into a dialogue of sorts on the World page.
And it's worth pointing out that Gettleman tempered his report with the sober assessment that Mogadishu "and the rest of Somalia still have a long way to go," citing a recent attack on the presidential palace in the capital as just one example.
"Who says it's just bad news coming out of Somalia?" Gettleman tweeted early this morning. Indeed, any positive news out of war-torn Somalia is welcome. In the news business, sadly, you can never pick the right day to highlight a heartwarming story.
Abdurashid Abdulle/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images
Want a play-by-play of the battles al-Shabab militants are waging today with Kenyan forces in southern Somalia and Somali troops in Mogadishu? Look no further than al-Shabab's Twitter feed, which launched yesterday with a quote from the Koran ("in the name of God, the most gracious, the most
and has since tweeted in vivid and impassioned English. The Kenya Defense Forces "envisaged a lightening invasion of
but the Blitzkrieg they'd hope for became a thorny quagmire for the
inexperienced soldiers," @HSMPress (short for
Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen) declared this morning, adding, "Military ineptitude, deteriorating economy,
social imbalance, & public ambivalence trigger a desultory face-saving
attempt by the #KDF:
FLEE!" A battle cry followed minutes later: "Despite the tragedy and loss of life &
wealth, a Mujahid does not desert the dignity to defend what he holds dearest:
The new presence on Twitter, as Wired notes, may be part of a larger rebranding effort for the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic militant group. Earlier this week, Somalia Report noted that al-Shabab had decided to change its name to Imaarah Islamiyah ("Islamic Authority"). "Al-Shabab means 'youth' but many of us, including the leaders, are very old," a spokesman for the militant group explained. Wizened but still very much with it, mind you. After all, they're on Twitter.
In truth, though, al-Shabab's Twitter account represents more of a propaganda campaign than a branding campaign. On Wednesday, Wired pointed out that "journalists, terrorism researchers and aid workers make up the lion's share of its early followers, not eager Muslim youth" (hence the value of English-language tweeting). @HSMPress serves as a counterweight to the much-publicized Twitter feed maintained by Kenyan military spokesman Maj. Emmanuel Chirchir, who has used the microblogging service to warn Somali civilians about air raids and get in the occasional jab. "Even with Al Shabaab change of name, KDF/TFG is committed in delivering the promise," Chirchir tweeted this week, in reference to the Kenyan and Somali militaries. "Reduce Al Shabaab effectiveness."
The proxy microblog battle speaks to a larger trend: Twitter, for all its pluses, is becoming a bit of a propaganda cesspool as the power of new media becomes more difficult to ignore. NATO has been tweet-sparring with two Taliban feeds for months now (a sample salvo from NATO today: "Scores of coalition killed in Kunar mortar attacks, huh? @Alemarahweb How about none killed"). The North Korean government launched a Twitter feed -- @uriminzok ("our nation") -- last year, prompting the South Korean government to threaten any of its citizens who reply or retweet @uriminzok's messages with legal action. This week, the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing on the threat posed by terrorists using social media tools such as Twitter to attract followers.
Propaganda, as the popular feeds mentioned above attest, does indeed attract followers, though one imagines not all of them are ideological sympathizers. After two days and 21 tweets, @HSMPress already has 759 followers and counting.
Abdurashid Abikar/AFP/Getty Images
In al-Shabab-controlled regions of Somalia, anything deemed un-Islamic is outlawed. This includes mustaches, the World Cup, wearing bras, and dancing at weddings. The militant Islamist group recently added something new to that list: Samosas.
How can a seemingly harmless pastry be un-Islamic? Apparently, it's the shape. Samosas are fried in a triangular shape, which al-Shabab finds to be strikingly similar to the Christian Holy Trinity. Samosas, known as sambusas in the region, are often enjoyed to break the fast during Ramadan. But now, those caught selling, cooking or eating sambusas could face harsh punishment -- if history is any guide. The militant group follows a strict interpretation of Islam, enforcing their moral rulings to the utmost degree. In 2009, al-Shabab gunmen went village to village, rounding up women who were found wearing bras. Traditionally moderate Muslim Somalis were horrified as the women were beaten, their bras forcibly removed, and then told to publicly shake their chests for the men. Al-Shabab's justification for the public humiliation was that the bras promoted deception, a breach of Islam.
Last year, radio stations were shut down for playing music. Men and women who are not related can no longer shake hands, or even speak to one another in public. Women who are found working in public places face execution in some cases. Women and young girls alike have been arrested and flogged for not wearing hijabs. Watching soccer in general has been outlawed, but al-Shabab took a particular disliking to the World Cup since Somali boys and men were watching soccer instead of joining the group's jihad against the government. Cinemas no longer show the matches after numerous theaters were attacked with grenades.
It seems anything remotely enjoyable (and triangular) is prohibited, and now, al-Shabab's control has struck at the core of human survival. As Somalia starves to death, the militant group bans a staple food in East African culture as it is too "Christian." Humanitarian aid from Western organizations has been mostly outlawed, with UN famine reports called "sheer propaganda". Al-Shabab's outlandish rulings may cost millions of lives.
_ubik_ via Flickr Creative Commons
As the almost entirely unreported humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa grows -- with the number of people in need of food aid expected to rise to an estimated 10 million in the coming weeks -- one interesting development has been the reversal by al Shabab (the militant Islamist group tied to al Qaeda) to allow aid workers into areas of Somalia under its control. Today, the U.N. World Food Program indicated it might take the group up on its offer.
"We're assisting thousands of Somali refugees ... but if we need to enter south Somalia, we need to work with al-Shabab," a spokesperson told Al Jazeera. The aid organization had to pull out of al Shabab-controlled areas last year after security risks proved too severe.
Al Shabab controls most of the country and about half of the war-torn capital, Mogadishu, but it has avoided trying to govern its territories and provide social services, experts say, choosing to remain a purely military force. The group has a complicated history with Western aid organizations. In the past, segments of al Shabab worked with aid groups -- even helping to retrieve kidnapped aid workers. (That said, they've also kidnapped foreigners.) That changed about three years ago as the terrorist group moved closer to al Qaeda and came to see Western aid as politically motivated and anti-Muslim. They've called U.N. and other international aid staffers spies and said they were legitimate targets. Among other ludicrous assertions, they've said food aid was a plot to drive Somali farmers out of business.
They declared war on the U.N. and Western NGOs, according to the New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson, and killed 42 aid workers in 2008 and 2009. As a result the World Food Program ceased its operations there in January, 2010.
So, what's behind al Shabab's reversal? For starters, it is a testament to the overwhelming scale of the humanitarian disaster -- the worst the country has seen in over 20 years.
One unnamed aid worker in the region told the BBC: "You know things are desperate when even al Shabab is forced to appeal for help. They are a deeply unpalatable lot but we have to work with them if we are to save lives."
For al Shabab, there is also a degree of embarrassment at play. Many refugees are coming from areas they control like southern Somalia (and are either finding their way to other parts of the country, or are leaving to camps in Ethiopia or Kenya). Many say the lack of aid forced them to flee.
In the past, al Shabab defectors have cited the banning of food aid and other cruel practices against people in their areas as reasons for leaving the group. But this crisis surpasses anything in recent memory. Even al Shabab can't ignore it.
The death of 50 percent of Somalia's camels poses a grave question: If camels can't survive, what can? Eastern Africa's drought is proving to be a death sentence for an animal that can normally survive weeks without water. In some areas, over 80 percent of livestock have perished, forcing families to abandon their homes and relocate in overcrowded refugee camps. Ahmed Mohammad, a Somali camel herdsman, told BBC:
"It is a terrible sign when camels start dying because when they start to die, then what chance have sheep, goats and cattle?"
Around two-thirds of Somalia's population depend on their livestock for survival, especially in drought-stricken northern Kenya, Somalia and southern Ethiopia where the majority of people are pastoralists. Without camels, families not only lose milk and meat, but also purchasing power. Oxfam reports that the value of Somali camels has been slashed in half -- many nomadic herders are watching as their livelihood dies off, one by one.
Government buy-back programs have been deemed ineffective by many locals and critics. One program in nothern Kenya only offered compensation for goats and sheep, disregarding the herds of cattle that provide the majority of income for families. Save the Children's Kenya county director, Prasant Naik, noted the significance of the dying camels, saying:
"Pastoralists are used to coping with occasional droughts and dry seasons, but these successive droughts have pushed their resiliency to the limit."
As drought continues to ravage Eastern Africa, livestock have begun to migrate in search of water -- and with mass migration comes widespread crop and pasture destruction. For the first time in nearly twenty years, aid agencies are expected to make a formal declaration of famine. But for now, the Somali government is advising starving families to eat leaves in order to stay alive.
TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images
After you read through enough of these WikiLeaks cables, you realize that most of it is fairly mundane. And then you stumble on a line like this: Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid: "The Somalia job was fantastic."
The Somalia job?
The month is January 2007, and U.S. airstrikes have just taken out alleged al Qaeda leaders in Somalia. Days earlier, an American-backed Ethiopian invasion of the East African country rolled into Mogadishu and unseated Somalia's government -- the first functioning (if still flawed) one it had had in two decades. The job would later go a bit sour: Today, the central government controls just about a third of the land in the capital. The rest is in the hands of one of several Islamist militant groups that sprang from the extremes of that once-ousted government. Yes, the one ousted by the Somalia job.
But back to the cable: the point here might be more about the weapon than the target. During the conversation, Zayed makes clear that he wants to acquire predator drones as a signal to Iran: "Iran has to know that there is a price to pay for every decision they make. They are expanding day by day -- they have to be dealt with before they do something tragic."
I wonder if they'll finally get what they asked for in the $7 billion U.S. arms deal anticipated to land in the UAE next year?
The good news is, Somali pirates have been ousted from one of their main strongholds. The bad news is, they were ousted by al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants:
Dozens of fighters from theHizbul Islam group rolled into Haradhere on Sunday. Pirates piled their big screen TVs into the luxury cars they had bought with ransom payments and drove off, avoiding a clash. At least four hijacked ships anchored near Haradhere moved toward Hobyo, another pirate den, said Haradhere resident Osman Gure.
The head of operations for Hizbul Islam, Sheik Mohamed Abdi Aros, told The Associated Press his fighters have not come across any hostages yet but if that they did the militants would release them along with any hijacked ships. Pirates hold more than 300 hostages taken from ships attacked off East Africa the last several months.
"Hizbul Islam came here to installin this region and fight piracy, which we consider un-Islamic," Aros said by phone. "We hope to curb the dirty business."
John McCreary, or rather one of his readers, comments:
Feedback from one well informed and brilliant Reader noted that the price for ending piracy might be the conversion of Somalia into a haven for international terrorism, in lieu of piracy.
On the other hand, some analysts also suggest that it wouldn't be too surprising if Hizbul Islam managed to come to some sort of working arrangement with the pirates down the road, à la the Afghan Taliban and the opium trade. Piracy is big business on the Somali coast, and after all, most of its targets are Western businesses.
Until recently counter-terrorism officials weren't worried about jihadi pundits having much of an influence in the United States itself, where they believed that a higher degree of Muslim-American assimiliation, social mobility and economic well-being would act against such influences. It turns out however, that this isn't always the case.
In an article in New York Times Magazine, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Andrea Eliot profiles the captivating transformation of an all-American boy from Alabama, Omar Hammami, who is now fighting with Al Shabaab in Somalia.
Despite the name he acquired from his father, an immigrant from Syria, Hammami was every bit as Alabaman as his mother, a warm, plain-spoken woman who sprinkles her conversation with blandishments like "sugar" and "darlin'." Brought up a Southern Baptist, Omar went to Bible camp as a boy and sang "Away in a Manger" on Christmas Eve. As a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo. In the thick of his adolescence, he was fearless, raucously funny, rebellious, contrarian. "It felt cool just to be with him," his best friend at the time, Trey Gunter, said recently. "You knew he was going to be a leader."
A decade later, Hammami has fulfilled that promise in the most unimaginable way. Some 8,500 miles from Alabama, on the eastern edge of Africa, he has become a key figure in one of the world's most ruthless Islamist insurgencies. That guerrilla army, known as the Shabab, is fighting to overthrow the fragile American-backed Somali government. The rebels are known for beheading political enemies, chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning women accused of adultery. With help from Al Qaeda, they have managed to turn Somalia into an ever more popular destination for jihadis from around the world.
And there are some downright chilling portions of the article:
In a recent propaganda video viewed by thousands on YouTube, he is shown leading a platoon of gun-toting rebels as a soundtrack of jihadi rap plays in the background.
He is identified by his nom de guerre, Abu Mansoor Al-Amriki, "the American," and speaks to the camera with a cool, almost eerie confidence. "We're waiting for the enemy to come," Hammami whispers, a smile crossing his face. Later he vows, "We're going to kill all of them."
Getting native-born Americans to join the jihadist cause is a coup for groups like al Qaeda or al Shabaab. An American jihadi can increase a group's legitimacy, add appeal to radicalizing youth in Western countries and can teach foreign jihadis about American culture. Having an American passport also allows for freer travel.
Although Omar Hammami isn't the first American to reach the higher echelons of a radical Islamic organization (California native Adam Gadahn is a top spokesman for al Qaeda), Eliot's article is a uniquely in-depth look into the details of such a metamorphosis. It's definitely worth a full read.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Recent U.S. military activity in Somalia is causing ripples throughout
the African community. AFP is reporting that Monday's closing of the
American embassy in Pretoria, South Africa was due to threats from an al-Qaeda
splinter group seeking revenge for Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan's death last week in Somalia.
Last week's raid in Somalia signifies a shift in US policy toward the region, and may be linked to the increasing militarization of AFRICOM since its inception in 2007. Officials continue to argue its role is as a "force for peace." However, the perception by others is increasing negative. Recently, the American National Conference on Black Lawyers petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder to dismantle the operation in an open letter blasting AFRICOM as:
"A military command that is designed to facilitate warfare. In the context of African politics, the mere presence of AFRICOM will be perceived as an act of aggression that will decrease, not increase, the likelihood of peaceful resolution of conflicts."
The embassy threat could be the beginnings of increased hostility toward U.S. interests in southern Africa, opening up a new counter-terrorism arena rather than pre-empting one.
As FP's coverage of Honduras shows, D.C. lobbyists are open to nearly anyone if the price is right. But for those with less cash, Independent Diplomat (ID), a non-profit organization, lobbies with a mission. With a team of experienced former diplomats, its stated purpose is lobbying on behalf of those without diplomatic representation with a goal of reducing conflict.
"Very often government or international officials will refuse to talk to our clients, or if they talk to them they're reluctant to givethem the information they need," said Nicholas Whyte, who heads the Brussels office of the nonprofit group.
"And from our clients' side, they are often inexperienced in dealing with international bureaucracies precisely because nobody talks to them,"said Whyte, an Irish international affairs expert.
According to the AP, Independent Diplomat's annual budget is $1.8 million, funded partly by foundations and partly by client fees--which depend on ability to pay.
Because the United States makes it fairly easy to look up lobbying records, especially for foreign entities, I checked out exactly how much ID is making from its U.S. operations.
According to lobbying disclosure forms, ID's most recent client, registered July 20, is the Government of the Southern Sudan. The contract between the two agrees that the fee to ID will be $294,000 for a maximum of 100 days work. This amount would be high for one contract, even for the standards of, say, Saudi Arabia ($150,000/quarter), but this is where the sliding scale applies. The contract states:
The Parties agree that the Client is not in a position itself to fully fund the Fee and the Expenses payable pursuant to this Agreement but as a contribution to that Fee and the Expenses will pay ID USD $10,000 at a time... to be determine by the parties. As to the remaining amount...the Client agrees that ID and the Client will seek project funding from external sources.
Any donors out there want to pick up this tab? It's a drop in the bucket compared to the $530,000 the official Sudanese government shelled out in 2005.
As for ID's other clients, it appear that Northern Cyprus is paying its full bill of £104,000 ($176,945) and the Burmese exiles have already payed half of their $100,000 year-long fee. Somaliland and Western Sahara, however, are paying only ID's expenses--and it promises to only travel economy class.
In 2008, Al-Jazeera English did a short documentary on Independent Diplomat, and its founder, Carne Ross, who quit the British foreign service over differences on Iraq. Viewable below.
H/T: David Axe
We want to be different from other African countries. We want to show the world that the money given to us will be going to where they want it, to be used in a transparent way.
An attack on Algerian police by the militant group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) was the latest in a wave of violence in North Africa this week. It followed two major incidents in Somalia.
On June 17, Mogadishu's police chief was among those killed in heavy fighting between hardline Islamic militia and pro-government forces in the city. The following day, the Somali security minister was killed along with at least 22 others in a car bombing of a hotel in Beledweyne, north of Mogadishu. The last month has seen a push in Mogadishu by anti-government forces like the man pictured above.
Interestingly, while Somalia's rebels, including some hardline Islamists have often downplayed alleged Al Qaeda connections and told Osama bin Laden to stay out of their business, AQIM in Algeria was formed from extremist remnants from the country's civil war in the 1990s and explicitly joined Al Qaeda in 2006, showing their allegiance with the name change.
MUSTAFA ABDI/AFP/Getty Images
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees has announced that the number of internally displaced has reached the highest level ever, thanks to the intensifying of several recent conflicts:
The number of people internally displaced within their own countries has reached a historical high of more than 28 million, the UN's refugee agency said today, as conflicts in Pakistan's Swat valley and Sri Lanka compound a growing global problem.
At the end of last year the total number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution around the world stood at 42 million, including 16 million refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million people uprooted within their own countries, according to UNHCR's annual Global Trends report, which was released this afternoon.
But since the end of last year there has been an exodus of more than 2 million from the Swat valley, which has become a battleground between the Taliban and the Pakistani army.
More than 300,000 refugees are being held in internment camps in Sri Lanka, victims of the conflict between government soldiers and the Tamil Tigers, and 130,000 people have been displaced by fighting in the Somalian capital, Mogadishu.
The full report can be found on UNHCR's website. Not surprisingly, Iraq (2.6 million) and Sudan (over 2 million) had some of the largest internally displaced populations, but the largest population is in fact still Colombia, due to the decades-long war between the government and the FARC. Similarly tragic is the number of refugees from the most recent major conflicts: Iraq and Afghanistan account for "almost half of all refugees under UNHCR’s responsibility worldwide," with Afghan refugees in an astonishing 69 countries worldwide.
FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images
Sen. Russell Feingold sent an interesting letter to Barack Obama about Somalia yesterday, cc-ing Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and Dennis Blair. The senator, a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, urged the U.S. president to engage Somalia, but carefully: work with the Somali government; improve support for the country's internal security apparatus. No quick fixes here:
[There is an] essential need to develop a comprehensive interagency strategy to stabilize Somalia and support effective governance. With the strategic review now underway, I reiterate my belief that expanded U.S. support for the new unity government must be a central component of that strategy. Furthermore, we must seize the opening that lies before us by publicly declaring our commitment to high-level, sustained engagement that could help Somalia overcome the many challenges to peace and stability."
Feingold proposes stronger U.S. engagement with the Somali government -- not only to stamp out piracy but to "establish security and functional, inclusive governance within the country." Obama, he suggests, should start by calling Somali President Sheikh Sharif.
Most interesting of all, though, is Feingold's reference to the last time that piracy was notably halted in Somalia -- under the Islamic Courts Union in 2006. That regime, later ousted by Ethiopian troops (with U.S. support...) brought the only calm to the seas that the country has seen in recent years.
The ultimate solution to the problem of piracy, then, is the establishment of a functional government that can enforce the rule of law. During the rule of the Council of Islamic Courts in 2006, there was a notable decline in piracy that can be attributed, in large part, to the rise of a central authority in southern Somalia.
Without replicating the repressive rule of the Courts, we must keep in mind that establishing a central governing structure in Somalia is critical to resolving, not just stopping, the problem of piracy."
Now that's an idea, unlike airstrikes, that I feel militantly supportive of.
The International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce, keeps up-to-the minute maps of global piracy, with linked data on the attacks. It's definitely worth checking out.
Above, the purple tags denote "suspicious vessels," the yellow "attempted attacks," and the red "actual attacks."
Parsing the data, I counted that of 45 attempted attacks in the Gulf of Aden, 7 succeeded; in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, of 31 attempts, 11 succeeded. This implies a pirate strike's more likely in the Gulf, and more likely to succeed in open waters.
Peter Pham takes a closer look at the technicalities of pirate attacks, and stopping them, today on FP's website.
(Hat tip: Global Dashboard)
In my five pirate predictions yesterday, I wondered if the pirates would become more audacious and brazen, or if they would humble at their recent defeat at the hands of the U.S. Navy. This morning, I seem to have my answer:
Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed five bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the waterway at the center of the world's fight against piracy.
A greek ship and two Egyptian fishing vessels are now added to the handful of ships and 260 hostages the the Somali pirates claim on the coast. True to form, the hijackers adapted their tactics in defiance of the international naval patrols, this time striking at night.
Also yesterday, I worried about an escalation on the part of the world's navies -- moving from naval patrolling into all out battle. Now it appears that escalation is coming from both sides.
If this attack is indeed in retaliation against the Americans, the world might be entering into a whole new kind of asymmetric warfare. Stay tuned on FP today.
The U.S. military is considering attacks on pirate bases on land and aid for the Somali people to help stem ship hijackings off Africa’s east coast, defense officials said.
Does the United States know what they're getting into? Piracy experts have long suggested that the root of the problem is indeed on land. But air strikes on Somali bases would be dangerously close to a U.S. military operation in Somalia -- the kind that the country has avoided since Blackhawk down in 1994.
Let's think hypothetically about what might happen if strikes go ahead. U.S. onland intervention will surely anger al Shabaab, the Islamist militant wing that controls an alarming percentage of Somali territory and is the biggest single threat to Somali stability. Already, the Somali government is struggling to convince the country that its relatively pro-Western stance is for the greater good. That argument will lose all weight if and when the U.S. starts airstrikes. Forget about the government's effectiveness, and forget about any hopes that al Shabaab will disarm. This would fuel the fire. No, we shouldn't kneel to the demands of al Shabaab, but nor should we ignore that their ire will be taken out on the already dilapidated Somali population.
Talk about an escalation.
To be fair, the rumored U.S. plans includes the creation of a Somali coast guard, and support for the Somali government. U.S. Congressman Donald Payne, long a Somalia pragmatist, made a daring visit to Mogadishu today to talk about how the U.S. can help the Somalis fight piracy. But the fact that his plane was shot at only proves how difficult a situation we are walking into.
If we have learned anything about Somali over the last two decades, surely it is that military escalation (this one included) will inevitably breed more chaos. And if we have learned anything about the pirates, it is that chaos on land breeds impunity at sea.
Photo: MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images
Mike Allen of Politico's Playbook fame seconds our idea of renaming the pirates. "Pirates go from curiosity to crisis for 1600 and the Pentagon," his headline screamed, the suggestion of renaming them "maritime terrorists" within.
Matt Yglesias criticizes the letter of the suggestion, if not the spirit, with the rather unimpeachable logic that pirates are...pirates.
The point I made last week -- that calling pirates "pirates" allows for a certain romanticization and fueled a media frenzy which too often overlooked the realities of the situation and the circumstance of failed-state Somalia -- thankfully seems passe.
This weekend's rescue, which involved U.S. naval warships, millions of dollars, and pirate and civilian deaths, spurred an examination of the why and how behind the pirates. The sheen's worn off. They're criminals and a security concern. They redouble Somalia's problems.
Or, as someone will inevitably put it somewhere on the internet: pirates totally jumped the shark.
The Guardian reports on a skirmish between French troops and a band of Somali pirates with a hijacked yacht -- one of 18 vessels currently seized, along with more than 250 hostages. The French ultimately recaptured the ship; sadly, one hostage died during the rescue.
The article says the yacht's sailors were repeatedly warned not to pass through the area.
French officials have privately expressed exasperation at the determination of the Tanit's crew...to persist with their expedition to east Africa despite the parlous security situation in the region.
The American captain of the Maersk Alabama remains a hostage in another flotilla, though the United States has sent in rapporteurs and helicopters.
It's a sorry, sorry state of affairs. And it suggests two things to me.
First, pirate exhaustion looms. (Though we've tested the limits on this blog, and found them boundlessly wide.) At one point, the pirates seemed a welcome distraction. Not so much any more -- people are dying, Somalia is a failed state. Second, as others have suggested, we should stop calling them pirates and start calling them something like "maritime terrorists," to end any remaining romanticization.
The United States is scrambling this morning to save a hostaged captain from Somali pirates -- calling in back up that includes FBI hostage negotiators, more warships, and just about every high-profile military and diplomatic figure who will reassure the American press. The drama is being scrupulously reported elsewhere (most recent update: the pirates want booty), so I'll save you the repetition.
I'm interested in a different question: Just how exactly have pirates managed to out-scramble the world's top navy? If neither the U.S. Navy, nor the EU, NATO, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indian vessels were able to spot this pirate attacker coming on the vast seas... how do the Somali pirates find the ships they hijack? In theory, the sea is equally vast and equally sparsely populated on both sides of the looking glass.
One interesting theory comes from NightWatch:
Several commentators highlighted the changed tactics by which some Somali pirate groups manage to seize ships far from the coast. What they do not provide is the hypothesis that this proves the existence of a well organized criminal syndicate with modern communications that link pirates to agents in port authorities from
Kenyato the Suez Canal. The business is too big and rich to fail simply because modern frigates are present.
It makes good sense. Why? Pirates have money and they can pay for tips. Port authorities, particularly in Kenya, are likely paid irregularly and poorly (particularly in comparison to pirate rates). The pirates have also shown that they are willing and able to infiltrate government authorities -- as they often do in their home in Puntland, Somalia.
No good news there. Cracking down on internal corruption among port authorities would be about as easy as, say, stopping a piracy epidemic in the Gulf of Aden.
Photo: U.S. Navy
Writing for Foreign Policy's Axis of Upheaval, Jeffrey Gettleman refers to the "ethereal pan-Somali dream": a long-held national desire to grab back Somali-speaking territory in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Djibouti. "Pursuit of that goal would internationalize the conflict and surely drag in neighboring countries and their allies," Gettleman warns.
Many fear that the Islamist militia Shabaab, which control an increasingly vast territory in Somalia, might try to live the dream. Today is a very good example of how bad that could turn out. The BBC reported this morning that clashes between a local ethnic group and a Somali one in Ethiopia left 300 dead and as many as 100,000 fleeing the site.
This flare-up is just one of Ethiopia's trouble spots -- in fact, it's not even the worst. Miles to the East, an ongoing Somali insurgency by the rebel group Ogaden National Liberation Front has been brutal on both sides. Somalia and Ethiopia have fought civil wars over the territory, and today Ethiopia holds on to it dearly. The State Department's recently released Human Rights report for Ethiopia, for example, describes a campaign to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching civilians in the insurgent region.
Ethiopia is intent on crushing pan-Somali ambitions on its territory -- part of their motivation, in fact, for invading Somalia in 2006. Worries over the Ogaden insurgency in particular provided a convenient historical grievance. So in case you needed further reason for concern, clashes today are a mere taste of what could follow if Somalia -- a linchpin in the Axis of Upheaval -- goes regional.
Over a month since the United States launched its own counter-piracy effort, details of the operations are emerging. The U.S. coalition is deploying technological and legal creativity to get the job done.
The first tactic: drones. After a report surfaced last week that U.S. unmanned aircraft vehicles were watching the Somali skies, I wrote to Navy Lt. Nate Christensen, who replied: "I can confirm that UAVs are being used aboard U.S. Navy ships to conduct counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. They bring the ability to stay airborne for long periods and cover hundreds of square miles of ocean during the course of one mission." The resulting intelligence is shared among allies. A good start to tackling the surveillance conundrum of patrolling miles and miles of high seas.
Perhaps even more interesting, the U.S. is now detaining and holding pirates -- there are 16 in custody now. As Derek Reveron pointed out in "Think Again: Pirates," that's no small feat. Most countries have been nervous about touching the pirates, let alone keeping them in custody. Britain, for example, instructed its patrols not to pick up any of them. There is no mandated court to try the offenders, and many fear that amnesty requests would be the result of naval arrest. No such fears plague the U.S. Navy, apparently. "They will remain aboard Lewis and Clark until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated and a decision is made regarding their further transfer," reads a military press release.
Good effort, team, but it looks like the pirates haven't lost their edge yet. A coal carrier was taken hostage today, just one of the 24 attacks so far in 2009. (Navies have stopped nine others). At that rate, this year would bring in about 100 less attacks than last. Alas!
Photo: U.S. Navy
"Predictable" is pretty much the last adjective I would pick for Somalia. But here's something that we might have seen coming: after pulling out last month, witnesses now report that Ethiopian troops are back in Somalia.
When it comes to Somalia, Ethiopia just can't seem to get enough. The countries have fought border wars for decades. In 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union government took control of Somalia, Ethiopian troops started slipping over the border -- much as they are reported to have done today. A few months later, they invaded. So though the troops are out again, have no illusions that Ethiopia will yield its Somali influence so quickly.
That should make things nice and awkward in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, where Somalia's newly elected President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed got a standing ovation at the African Union conference. You see, Ethiopia ousted Ahmed, who was president back in 2006.
Now, Ahmed has promised to reconcile with his neighbors. But he'll have to do the opposite to win respect for his government in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are reviled as occupiers. Al Shabaab, (shown above) the Islamist radical group that Ahmed will need desperately to rein in, has more than once vowed to wage jihad on Addis Ababa. Here's where it gets unpredictable.
ABDIRASHID ABDULLE/AFP/Getty Images
Just a day after Ethiopian troops left Mogadishu, the Islamic Courts Union government they ousted had already retaken abandoned checkpoint posts. This morning, Islamic insurgents fired on the Presidential palace. Various insurgent groups now control all but a few bits and pieces of the country. Amid all this chaos, the transitional government who is supposedly in charge is bickering its way into irrelevance.
Ethiopian troops have held together a violent status quo for the last two years. You can't help ask the question: now as they go, what on earth is going to happen? I've written my own pessimistic prediction. So here's the unlikely upside, an idea I owe to conversations with analysts over the last few months.
In many ways, Ethiopia's presence has made Somalia worse, not better. Before the 2006 invasion, the Islamic Courts Union had some measure of control over the country. Yes, there were some unsavory characters in the government, but the moderates arguably had the upper hand.
No longer. When Ethiopia came in, sensible moderates stepped off the political stage, hoping to positions themselves well for any future transitional governments. The armed youth movement al Shabab was not so cautious and took the opportunity to impose "order" at the point of a gun all over the country. Nothing emboldens a well-armed insurgency like fighting an unpopular occupying enemy.
As Ethiopia leaves, the insurgency will lose its common enemy. Its popularity and very integrity might fracture. If al Shabab is anything like rebel groups I've reported on, their internal wars are as dramatic as their external street fighting. They often bring themselves down without any help at all. And when an official terrorist organization disintegrates, that's usually a good thing.
This scenario is what many -- particularly in the international community -- are likely praying for. But if it does go that way, there will be a long and violent intermediary period of disintegration. Well armed as al Shabab and all its factions are, they're not likely to go down before all their rounds are fired.
The temptation will be for the international community to step in, freezing the disintegration mid-way in order to save civilian lives -- not to mention combat lawless piracy on the seas. The United States has already circulated a UN Security Council resolution draft that hopes to do just that, boosting the African Union peacekeeping force to maintain the status quo. That's either a very good idea (to save lives) or a very costly way of delaying the inevitable (Somalia's various factions fighting it out). I'll leave that for you to judge.
ABDURASHID ABUKAR/AFP/Getty Images
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