In Episode 122 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the ongoing conflict in Somalia in light of both climate change and Great Power politics. Despite a pseudo-withdrawal of US forces, the Pentagon continues drone strikes against the Shaabab insurgents—as the Horn of Africa faces it worst drought in a generation, with millions on the brink of extreme hunger and possible starvation. A paradox of the situation is that "government-controlled" Somalia (the southern third of the country) is not controlled by any government, but wracked by insurgency. In contrast, the unrecognized de facto independent state of Somaliland in the north is a bastion of comparative stability and even social progress. Reports of Russian designs on Somaliland as a potential site for a naval base threaten to draw it into the imperial contest for control of the strategic Horn. Progressives in the West can demand international recognition for an independent and non-aligned Somaliland. We can also loan solidarity to the Sufi resistance now fighting both the Shaabab and the "recognized" Mogadishu quasi-government. Most importantly, we can support the secular and pro-democratic voices of civil society that are standing up for human rights and basic freedoms at great risk to themselves, and in spite of everything. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The United Arab Emirates announced April 16 that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Ostensibly the move comes in response to the seizure of millions of dollars from a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week. But tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law."
The unrecognized but de facto independent republic of Somaliland made rare headlines when its parliament on Jan. 8 voted to instate criminal penalties for rape—which was actually a groundbreaking move in the region. Forty-six of the 51 MPs present in the lower house approved the law, which must now go through the upper house before being signed by the president. Convicted rapists may now face 30 years in prison. (AFP) Until now, a victim's family would often force her to marry her rapist to avoid being "shamed." Once again, the stable, secular and unrecognized government of Somaliland outpaces in social progress the unstable, reactionary and basically fictional "official" government of Somalia. As BBC News sadly notes, "There is still no law against rape in Somalia."
The March 13 seizure of an oil tanker en route from Djibouti to Mogadishu—the first such incident since 2012—enflamed global fears of a resurgence of piracy off the coast of Somalia. But the tanker and its Sri Lankan crew were released without ransom or any other conditions March 16—hours after brief a gun battle between the captors and the marine force of Somalia's autonomous region of Puntland, followed by intensive negotiations brokered by local clan elders. International media reports referred to the captors as "pirates," whereas local media in Somalia called them "fishermen." In an interview with Puntland's Radio Garowe via phone to the fishing village of Alula, one hijacker said: "We are fishermen in Alula town, our livelihood destroyed by the illegal trawlers and chemical waste dumping. We were fishing and then we saw the vessel spilling waste in the sea, which reached our coast... We are not pirates as reported by the media. We are protecting our territorial waters from the international ships dumping the toxic and chemical wastes on our coast."
Somalia has made a $1 million donation to the drought-hit breakaway northwestern region of Somaliland, ahead of controversial talks between the two sides later this month to clarify their future relations. Mogadishu, far from one of the world's flushest governments, has been quick to point out the donation was not designed to influence the talks in Turkey due on May 31. It is "not meant to gain any political sympathies, but it is brotherly responsibility to help each other in these difficult times," said Somalia's deputy prime minister, Mohamed Omar Arteh.
Two weeks after a tropical cyclone struck the northeast coast of Somalia, killing more than 100 people and thousands of head of livestock, important infrastructure lies in ruins and fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases are mounting. The storm struck the autonomous region of Puntland from Nov. 8. "For four days, the cyclone brought heavy rainfall, icy winds, flash floods, and mudslides. Roads, houses, mosques, schools and farms were destroyed. Fishing boats sank. Water sources were damaged," according to Adeso, a humanitarian and development agency.
Twelve men charged with the murder of a prominent Islamic scholar, including Shabaab's purported leader, were sentenced to death after a court found them guilty in Bosaso, commercial capital of Somalia's autonomous enclave of Puntland. The Puntland North Eastern regional Military Court sentenced the 12, including Shabab chief Ahmed Abdi Godane, to death by firing squad. Under Puntland law, all terrorism cases are held at military courts. Sheikh Ahmed Haji Abdirahman, a cleric, professor and doctor, was shot dead as he was leaving a mosque near his home in Bosaso in December 2011. The killing sparked an international outcry from the Somali diaspora around the world. The deceased Sheikh Abdirahman's friend and colleague Sheikh Abdiqadir Nur Farah—who spoke out against Shabab after Abdirahman was killed—was recently killed in Puntland's political capital Garowe while praying at a mosque. (Garowe Online , Feb. 27 via All Africa)
A string of bombings rocked Somalia's port of Kismayo Oct. 3, killing two civilians and injuring many more—five days after the city was taken from al-Shabaab rebels by a combined force of African Union and Somali government troops. The taking of the city followed a two-month siege, culminating in a Kenyan-led amphibious assault, dubbed Operation Sledgehammer. Al-Shabaab leader Abdiaziz Abu Musab stated that his agents had carried out the bombings, boasting that they would continue their fight "until doomsday." He called the withdrawal from Kismayo a "tactical retreat." Kismayo was the last city controlled by al-Shaabaab, but the group and allied Islamist militias still control a broad swath of Somalia's south. The official government has achieved a shaky control over Mogadishu, but the rest of the country (outside the autonomous Somaliland and Puntland regions in the north) is controlled by local militia—some backed by Kenyan or Ethiopian forces, some nominally loyal to the government, and more aligned with al-Shabaab. (Mareeg, Garowe Online, Oct. 3; PRI, Sept. 26)