There is no indication of any immediate improvement in the political situation in Somalia. The new government has not been able to strengthen its position after former Islamist opposition became part of it. Severe guerrilla and terrorist attacks from ultra-radical groups characterize the picture in the south, while the situation is more stable in the independent areas in the north.
Nothing new from the Somalia front
One may be tempted to resort to a rewrite of the title of Erich Maria Remarque’s main work to describe the last couple of years in Somalia. The armed resistance of radical Islamist groups against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG ) and their Ethiopian allies, which began in spring 2007, continues unabated. The fact that a former front figure in the UIC (Union of Islamic Courts) has become president has not helped stifle the more radical Islamists. President Shekh Ahmed Shekh Sharif was elected by the enlarged parliament in January 2009 and represented the so-called Djibouti faction of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia(ARS). ARS was founded by former UIC leaders in September 2007 in Asmara, the capital of Ethiopia’s hereditary enemy Eritrea.
Sharif’s predecessor, Abdullahi Yusuf, had in October 2008 dismissed his second prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein “Adde,” who, like the UN, had supported the peace talks with the ARS. However, the parliament forced Yusuf himself to step down, and in January 2009, at about the same time as the last Ethiopian soldiers returned home, 149 ARS members were sworn into parliament. The new president immediately took over and appointed Canadian Somalian Omar Abdirashid Ali Shermarke as new prime minister. However, Shermarke resigned from the position in September 2010.
The other former prominent figure in the UIC, Hassan Dahir Aweys, and his supporters, however, continue their uncompromising opposition to the TFG regime and the African peacekeeping force UNISOM located in the capital Mogadishu on behalf of the African Union. Aweys is regarded as the de facto leader of the very militant Islamist organization Hizbul Islam, which was supposed to have been founded by a Swedish Somali.
Like the more well-known al-Shebaab militia, which in its time emerged as a kind of military subgroup of the UIC, Hizbul Islam follows a Wahhabi- inspired Islamic ideology. Several of al-Shebaab ‘s leaders are veterans of the Afghanistan war, and they openly recruit foreign activists and young Somalis in exile. The leaders of al-Shebaab have officially stated that they are part of al-Qaeda’s international network.
Officially, the two organizations are allies fighting for a common cause, but there have been signs of internal conflict. Not least, this was revealed in October 2009, when regular fighting broke out between the two over control of Somalia’s southernmost port city of Kismayo. However, the two groups control most of the territory in southern Somalia.
Faithful Somalis who do not submit to the extreme Sharia law Islamists impose where they take control are also exposed. Most impressions on the regular Somalis may be that al-Shebaab in particular has been behind a number of violations of former Sufi leaders’ graves. Sufism, a branch of Islam, has always been widespread in Somalia.
Peaceful in the North
Even the more stable autonomous areas of Somaliland and Puntland have been the subject of terrorist attacks by radical Islamist groups based in southern Somalia. On October 29, 2008, four bombs went off at about the same time in Bosaso and Hargeisa. However, most terrorist attacks take place in the south, such as the tragic suicide attack at Benadir University in Mogadishu on December 9, 2009, in which several dozen people were killed, including a number of newly graduated doctors.
The self-proclaimed autonomous region of Puntland and the self-proclaimed state of Somaliland have continued to perform relatively well compared to the rest of what was once a unified republic, despite disagreement over the border issue leading to military clashes between the two territories.
Puntland, which declared itself an “independent territory in a Somali federal state” in 1998, has practically governed itself ever since. But many question whether the authorities in fact have control over the territory. An example is the awkwardness in relation to the now-known piracy off the coast of Somalia, which originated in Puntland. The pirates are well organized and have managed to defy naval vessels sent from nearly twenty countries, including Norway.
Puntland has also been in focus due to the extensive human trafficking that takes place out of the port city of Bosaso, where tens of thousands of Somalis and Ethiopians annually buy shuttles with rustlers to seek their happiness in Yemen. Hundreds drown on the road over the Gulf of Aden or as they try to land.
An economy in ruins
Economically, the situation in Somalia is a disaster. According to Countryaah official website, most of the population has difficulty feeding themselves. Much indicates that many young men are recruited to the extreme Islamist organizations precisely because they see it as the only revenue opportunity. Farmers and nomads are constantly exposed to periodic drought periods that often have disastrous consequences.
One small point of light is that in the autumn of 2009, after banning the import of live animals for over a decade, Saudi Arabia again opened for this type of import. For Somalis this has been an extremely important decision. Live animal exports have been the backbone of Somalia’s export economy for over a hundred years, and Saudi Arabia has been the most important market for live animals.
In the large context, however, this means little. The UN has estimated that over three million Somalis need relief. But the militia groups in many cases prevent the aid being brought in from being distributed, and have both threatened and killed aid workers. Even the pirates have contributed negatively by hijacking ships loaded with food from the UN Food Program.
It is difficult to imagine that the situation will improve with the first, especially in the troubled south. There are three possible scenarios:
- a) The Transitional Government succeeds in gaining control of the Islamists and can begin a peaceful reconstruction of the country
- b) The radical Islamists succeed in taking control and introducing a kind of medieval caliphate
- c) The situation will continue more or less as it is today, a kind of permanent civil war-like state in which most of the population suffers.
Both of the first two options seem unlikely. The TFG regime does not have the necessary military strength to overcome the Islamists, which in turn are too fragmented to succeed in establishing an Islamic caliphate immediately. Thus, the last option stands out as the most likely for the foreseeable future, which is a bleak outlook for the majority of the population.
Area: 637 657 km2 (18th largest)
Population: 9 million
Population density: 14 per km2
Urban population: 36 percent
Largest city: Mogadishu – approx. 1.1 million
GDP per capita: USD 298
Economic growth: 2.6 percent
HDI location: missing data