Messy notes on Security in Somalia.
There's no witty way to start this, as it's dealing with the insecurity and violence in a nation I call home, so let's get right into it. The gist of the rhetoric in this thesis posits the implausibility (that's a word I promise) of divorcing security in Somalia, or anywhere else for that matter, from the needed work of governance, the garnering of buy-in from all sectors of Somali society, and tactical and pragmatic responses to socio-political context in a fast-changing, diverse Somalia.
And that, there are specific actors, I use the ‘players’ in this piece, others with more fancier degrees prefer ‘stakeholders', 'deterrents', who play a pivotal role in enabling Somalia’s insecurity; Sometimes as a byproduct of their political/economic investments in Somalia. And in other moments; A deliberant and intentional effort to hinder the emergence of a functioning state in Somalia. But before we get to that. Allow me to give you a quick recap of the horror we’ve just come out of, more than a week ago.
On October 14, 2017, a Saturday, our beloved capital city of Mogadishu was attacked by Al-Shabab, in a VBIED (Vehicle-Born, Improvised-Explosive-Device, what a mouth load of an acronym) attack, by way of a lorry truck, right in the centre of the busy KM5 junction, popularly known as Zoobe. I’ve tried, without success, for the entirety of week, to reflect on this in prose. To summarize in sentences, the magnitude of what that loss meant for grieving families and friends, Somalia, and the Horn of Africa, but delivery impedes me. And each time I try to make words out of this mess, I’m numbed by what can only be described as a concoction of rumbling despair, need to disappear into nothingness, and agonizing sorrow. The death and destruction were tallied in numbers across international headlines. Numbers I have a hard time repeating/writing, and making sense of. It’s not everyday on Planet Earth where 350, and counting, human lives are taken without disturbing the global nature of things. But in Somalia, our deaths have yet to inspire philosophical inquiry into the unique nature of global apathy in response to suffering in the Horn of Africa. We die quietly and unnoticed. Few headlines, and even fewer questions. Little rocks turned.
And so we begin. More than a week later. How did this happen? How did a ragtag (Editor’s words, not mine) organization like Al-Shabab (AS), pinching pennies from dwindling funders, fast losing political legitimacy, and troop morale, manage to carry out the most destructive terrorist attack Somalia has seen? How did this happen in a capital city that is the seat of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), headquarters to a 22,000 strong AMISOM force, the UN, several security institutions, that include Ministry of Internal Security, Defence, National Intelligence Security Agency (NISA), National Security Council, the various branches of the Military, and the Somali Police Force (I’m out of breathe just naming these institutions)- And then there’s the Donor partners/stakeholders camped at Mogadishu International Airport, Halane, which is about as diverse and populated as the city of London. So many competing interests, agendas, support packages in one very little airport.
For the love of brevity, let's say we have every major donor in the global world of donor-ship, invested in the ‘Securing Somalia’ project, and yet here we are in the year of our lord, end of 2017, mourning and trying to make sense of both the precursors before this, and the work-plan needed to fix it.
Whose responsible for this? Relax, I’m not gonna name names, because, believe it or not, here at Afrolens, we like living, the prospect of gainful employment, avoiding arbitrary arrests, and keeping political marginalization at bay. But we can name the demographics of players/political considerations, so that we can collectively carry out the complex work of investigating and identifying how all of this operates. So without further adieu, I bid you, some messy notes on two of the key players/factors of insecurity in Somalia. In my humble opinion, of-course.
The Petro-dollar Sheikhs turned Businessmen elite turned Politicians-turned- NGO cartel, turned Philanthropist, turned-every social,economic, political group to ever exist, was/has, and will exist in Somalia. In fact they’ve already opened up 20 universities, seven NGOs, three new mobile companies, and a fleet of hotels as I write this piece.
What did they do?: Other than sweeping in to decimate, destabilize and desecrate every ounce of socio-cultural life in Somalia, exploiting the absence of a Somali state in order remake Somalia’s educational system into an assembly line pumping out drone academies, monopolizing the business community, and rebranding every eatery/shopping centre with brand names that oscillate between ‘Umm’ and ‘Abu’; they’ve done something far more sinister.
Directly and indirectly funding/enabling/empowering insecurity in Somalia. Yes, I said it. But i'll only say it that one time because I live in Somalia, and well, yeah, there's that, and the work of living.
The business elites, a shadowy group of influencers, who've consolidated every conceivable type of power left to consume in Somalia, and have exploited our national reverence for our faith, while deploying monopoly over religion as an accessory to their business exploits. These guys don’t like paying taxes. They hate taxmen and taxes. They love monopoly. They don’t like financial institutions that can monitor their activities. They don’t like public financial management (PFM) systems.
Definitely not fans of revenue collection modalities and institutions that ask questions. They rebrand faster than white supremacists, and possess expert knowledge in operating amidst anarchy. Exploitation of our faith is where they feed, and own the very institution mandated with forming of minds of young; our educational sector. They are armed to the teeth, and well versed in exploiting both of our two most sacred institutions: the Clan system and our religion. I know at this point, all of this sounds like an Alex Jones rant talking about the Skulls and Bones, but I'm telling you, this is the worst kept secret plaguing Somalia's recovery. And no one likes to talk about it, well, because,they're quite frankly, everywhere.
To deal seriously with insecurity, AS, and the continuing emergence of splinter militia groups, masquerading as the enactors of social justice, is to unmask this group. Which is a very dangerous job. You cannot separate AS from its mother roots. I mean you can, but they'll just rebrand and replicate like they've been doing for decades. We need to name them.
Unfortunately, here at Afrolens, we have no intention of doing that, as, stated before, we like living! But its an important job. One we’re going to have to tackle sooner than later if we’re ever going to get serious about peace and development in Somalia.
2. The FGS/Regional governments. This was difficult to write. Look, I like the FGS. I like the regions. I like federalism. I also like strong central governments. I like any political system that is pragmatic and works. I'm a believer in the radical idea that, whatever the political system implemented, it must possess the buy-in of the communities it seeks to govern. So no issues there. I like the current President, and his Prime Minister. I like the parliament. This isn’t a smear job, so I’m citing a list of my disclaimers should you assume I'm attached to a particular way of governing in Somalia. I like governments in general. Law and order is tons of fun. And governance, super fun.
I like the emergence of a strong Somali state. I like the rituals, the flag, the parades, the uniforms, and their fancy business cards. I like all of it. I want to protect it. I want it to grow magnificently. But. It’s not about my likes or yours. It’s about naming the deterrents to peace, even if it involves particular institutions and leaders we like, and asking how we got here. So how do our government institutions play a role in insecurity?
What did they do: Umm….how do I say this without... This will be difficult. Ok. They did nothing. NOTHING. That's the problem. Nothing. Nada. Ok well they did something, but not the thing we need them to do, which is to secure Somalia. Now wait, I know what you’re thinking!
“Hey Afrolens, you're an IDIOT! you think it’s easy securing a post-conflict city like Mogadishu in a background that is balkanized Somalia, while wiping AS from the occupied territories manned by hostile regional authorities, in a political landscape meddled with 4.5 politics, a reluctant AMISOM, dwindling finances all-around, little institutional capacity, demoralized forces, and bureaucratic international authorities that operate in secrecy, making decisions in tables we’re not invited to, huh? you think it’s that easy?”
Nope, I do not. I get it. We get it. The challenges you face as a government are insurmountable, your adversaries determined, your resources scarce, and the many other moving parts that need to be aligned in order to facilitate the conditions to ferment peace and security in Somalia, are never in place.
But you have tools in your box. The FGS has the capacity to put in place the men and women who have the capacity to deliver, understand the challenges, the experience, and the dynamic foresight to implement security strategies that are both effective and far-reaching. You have the ability, an ability the FGS has failed to employ. Instead, the tried and tested assortment of rebranded and inept politicians, are parked at the helm of Somalia’s most critical institutions; Its security sector. When tragedy strikes, they're the first to awe in shock and wander at how this came to be. Surely, this can't continue. The culture of impunity and exemption cannot be sustained, it is the lives of your people continuously at stake.
The FGS has the mandate to lead and guide the regional authorities in planning and implementing a security strategy to retake AS occupied territories. I’m not a security tactician, but I do have dream of a unified Somalia where troops from every region move in harmony, towards the single and intentional goal of liberating their territories and ushering in a new era for Somalia. I dream of this often. However the reality on the ground is rife with political mistrust- the kind that emerges when you bypass genuine reconciliations and Somali-led, Somali-owned political processes. The kind of political mistrust that makes convenient camping grounds for would-be destabilizers preying on neglected territories and clan grievances.
The regional administrations are equally terrible when it comes to security, but not all are equal offenders of-course. Some have taken measures to secure the cities they currently govern, while others rule from Mogadishu/Nairobi/and on planes. I believe the regional authorities play a pivotal role in seeking the buy-in of communities AS governs within their federal units. What’s happening in AS controlled territories in Lower Shabelle, in Middle Jubba, in parts of Gedo, in the Galgala Mountains, etc. That car that struck the heart of our nation a week ago made its way to Mogadishu without so much of a whistle going off in the various security apparatuses in both the regions and the capital. How does AS hang onto power in these occupied areas? Why those areas, and not anywhere else? Questions, so many messy questions.
Let’s do a quick exercise shall we? Look at the following map below of Somalia (rough control map via http://www.polgeonow.com/2017/08/somalia-war-who-controls-somalia-map.html), and quickly identity the areas where AS occupies. Then identity the clan/community makeup of those cities, and then ask yourself, “Are the communities living here represented in their regional administrations to their satisfaction?”, or more concise, “Do they have any political grievances?” I could be wrong, but I would bet the entirety of student loans that where AS lives and thrives, exists communities politically neglected both by regional and federal institutions. My thesis here, one that isn’t anything to write home about, is simple.
AS thrives where either 1) politically (not always the same as socially) marginalized communities live and/or 2)where communities in that region sub-consciously or consciously exploit the presence AS as a political buffer btw them and the government institutions they don’t trust to govern. Just a guess, i could be wrong. But buy-in from one's constituents at the local level begets governance and consolidation of authority at all political levels of government. Which in turn creates, I believe, communities difficult to occupy, even by petro-dollars and fear mongering.
Yes, securing Somalia requires the actual work of putting boots on the ground, and sending arms and tanks to go fight your enemy, but thats the easy part (no violence isn't easy, but it is easy to direct). Somalia is well versed in the physicality and technical details of battles, but what about the more difficult work of winning a war? How do we cut off AS’s healthy supply of young boys willing (unwilling) to do the bidding of rebranded miscreants? How do we create sustainable and functioning security institutions that aren’t dis-fragmented, under-resourced, rife with corruption/nepotism, and ineffective? How do we create the financial institutions that have the capacity to monitor the flow of currency in Somalia? What comes next? And finally, can we ever Secure Somalia without the difficult work of governance?