Abstract: Famine, drought, war, piracy, international terrorism, and the absence of democratic governance: The factors behind, as well as the symptoms of, the failed Somali state are legion. Despite its woes, Somalia has not been considered a U.S. foreign policy priority—an unfortunate relegation that has undermined national security. Yet, as terrorist groups like al-Shabaab increase their grip on the region, the U.S. can no longer afford to be anything but fully engaged with Somalia. Rather than attempting another round of unsuccessful “nation building,” the U.S. should set the conditions that will allow the Somalis to secure a more prosperous and secure future, while mitigating threats to U.S. security.
In the past twenty years, the African continent has made progress toward democratic governance. Civilians now govern many countries once under military rule; political parties have emerged in what were previously single-party states; observance of civil liberties and political rights has strengthened; and inter-state conflict has diminished. However, some African countries have bucked this trend and either maintained an undemocratic status quo or plunged into chaos. Somalia, more so than any other African state, continues to be synonymous with intractable anarchy—a well-earned distinction, given that, for two decades, Somalia has lacked a functioning central government while serving as a haven for terrorism and piracy.
Since the infamous Battle for Mogadishu in 1993, the United States has constrained its engagement in the Horn of Africa. While Somalia’s challenges impact the United States, it is not considered a U.S. foreign policy priority—an unfortunate relegation that has undermined national security. With the United States and its allies under constant threat from terrorists, Somalia poses an international security risk not only to U.S. interests in the region, but also to the broader international community. Piracy, another condition of Somalia’s failed state status, imperils the flow of commerce and costs the shipping industry and consumers billions of dollars per year. Furthermore, the ongoing anarchy has prevented the Somali people from receiving the most basic services.
The Obama Administration has taken steps, though limited, toward engagement with Somalia’s local governing entities while supporting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). This “dual track” approach only addresses half of the problem, as continued recognition of the TFG offers little hope of moving beyond the status quo—order, stability, and democracy must come from within. U.S. policymakers should instead embrace a comprehensive strategy that places renewed emphasis on responsible democratic governance and the construction of a pluralistic and functioning Somali state. To accomplish this objective, the U.S., regional stakeholders, and the Somali people must build a strategy based on broader power sharing, genuine security, and viable economic opportunities. Only then can the root causes of the failed Somali state be addressed.
In order to understand the current crisis, it is necessary to examine several key components of Somalia’s collapse, including the evolution of U.S. engagement with Somalia, why such engagement has failed, and the critical factors that fueled Somalia’s decline. An analysis of these components reveals, first and foremost, the need to establish a democratic government in Somalia, as well as several other initial steps the Obama Administration could take to begin resolving the crisis. Rather than engaging in more failed attempts at “nation building,” the U.S. should set the conditions that will allow Somalis to secure a more prosperous and secure future, while mitigating threats to U.S. security.
Nation Building Not the Answer
For over two decades Somalia has lacked a legitimate, functioning national government. With the collapse of General Siyad Barre’s authoritarian regime in 1991, the country plummeted into anarchy as rival leaders jousted for territorial dominance. In 1992, the international community acted and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) launched an operation to deliver humanitarian aid. Later that year, President George H. W. Bush authorized Operation Restore Hope to provide security support to the United Nations.
The Clinton Administration altered Operation Restore Hope, transforming it from a short-term humanitarian mission to a longer-term operation dedicated to Somalia’s reconstruction. This change in policy yielded deadly consequences. Outraged by what was perceived as foreign intervention, warlords—including General Mohammed Farah Aideed, the leader primarily responsible for Barre’s ouster, waged war against U.N. peacekeeping troops. In response, the U.S. dispatched Special Forces to arrest General Aideed in October 1993, only to have eighteen elite U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis killed in a military clash referred to as Black Hawk Down. Shocked by what was, at the time, the greatest loss of American servicemen in combat since Vietnam, President Clinton abandoned the mission and, by the end of March 1994, all U.S. forces were withdrawn from Somalia.
Fight for Governance
In 2000, after a dozen attempts to establish a central government, Djibouti convened the Somalia National Peace Conference (SNPC), which, in turn, established the Transitional National Government (TNG). The initial mandate of the TNG ended in August 2003, and was unsuccessful in solidifying authority; a rival governmental movement known as the Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC) opposed the TNG. Anticipating the failure of the TNG to establish permanent governance, Kenya hosted the 2002 Somalia National Reconciliation Conference. By the end of the conference in October 2004, the TNG and the SRCC agreed to the formation of a “Transitional Nation Charter,” thereby creating the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The TFG represents Somalia’s 14th attempt to establish a permanent government. As a result of ongoing battles between rival warlords, the TFG was unable to enter Somalia until 2005, and, therefore, lacked legitimacy with the majority of Somalis. Even when the TFG entered Somalia, it was forced to govern from Baidoa, 250km outside Mogadishu.
While the international community struggled to establish governance during the 1990s, Somalia’s local Islamic courts started to take root. Various Islamist organizations—although primarily al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (Islamic Unity or AIAI), a radical militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda—organized local tribunals and their militias under the banner of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). ICU forced many warlords out of power, and even claimed Mogadishu in June 2006. Eventually, the ICU reorganized itself into the Council of Islamic Courts (CIC) and expanded its authority throughout much of southern and central Somalia. Despite its brutal tendencies, the Council enjoyed broad support from the Somali people as its militias restored relative order.
Ethiopia, a majority Christian nation with a substantial Muslim minority, dreaded the expansionary and destabilizing potential of Somali Islamism. As such, on Christmas Eve 2006, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi launched a military invasion of Somalia, decimating CIC militias. A year later the CIC was removed from power, thereby allowing the TFG to move to Mogadishu.
The TFG’s arrival, however, did not lead to the establishment of a permanent government. Rather, the TFG’s authority depended upon the presence of the African Union’s peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Given the system under which it was founded, the TFG’s inability to govern is hardly surprising. Specifically, during the 2002 Nairobi Peace Process, the architects of the TFG instituted a top-down approach to governance known as the “clan quota system,” whereby TFG members were appointed—not elected. Rather than working toward stability and prosperity for the country as a whole, each government official sought to narrowly address his clan’s interests.
Equally disturbing is the TFG’s complete disregard for the fundamentals of good governance. Rampant fraud and corruption have run unchecked and, when foreign monies are involved, even increased, thereby adding to the suffering of the Somali people. When East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) appointed the TFG in 2004, it chose Colonel Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, a veteran warlord as president, and Ali Mohamed Gedi, a veterinarian with no political experience, as prime minister. Rather than select individuals who best represent the interests of the Somali people, Ahmed and Gedi appointed relatives and political allies to various positions within government and molded the TFG to serve their objectives.
Al-Shabaab: Terror Threat
Despite international backing, the TFG has proved itself incapable of tackling the most existential threat to the Somali people: terrorism. In 1992, al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, operating out of Sudan, sent his lieutenant, Abu Hafs al-Masri, on repeated scouting missions to Somalia. Offering a willing recruiting pool and a lack of governance, Somalia was ripe for al-Qaeda expansion. Somalia’s clan dynamics and expensive operating costs, however, proved challenging and al-Qaeda suspended its initiative. Despite this setback, al-Qaeda continues to use Somalia as a recruiting ground and a safe haven.
When the CIC took control of Mogadishu in 2006, members of al-Shabaab served in its militant branch. Following the Ethiopian invasion and the overthrow of the CIC, al-Shabaab dispersed throughout the country. Once the CIC was disbanded it split into two factions: the moderates and the radicals. The moderates, led by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh, turned themselves into Kenyan authorities and later joined the TFG. The radical elements of the CIC also split, forming two groups, al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam, headed by Hassan Dahir Aweys.
Following the CIC’s breakup, the leadership of al-Shabaab passed to Ahmed Abdi Aw-Mohamed “Godane,” and the now deceased Aden Hashi Ayro. Having both trained with al-Qaeda in the 1990s, they sought to model their chain of command, ideology, strategy, and tactics on those of al-Qaeda. Though al-Shabaab formalized its ties with al-Qaeda in February, it was previously considered an affiliate. Unlike al-Qaeda, whose primary objective remains the establishment of a global caliphate, al-Shabaab’s leaders seek the establishment and expansion of a “Greater Somalia,” and the imposition of Sharia law through jihad.
In addition to its support from al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab’s expansion and growing influence in the region are made possible by support from the government of Eritrea. Since 2007, the Eritrean government has provided political and material support for al-Shabaab in the form of arms, munitions, and training. Eritrea’s readiness to back al-Shabaab derives from its long-term resentment toward Ethiopia, from which it gained independence in 1993. Reports by the United Nations Sanctions Monitoring Group on Somalia (SMG) have repeatedly found evidence of Eritrea’s support for terrorism. In July 2007, the SMG reported:
Huge quantities of arms have been provided to the Shabab by and through Eritrea…the weapons in caches and otherwise in possession of the Shabab include an unknown number of surface-to-air missiles, suicide belts, and explosives with timers and detonators.
Subsequent SMG reports have yielded similar results. In his 2009 testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, stated, “We have clear evidence that Eritrea is supporting these extremist elements, including credible reports that the Government of Eritrea continues to supply weapons and munitions to extremists and terrorist elements.” In December 2009, the U.N., acting under Resolution 1907, sanctioned the government of Eritrea for backing militants in Somalia. The sanctions included an arms embargo, travel bans, and asset freezes on businesses and government officials.
Despite these sanctions, the Government of Eritrea remains defiant, and therefore, last December, the U.N. Security Council voted in favor of Resolution 2023, which requires foreign companies involved in Eritrea’s mining industry to ensure that profits are not used to benefit terrorism. Earlier drafts of the resolution included bans on foreign investment in the mining sector and the blockage of a remittance tax on Eritreans living overseas. However, such steps were opposed when some European member states, Russia, and China raised objections, arguing that such sanctions would hurt the Eritrean people rather than prevent the government’s support of terrorism. The U.S. has taken little direct action or levied bilateral sanctions against Eritrea for its support for terrorism. While the United States ended bilateral support to Eritrea in 2005, in fiscal year (FY) 2004 the U.S. government provided over $65 million in humanitarian aid, including $58.1 million in food assistance and $3.47 million in refugee support.
On July 11, 2010, terrorism in Somalia reached a turning point when al-Shabaab launched its first transnational attacks with synchronized bombings in Kampala, Uganda. The Kampala attacks emphasized a bolder and more dangerous al-Shabaab. Traditionally al-Shabaab limited its targets to those in Somalia. However, the Kampala attacks, though directed at Uganda’s military support to the TFG, highlighted al-Shabaab’s aspirations to have an impact beyond Somalia. It also raised questions about al-Shabaab’s ability to contribute to the destabilization of East Africa.
Al-Shabaab’s attack on Kampala served as a wake-up call for both the African Union (AU) and the U.S. When al-Shabaab first expanded its operations in 2007–2008, the Bush Administration officially designated al-Shabaab as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Although the threat from al-Shabaab continues to grow, the Obama Administration has made it clear that direct U.S. military engagement in Somalia is to be limited. In March 2010, Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson stated that the United States “has no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia.” Nevertheless, the U.S. responded to the threat before and after the Kampala attacks by increasing its counterterrorism operations in the region via the intelligence community, the deployment of proxy forces, armed drones, and Special Forces missions.
While it is difficult to determine how many strikes the U.S. intelligence community has carried out, former ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn estimates that, since 2007, there have been nearly a dozen U.S. covert strikes on terrorist targets in the region. The U.S. military has previously targeted militants through helicopter raids, Special Forces operations, and sea-launched cruise missiles.
In 2010, the White House implemented a new approach to counterterrorism via the 2010 National Security Strategy. In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Daniel Benjamin, Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the State Department, stated that the strategy emphasizes tactical counterterrorism efforts aimed at “taking individual terrorists off the streets.” The strategy includes the increased use of armed Reaper and Predator drones—low-risk weapons that employ a level of force consonant with the specific goal of a given operation. Furthermore, drone attacks are discriminate, as they are launched against a specific target and reduce the risk of collateral damage.
The U.S. intelligence community believes it has achieved considerable returns from its increased use of drone strikes. Last June, the U.S. conducted its first known drone operation in Somalia—an attack on a vehicle convoy in the southern city of Kismayo, an established al-Shabaab stronghold. The strike wounded two senior al-Shabaab operatives who may have been targeted as a result of their relationship with the late Yemeni al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leader Anwar al-Awlaki.
These strikes are being expanded, with drones now reportedly operating out of the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) base in Djibouti; an airfield in Manda Bay, Kenya; and the Arabian Peninsula. As in other parts of the world, the Obama Administration has made U.S. technological sophistication a key component of its anti-terror operations in Somalia. While U.S. drone strikes are often effective, the U.S. must continue to develop a comprehensive counterterrorism approach. Relying on a “decapitation” strategy does not guarantee success, and, as such, drone strikes are most efficient when used to complement sound policy.
Despite al-Shabaab’s influence, there are reasons to suspect that the organization’s strength is fading. Al-Shabaab’s brutal tactics for establishing authority—floggings, amputations, stonings, and beheadings—have failed to win the group popularity among local communities. To broaden its influence, al-Shabaab engages in forced recruiting and marriages between al-Shabaab fighters and local women. Somalis are also regular victims of al-Shabaab’s suicide bombings and IED attacks.
Internal divisions within the al-Shabaab ranks have fractured the organization and reduced its territory and influence. In August 2010, al-Shabaab launched a series of attacks against AMISOM forces in Mogadishu, a campaign that resulted in heavy casualties and the loss of significant manpower. Soon after, in an apparent rift with leadership, Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, al-Shabaab’s deputy commander in chief, withdrew his Rahanweyn clan fighters from Mogadishu and retreated to his stronghold in Baidoa.
In August 2011, al-Shabaab unexpectedly withdrew from Mogadishu, ceding the capital to the TFG and AMISOM forces. Although al-Shabaab’s withdrawal seemed to constitute a victory for the TFG, in reality, it marked only a shift in strategy. Upon leaving the capital, al-Shabaab vowed to return while continuing to launch attacks against targets. Al-Shabaab made good on this promise last October, when a suicide bomber attacked the Ministry of Education, killing 70 and wounding dozens.
A few months later, al-Shabaab experienced an unexpected setback when Kenyan military forces launched an incursion against the group. Holding al-Shabaab responsible for a string of cross-border kidnappings and the unrelenting flow of Somali refugees across its border, the Kenyan government sent approximately 2,000 troops into southern Somalia with the objective of driving al-Shabaab from occupied territory and, in particular, the group's sanctuary in Kismayo.
Although Kenya does not pursue an interventionist foreign policy, its military is one of the most professional in the region. Generously aided by Washington, last year Kenya received $70 million in military, counterterrorism, and intelligence support. However, despite close cooperation, U.S. officials were reportedly surprised by Kenya’s launch of troops into Somalia without notifying Washington. The U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration, stated that the U.S. was working with Kenya to figure out where they need help. He further emphasized that the U.S. “doesn’t have a military operation outside the border of Kenya,” but did note that “our support is through our equipment.”
A Kenyan military presence in southern Somalia could result in important victories; it could, however, also yield unanticipated setbacks. Using the 2006 Ethiopian invasion as a precedent, al-Shabaab has portrayed Kenyan forces as invaders rather than liberators. Yet, even before 2006, Somalis have been suspicious of outsiders—and not just those who are viewed as proxy forces for the U.S., like Ethiopia. In the 1990s, al-Qaeda had a difficult time recruiting Somali militants and it was not until five years after al-Shabaab emerged that the two organizations formalized relations. Therefore, any analysis of Kenyan operations, and their integration into AMISOM in February, must take into account this unique Somali dynamic.
Somalia’s Limited Defense
Actively working to eradicate the terrorist threat, AMISOM is the entity with the military capacity and international support needed to establish peace and stability in Somalia. In theory, AMISOM exists to allow the TFG to stand up its National Security Force (NSF), a task the TFG has thus far failed to accomplish. However, as NSF members are unprofessional and known for splitting their loyalties between the TFG and al-Shabaab, AMISOM troops are responsible for defending the TFG.
The United States, France, and the European Union have provided substantial arms equipment to the NSF, which boasts approximately 10,000 troops. In August 2009, after pledging support for the TFG, the U.S. State Department dispatched 40 tons of weapons and military equipment to the NSF. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International believe that some of these weapons were used in attacks against civilians.
When AMISOM was created at the AU’s Peace and Security Council meeting in January 2007, leaders expressed enthusiasm for a peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Unanimously authorized afterward by the UNSC, AMISOM fell under a Chapter VII mandate of the U.N. Charter. When time came to deploy troops, however, AMISOM contributions were below the projected 8,000-member force. In December 2010, the UNSC raised the force level to 12,000. Currently there are approximately 10,000 peacekeepers, the majority of whom are from Uganda and Burundi. However, in February, the UNSC passed a unanimous resolution increasing the AMISOM force to 17,731.
In the past year, AMISOM troops have launched attacks against militant groups and extended their control into the northern part of Mogadishu, territory that was once occupied by insurgents. Al-Shabaab’s August 2011 withdrawal from Mogadishu allowed AMISOM to extend its control over the city and surrounding areas. The relative improvement in the security situation in Mogadishu prompted British Foreign Secretary William Hague to visit the Somali capital in early February 2012, the first Foreign Secretary to visit Mogadishu in over 20 years, and to appoint a British ambassador to Somalia, Matt Baugh. This key diplomatic step was followed by a largely symbolic international conference on Somalia hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron in London.
U.S. Foreign Policy on Somalia
Following the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime, the United States closed its embassy in Mogadishu, and transferred diplomatic responsibilities to the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. The security situation has been considered so threatening that the State Department has declared Somalia a “no-go” zone for civilian personnel, and, in January 2010, the World Food Program (WFP) suspended food aid operations. While Washington has supported the TFG, it has done so largely because there is no viable alternative. Rather than increase engagement with the TFG, the U.S. has relied upon regional partners to lead diplomatic efforts.
The Obama Administration has presented a multifaceted strategy for Somalia. In September 2010, the Administration unveiled what it has described as a “dual track” approach. This interagency strategy aims to curb terrorism and emphasizes U.S. support for the TFG. The first track is designed to improve the TFG’s effectiveness and address its capacity to deliver security and governance. The strategy also includes strengthening AMISOM forces: Since AMISOM’s creation, the U.S. has provided approximately $258 million for logistics support, equipment, and pre-deployment training for its forces, as well as $85 million to build the capacity of the NSF. Despite increasing AMISOM’s force strength last year, Washington must urge national governments contributing to AMISOM to live up to their commitments.
Yet, U.S. support for AMISOM alone will not restore peace to Somalia; effective governance that addresses the needs of the Somali people is the key to long-term stability. The second track of the strategy, therefore, expands U.S. engagement with Somalia’s local entities. U.S. officials are also increasing their diplomatic engagement with the semi-autonomous states of Somaliland and Puntland as well as other parts of Somalia that were previously overlooked, such as Galmudug state. These diplomatic initiatives are worthwhile endeavors and should be more aggressively pursued. By working with local governments and populations, the U.S. will have an increased number of opportunities to develop broader and more enduring relations with political actors.
By building relationships with the Somali people, the Obama Administration is laying the foundation for a future scenario where American diplomats and aid workers will be able to engage with local actors on an ad hoc basis to provide capacity building and development assistance. Increased diplomatic, economic, and security engagement in Somaliland and Puntland—referred to by State’s Assistant Secretary Carson as “zones of relative political and civil stability”—serve as opportune entry points for gaining access to segments of the country. The strategy, however, overlooks the importance of good governance. As attempts to work with the TFG have resulted in a waste of time and resources, the Obama Administration should consider a strategy that emphasizes representative governance—a strategy that will allow the Administration to directly, and therefore, more effectively, assist the Somali people.
Somaliland. Though the armed insurgency is widespread, northern Somalia, particularly Somaliland, has made significant strides toward peace and stability. Shortly after achieving independence from the British in 1960, Somaliland unified with the Trust Territory of Somalia, formerly under Italian control, to form the Republic of Somalia. Wanting no part in the chaos that followed the regime’s collapse, the Somali National Movement (SNM), in conjunction with clan leaders, declared Somaliland an independent state in 1991.
In 2001, Somaliland reaffirmed its independence when the government held a referendum in which 97 percent of voters cast their ballots in favor of a new constitution. The constitution created executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and mandated that the president, vice president, members of the House of Representatives, and upper chamber of elders be directly elected, and the judiciary independent.
Despite Somaliland’s unilateral declaration of independence and the establishment of a democratic system of governance, the international community does not recognize the territory as an autonomous state. Somalilanders have repeatedly affirmed their commitment to democracy and good governance as demonstrated by free and fair presidential elections in 2003 and 2010, the 2002 local elections, and again in 2005 with their parliamentary elections.
Somaliland’s bottom-up approach to governance has contributed to its successful transition to representative democracy. By clearly communicating its objectives and policies, the SNM provided Somalilanders access to the governing process, which, in turn, allowed the SNM to unify the public. Furthermore, despite Somaliland’s clan diversity, every clan, with modest exceptions, supported the establishment of a nation state. The international community, on the other hand, has failed to provide the same opportunities to the people of Somalia. Rather than inspiring unity among a large and deeply divided populace, the U.N. instituted a top-down approach to governance whereby members of the TFG were appointed governing authority. Somaliland has benefited from its renewal of de facto independence and stands as a test case for a state that could have failed, but, instead, chose responsible, representative governance.
As long as the international community refuses to acknowledge Somaliland’s sovereignty, it permits the TFG to solidify its claim to represent the country’s only authentic government. While Somaliland will continue to make modest gains with limited resources, international recognition, even of a provisional nature, would open the state’s economy to investment opportunities and allow the government to work more effectively with its international partners on counterterrorism and anti-piracy measures. Somaliland’s current status excludes it from participation in international forums and reduces its ability to seek and receive foreign aid. Rather than allow Somaliland’s government to take responsibility for the distribution of funding, donors rely on the U.N. and NGOs to support and maintain projects. These funds are then paid to foreign workers who complete the projects, rather than Somalilanders who have an incentive in leading their country’s development.
Puntland. To the east of Somaliland lies the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland. Unlike Somaliland, Puntland supports a unified Somalia but, in the absence of an effective central authority, has taken the opportunity to establish its own government. In 1998, leaders of the Darood clan and various sub-clans—tired of the omnipresent instability that wracked their immediate territory—established an administration and adopted an interim charter. Members of parliament, who were appointed on the basis of clan affiliation, then elected a president, the first of whom was Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who later served as president of the TFG.
Washington maintains two main interests in Puntland: counterterrorism and anti-piracy. In the 1990s, the terrorist organization al-Ittihad al-Islamiya was based in Puntland and controlled many of the port cities including Bosaso—control that facilitated the buildup of revenue to purchase arms and recruit militias. Al-Shabaab, Hizbul Islam, and various other Islamist insurgents are also known to have operated out of the region. In October 2008, Shirwa Ahmed, a U.S. citizen, blew himself up outside Puntland’s Intelligence Service in Bosaso while others coordinated simultaneous suicide attacks on a security office close to the Presidential Palace, the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) office, and the Ethiopian consulate in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Although the attacks were allegedly carried out by al-Shabaab, no organization took responsibility.
As the international community struggles to eradicate piracy from the region, it should engage Puntland. Puntland is a safe haven for pirates and their illicit earnings are a primary source of revenue. State officials, security forces, and businessmen are often complicit in piracy and piracy-related operations. According to an International Crisis Group report:
Without some form of official protection and collusion, [pirate] gangs would find it difficult to operate as efficiently as they do, given the complex logistics involved in planning and executing raids and negotiating ransoms.
Puntland’s participation in piracy operations has resulted in increased pressure from the international community. As a result of this pressure, in 2009 President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole ordered raids of pirate camps, and courts have begun meting out long prison sentences to convicted pirates. Government anti-piracy campaigns are also being waged. However, in a country where there are few opportunities to accumulate wealth legitimately, piracy is still a tempting solution to an otherwise impoverished lifestyle.
Famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa
The challenges posed by Somalia’s anarchic landscape have been further complicated by a recent drought affecting much of the south and adjacent areas. Last year, Somalia’s worst drought in 60 years led the U.N. to declare a famine. At the height of the famine, 4 million people were impacted and 750,000 were considered at risk of starvation.
The TFG’s lack of leadership in responding to the famine proved startling. As late as last December, TFG Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohammed Ali denied the existence of famine in Mogadishu, claiming “entrenched interest group[s]” exaggerated the scale of suffering in order to drum up donations. And, last September, the TFG banned foreign aid workers and journalists from entering areas controlled by al-Shabaab. According to Mogadishu’s mayor and governor, Mohamud Ahmed Nur,
We want the starving Somalis in al-Shabab areas to be fed but we do not want the foreign workers to meet al-Shabab.… Let the foreign aid workers hand over the relief food to the local NGOs, which can deliver to the drought victims in al-Shabab areas.
By preventing the delivery of aid, the TFG is stealing a play from the al-Shabaab strategy book; the terrorist organization has also blocked aid agencies from operating in its territory. Furthermore, should the aid be delivered to the starving or at-risk populations via local NGOs, there are no guarantees the food would actually reach those in need. Too often, World Food Program-labeled sacks of grain and rice are pilfered and sold in Mogadishu’s markets. Additionally, like the TFG, local NGOs have clan ties and political loyalties that prevent them from distributing aid without favoritism.
It is hard to imagine how a people as vulnerable as famine victims could be caused more harm. Yet, the TFG found a way. As Somalia’s internally displaced people (IDPs) sought relief in Mogadishu, rival TFG politicians set up relief camps luring in international donors. In many cases, food aid never reached the victims. Rather, aid was diverted and sold to the very people it was intended to save. There were also cases of TFG paramilitaries storming refugee camps, where soldiers preyed on famine victims and stole their food rations.
The delivery of aid was further complicated by numerous operating challenges. Reaching those in need was the top priority for international donors but also the biggest setback. Apart from dodging taxes (bribes), checkpoints, and armed militias, much of the territory hit by famine was under al-Shabaab control. At the height of the famine, as many as three million Somalis affected by the scarcity resided in the south; two million could not be reached. And when the international community made its initial attempt to deliver aid, al-Shabaab denied access. Since then al-Shabaab has allowed some aid to be delivered, though infrequently. When aid groups are allowed access to occupied areas, the aid is stolen by al-Shabaab fighters, who use it as a weapon against local populations. Al-Shabaab also prevents local populations from seeking relief by blocking their exit from famine stricken villages.
Since famine was declared last summer, the United States has taken the lead in responding to the crisis by providing more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa—the largest single bilateral donation. Last July, the Obama Administration issued new guidelines, exempting aid groups from legal restraints and urging expedited aid delivery. Corruption and instability have caused the U.S. to implement strict restrictions on aid distribution. Under typical circumstances, should food aid fall into the wrong hands, aid groups would risk prosecution. Despite political support by the Administration, it continues to be a challenge to provide effective and impartial delivery to those in need without allowing either al-Shabaab or other local powerbrokers to hijack assistance.
In February the United Nations announced that famine conditions in Somalia had ended. However, approximately 2.51 million people still require emergency support. Beyond the challenges of immediate relief, long-range planning and action is necessary to address the cyclical crisis of drought and agricultural failure and the need to establish genuine food security in the Horn.
Maritime Piracy: Terror on the Seas
Somalia’s lawlessness has encouraged Somalis, searching to make a living, to pursue illegal ventures, including piracy. Pirates are often former fishermen and militia fighters, principally based in Eyl; in northeastern Puntland; and in Xarardheere, in central Somalia. While piracy is a risky business, the profits are considerable.
With nearly 30,000 ships sailing through it annually, the Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest waterways in the world. Located between Somalia, Djibouti, and Yemen, the region’s main artery for seaborne cargo covers 205,000 square miles and is a direct route to the Suez Canal. Approximately 7 percent of the world’s maritime commerce and over 10 percent of waterborne transportation of oil transits flows through the Gulf.
Despite its risks, piracy has become enormously profitable. In 2008, pirates obtained $30 million in ransoms alone. Such profitability has led to a rapid increase in the number of hijackings. In the past five years, hijackings rose from 14 in 2006 to 53 in 2010. As of May 2012, Somali pirates were holding 12 vessels and 173 hostages.
There are a number of long-standing legal mechanisms at the disposal of parties affected by piracy. For the United States, Title 18 of U.S. Code, section 1651, mandates that those who commit piracy as defined by law can be jailed for life. International law dictates that all states must cooperate to the fullest measure in suppressing piracy. The United Nations Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation outlines a cohesive framework whereby countries deliver suspected pirates to coastal nations for prosecution or extradition. According to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1816, states are permitted to use “all necessary measures to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery.” Resolutions 1838 and 1851 emphasize and authorize the expansion of counter-piracy activities. While such legal measures are in place, they are not without complications: Frequent challenges the U.S. government faces for prosecuting pirates in the Horn of Africa include the determination of legal jurisdiction, due process for detained pirate suspects, and the role of foreign military forces in anti-piracy law enforcement.
The implementation of a coordinated counter-piracy strategy adds to the legal complexities. An international coalition of the willing, including the United States, the European Union, and non-Western partners have responded to the piracy threat by dispatching military ships to the Gulf. The impact of this action, however, has been limited. The lack of a harmonized international counter-piracy strategy has caused poor coordination of naval activities, and pirates have taken advantage of this failure by avoiding patrolled locations.
Private shipping industries have also taken protective measures. While it is the responsibility of carriers to implement International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) codes, including a ship security plan (SSP), SSPs do not adequately address counter-piracy. Therefore, carriers have begun to adopt new anti-piracy tactics. The International Chamber of Shipping and the Baltic and International Maritime Council, for example, have produced best practice guidelines to reduce the risks of commercial transit. Some shipping companies have also taken a more controversial (and expensive) approach by hiring armed protection teams.
While counter-piracy measures have experienced some success, they are reactionary and do not address the root of the problem—Somalia’s lack of governance, which has allowed piracy to establish itself as multi-million-dollar industry. According to Martin Murphy at the Atlantic Council, “Piracy is a symptom not a cause of Somalia’s current predicament. It arose as one consequence of Somalia’s domestic turmoil.… Dealing with piracy requires engagement on land.” Too often, the international community relies on military force to eradicate the threat of piracy rather than address the complicated issue at the core of Somalia’s continued failure.
The Way Forward
Somalia’s transformation will be a long-term process that requires a steady political will, both from the U.S. and the international community. A comprehensive strategy for Somalia starts with good governance. A representative system of governance whereby politicians are elected by the people is a crucial first step toward saving Somalia and one that is expected to be achieved with this summer’s elections. However, as long as the international community continues to recognize the TFG, such a democratic transition is dubious.
To truly address the challenges posed by Somalia, the Obama Administration should combine its encouragement of “good governance” with a regional counterterrorism strategy and diplomatic engagement. A constructive strategy for the United States has to start with a series of concrete actions that will halt Somalia’s descent into further chaos, while laying the foundation for a more prosperous future. These steps will also fill the leadership vacuum that, for so long, has hamstrung the international communities’ efforts in Somalia. Specifically, the U.S. should:
Recognize Somaliland’s provisional independence. Somaliland is a model that proves democratic governance in Somalia is possible. Hargeisa’s connections to Mogadishu are limited to the extent that Somaliland’s government is forced to deal with the effects of the TFG’s failures. Somaliland is a willing partner in the fight against piracy and terrorism and can do more, but is prevented from doing so by the fact that it lacks state status and therefore cannot participate in international forums.
Take the necessary steps—in conjunction with the international community—to transfer central authority from the TFG to a more representative system of governance. The TFG has proved incapable of providing any meaningful progress to Somalia and has allowed terrorists and pirates to wreak havoc on the Somali people. Its current mandate expires in August 2012 thus creating an opportunity for the U.S., its allies, the U.N., and the AU to make progress toward a democratic and federal Somali government.
Support local governments. American diplomats should work with local administrations, where possible, toward creating more stable and accountable systems of governance. This should include assistance in setting up democratic reforms, implementing benchmarks for success, and curbing the influence of those who might attempt to hijack the democratic process.
To dismantle the terrorist threat, the United States should create a sustainable counterterrorism strategy for the region. The Administration’s use of drone attacks and missile strikes is useful; however, singling out targets in a game of “whack a mole” is not a long-term solution. The Administration should instead focus on a strategy that:
Increases intelligence operations. U.S. intelligence agencies should coordinate with local administrations and actors on the ground through a variety of methods including manned intelligence and paid informants. Furthermore, while insecurity prevents the State Department and Department of Defense from establishing permanent operations in Somalia, regular travel to Somalia is integral for understanding the political dynamics and the social structures necessary for future engagement.
Coordinates and trains regional militaries. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is an excellent resource to provide training to regional militaries in counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, and border control. Special preference should be given to countries that contribute troops to AMISOM.
Lists Eritrea as a state sponsor of terror. Eritrea has continuously provided al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab with the means to commit acts of terrorism. Because U.N. member states often prevent biting sanctions from being enforced, the United States should implement tougher bilateral sanctions against the government of Eritrea.
Terrorism has hindered the international community’s ability to assist Somalia’s famine victims. The Obama Administration should adjust its humanitarian relief strategy by:
Bringing accountability to aid distribution. Congress and the Administration have a responsibility to the American taxpayer to make sure that appropriate protections are in place to prevent misuse of aid. NGOs and national governments receiving U.S. aid must ensure such assistance is used for its intended purposes. Congress and the Administration must do a more effective job monitoring where these resources go.
Insisting the African Union assume a greater role in coordinating humanitarian relief. Last summer, fewer than half of AU members made contributions at an AU donor conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Together, they pledged a meager $50 million; the U.S. contributed $650 million. Last year’s famine was an African crisis that the AU was unwilling or incapable of addressing. Steps should be taken to remedy this lackluster response, and ensure future crises are met with a more consistent effort from the AU.
Piracy is a threat to global economic freedom. It impedes the flow of cargo and costs the shipping industry billions of dollars annually. In fact, there are more attacks every year in the Gulf of Aden than anywhere else in the world. To counter this, the United States must:
Harmonize international counter-piracy operations. The international coalition of the willing—including the United States, EU, and NATO—should increase its coordination of activities and monitoring of patrol areas. To achieve this, the U.S. must continue to support its global naval forces.
Use intelligence and reconnaissance assets to identify, track, and map pirate activities and their supporting networks. This step should be followed by the cutting off of pirates’ access to vital supplies, such as fuel, mechanical equipment, and weapons, thus denying these criminals the tools of their trade.
Establish official representation in Somaliland and Puntland. Generate rules, procedures, and mechanisms to increase foreign investment. Private-sector development will provide those individuals prone to piracy with a source of employment.
Condition U.S. engagement with Puntland and Somaliland on good governance. Too often, government officials and influential businessmen are complicit with piracy. The United States should monitor the government’s involvement with, and punish those who engage in, piracy.
A New Hope
The chaos in Somalia has grown too large to ignore. Recent U.S. contributions to AMISOM are a positive start with regard to increasing Washington’s engagement in the region. Regional players like Kenya, the AU, and America’s European partners like the United Kingdom are working to deliver security and new hope for Somalia. However, military might alone cannot achieve genuine peace. Good governance remains the linchpin to stability, but the TFG is only able to offer governmental impotence. Consequently, the United States must work with regional partners to help deliver a new and more effective model for governance in Somalia.
Morgan Lorraine Roach is a Research Associate, and Ray Walser, PhD, is Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America, in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.