21 surprises from the enigma that is war-ravaged Somalia

Saturday September 08 2012

The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the international community in Somalia set themselves 56 tasks in order to enable the country to emerge from its long transition period into some kind of elected and democratic government.

As the African Union peacekeeping force, Amisom, largely funded by the UN, pushes the Al Shabaab militants out of most parts of the country, UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, has released the latest six-monthly report on Somalia to the Security Council.

Released on August 22, it is a typically bland UN product, but many surprises are buried inside it. Charles Onyango-Obbo unearths some hidden gems.

Constitutional roadmap:

The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and the international community in Somalia set themselves 56 tasks in order to enable the country to emerge from its long transition period into some kind of elected and democratic government.

As at the end of July, nearly half of a total 56 transitional tasks had been fully accomplished. Not many “normal” African countries that are not at war score at that level on any task.

Women in Muslim society:


Nearly all Muslim majority countries in Africa and the Middle East have a shoddy record on representation of women in politics and other social areas. In Saudi Arabia, they are still not allowed to drive; and Sudan still sentences women to death by stoning for “adultery.”

Somalia is ahead of the pack. The National Constituent Assembly convened on July 25 in Mogadishu to review and adopt the draft constitution, had about 24 per cent women delegates.

That number is even higher than in Egypt and Tunisia, where women played a key role in the 2010 “Arab Spring” and expected a place at the table when the dictatorships fell. They were shortchanged. Fifteen per cent of those selected by the Elders to be part of the new Somalia parliament were women.

Rare in Somalia, a near-consensus:

The irony about the chaos in Somalia of the past 20 years, is that on the face of it, it has the elements that would make for a lively democracy.

Somalis are argumentative, fractious, and distrustful of authority. Some say that it was exactly for these reasons that the country was plunged into political hell. However, when the National Constituent Assembly voted to adopt the draft; it was carried by an “unSomali” majority of 96 per cent.

The prodigal sons:

Until a few months ago, conventional wisdom had it that the breakaway semi-autonomous territories of Puntland and Somaliland, would never ever be part of the bigger Somalia again.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of the TFG and President Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo of Somaliland met on June 27 in Dubai, on the margins of an international conference on piracy, and signed an agreement to continue discussions to clarify the future relationship.

The (Somalia) Joint Security Committee met in May and August 2012 in Mogadishu, with among others the representatives.

Part of the reason for all this is that Somaliland and Puntland are finding their own separatist medicine too bitter to swallow. Somaliland has its self-declared separate “Khaatumo State”, and faced renewed military attacks in the disputed Sool, Sanaag and Cayn areas in June and July 2012. In addition, there was tension between “Khaatumo State,” also a little entity trying to break away, and “Puntland.”

Al-Shabaab relocates to Somaliland and Puntland:

While Somaliland and Puntland looked with disdain at central and southern Somalia as it descended into madness, the shoe is now on the other foot.

Al Shabaab, squeezed out of its old strongholds, undertook frequent troop movements from southern and central Somalia to Somaliland and Puntland, although the insurgents’ focus in those areas was more on recruitment than terrorist activity.

Puntland also faced continuous challenges from the Al Shabaab-linked Galgala insurgents, freelance militias, and pirates, whose criminal activities on the mainland intensified during the reporting period.

ALSO READ: Putting Somalia together again: Gains and defeats bring new headaches

Amisom gains…and threats

Afgooye and Afmadow, captured in May 2012, were key strategic gains for Amisom and the Somali forces fighting alongside them. The gains reinforced earlier successes in Bay, Bakool and Hiraan, resulting in increased pressure on Al Shabaab.

READ: The battle for Afgoye: An eyewitness report

However, the security situation in many southern and central areas remained unpredictable, with insurgents increasingly resorting to dangerous guerrilla attacks and intimidating locals, including in areas held by TFG and allied forces.

As the end of the transition approached, tensions rose again in the capital. Terrorist attacks continued, demonstrating Al Shabaab’s persistent covert infiltration and the overstretched capability of the allied forces. The Shabaab is down, but it is by no means out yet, says Ki-moon.

Surprise, surprise. Amisom in Somalia to stay?

In Mogadishu, the first phase of construction of permanent headquarters for Amisom, compliant with United Nations security standards, was completed.

The African Union operationalised the Amisom command and control structure through the establishment of an enhanced force headquarters and the deployment of staff officers, including the deputy force commander (operations) and the chief of staff.

As at July 31, 70 out of 85 posts were recruited, 52 of which have been deployed. The Amisom force commander issued instructions for the generation of a “provisional” guard force of some 300 troops within the current strength of the force. Clearly, when Amisom is done with being peace-enforcer, it will become Somalia’s babysitter for quite a few years.

Charcoal is politics:

Somalia is still the largest supplier of charcoal to the Middle East. It is a lucrative trade that has made warlords rich, and funded militants. And it has brought environmental disaster of mega proportions upon Somalia. Just to show how serious the problem is, the UN jumped into the fray.

Security Council resolution 2036 (2012), requested an international ban on the use of Somali charcoal, and it is putting money into efforts to end charcoal use through the provision of diesel and electrical cookers for Amisom and TFG military kitchen trailers.

Amisom casualties?

One of the most closely guarded secrets in Somalia is the number of casualties the Amisom forces suffer. Ki-moon reports that the United Nations support office for Amisom (UNSOA) continued to provide medical equipment, supplies and services to Amisom.

Between 1 May and 31 July, it conducted 97 medical evacuation, transfer and repatriation flights from Mogadishu and Baidoa to Nairobi, Entebbe, Uganda, and Bujumbura for 187 Amisom personnel. This is a give away.

A first on radio?

If there is one thing African countries have tried and failed at miserably, it is to establish a true public broadcaster. The UN is giving it a shot in Somalia. UNSOA is supporting ongoing efforts to prepare for the transformation of Radio Bar Kulan, which is supported by the UN, into a Somali public service broadcaster.

Japan and the EU are paying Somali police:

In June 2012, 603 Somali troops, including officers, non-commissioned officers, specialists and military trainers, returned from Uganda after completing training by the European Union Training Mission. An additional 551 trainees were deployed to the Bihanga training school in Ugandan to undertake training.

By July 12, a total of 3,700 police officers had been registered in a biometric database through a joint project, involving UNPOS, UNDP, UNOPS, UNMAS, Amisom and the Somali police force. As at the end of June, stipends were paid to 5,532 police officers courtesy of the government of Japan and the European Union.

Piracy attacks go down:

According to the International Maritime Organisation, as at the end of July 2012, 259 hostages from 18 ships were being held by Somali pirates.

This figure represents little change in the situation. However, the rate of both attempted and successful attacks declined from 163 in the first six months of 2011 to 81 in 2012, mainly due to the action of international naval forces, the use of privately contracted armed security personnel on board vessels and the continued implementation of best management practices.

Establishing some kind of working government and security on land in Somalia, has helped reduce piracy.

READ: Piracy attacks off Somalia coast drop

The suffering won’t end soon:

About 3.7 million people are still in need of humanitarian assistance and essential livelihood support. And, one in five Somali children under the age of five is acutely malnourished.

Surprisingly, the advance of Amisom and the forces of the TFG into the Afgooye corridor resulted in the displacement of up to 90,000 people. Mogadishu’s total population of internally displaced persons is now estimated at over 200,000.

Roads for food:

Livelihood interventions were scaled up in the more stable north. Some 100,000 people engaged in activities providing food in exchange for work, assets and training, and contributing thereby to the rehabilitation of 337 kilometres of feeder roads.

Where war is, mines follow:

Given the continued insecurity in Mogadishu, UNHCR also ensured that over 30,000 people received mine and explosive threat-awareness and threat-avoidance messages in 149 communities in Mogadishu, (we assume this is via SMS) including in 32 settlements for internally displaced persons.

A terrible place to be a child:

By July 31, a total of 3,048 violations against children (killing and maiming, rape and sexual violence and the recruitment and use of children by armed forces) had already been reported and verified, compared with 1,800 in 2011, including 1,415 child recruitments, compared with 948 in 2011.

During the second quarter of 2012, a total of 1,300 youth and 700 children were enrolled in a community-based reintegration programme that supports “Youth at Risk,” that is, youth and/or children who are already associated with, or are at risk of being involved with, criminal or violent groups.

The programme works to reintegrate children and youth, socially and economically, into their communities. Graduation ceremonies for the programme, at which 255 (230 males and 25 females) and 280 youth graduated, were held in Burao and Bosasso.

Soldiers behaving badly:

In areas under the control of the Somali TFG, poor discipline among the security forces had a negative impact on the population. While the TFG sought to address violence committed by its troops in Afgooye, there were continuing reports of incidents of extrajudicial killings, theft and rape.

There were also allegations of the summary execution of civilians in Beledweyne and Baidoa by government-allied forces. Several cases were referred to the military courts.

In Baidoa, arbitrary arrests and detentions took place on suspicion of linkages to Al Shabaab, including by Ethiopian forces. In July, there were 100 such detainees in Baidoa prison. Reports were received of abuse and violence against prisoners in detention.

If you are a journalist, you are game:

The conditions under which journalists perform their functions in Somalia remain extremely dangerous During the reporting period alone, there were four targeted assassination attempts against Somali journalists, two of which succeeded.

READ: Plight of Somalia's journalists

How the world dishes out its money in Somalia:

A joint United National Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS)-UNDP funding appeal of $11 million in support of key transitional tasks raised over $10 million to meet the critical tasks set out in the roadmap.

This came from the European Commission, Finland, Norway, Sweden, the UK, the US and the UN Peacebuilding Fund.

The Trust Fund for Peacebuilding in Somalia received three contributions since the last report: £1 million from the United Kingdom; $71,190 from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), and $201,632 from Finland. The Trust Fund in Support of Amisom received Can$1 million from Canada as well as $A3.5 million from Australia.

In a short sentence that is easy to miss, Ki-moon reported, "The Trust Fund in Support of Somali Security Institutions did not receive any contributions during this period and it has fully committed all contributions already received.” And there is one of the biggest problems Somalia has to overcome — its institutions, especially the security ones, have little credibility with the international community.

Helicopters, Uganda should pay attention:

The UN Secretary-General reported that in the course of 2012, UNSOA has committed approximately $33 million, mainly for arrears in reimbursement payments for contingent-owned equipment from troop-contributing countries.

The uncommitted balance of the fund stands at $6 million. The UN might cut a cheque for Uganda from the $33 million to compensate it those three Uganda military helicopters that crashed on Mount Kenya as they were heading to do battle in Somalia on the night of August 12.

Even in Somalia, Mother Earth gets care:

A UNDP proposal to the Global Environment Facility/Least Developed Countries Climate Fund for the preparation of a national adaptation plan of action for Somalia in response to climate change was approved in July.

The preparatory grant of $200,000 will make Somalia eligible to mobilise up to $14 million in project financing once the plan of action is completed by the end of 2012.

The UN takes the view, and correctly it seems, that there is no point spending money and foreign troops dying to bring peace to Somalia, if the country is going to evaporate in a cloud of environmental destruction.

Additional reporting by Christine Mungai.