Somali pirates have fallen on hard times. Last month, for the first time in five years, there was an entire month with no ships taken or even attacked. The last ship taken was a wooden fishing boat seized on June 19th. The last attack was on June 26th, when an unsuccessful attempt was made against a cargo ship. Part of this was due to bad weather as July and August are the monsoon (rainy) season of Somalia. It’s more than weather, however, as pirate activity is down 60 percent for the first six months of the year.
The pirates still hold 14 ships and 191 crewmen for ransom and are still out there. The decline in pirate success has come from better anti-piracy patrol techniques (seizing and destroying mother ships) and more merchant ships with armed guards and crews who know how to deal with pirates. The pirates have not been able to adapt to all this, at least not yet. Huge ransoms are still being collected, so the incentive is still there. Those who have spoken to pirates relate that the armed guards are the most feared innovation. Pirates try to determine if a ship has armed guards before even attempting an attack. That’s because some armed guard teams contain a sniper or two, who will kill individual pirates or disable the speedboat motor.
In a week the members of the two chamber Somali National Constituent Assembly (275 from the Lower House and 54, representing the 18 administrative regions in the Upper House) will elect a president. Various clan coalitions are putting forth candidates. The president does not have a lot of power but the post is prestigious and considered to have more money making potential (looting government funds) than most other official posts.
Those who have been training the troops of the new Somali Army have found that just showing the recruits how to use weapons and operate effectively in a combat zone is not enough. Now there are patriotism classes because nearly all these new troops still consider themselves warriors who are still out to steal (“take loot” in warrior parlance) at any opportunity and owe more loyalty to clan leaders than military officers or government officials. These are ancient customs and a major impediment to Somali troops achieving the kind of discipline and reliability Western, or many African troops, possess. There are growing numbers of complaints from civilians of Somali troops stealing and committing other crimes.
While al Shabaab is reduced to terror attacks and raids for food and other supplies, there is still one major al Shabaab base left. This is the port city of Kismayo in the south. A Kenyan led peacekeeper force is still massing outside the city and appears ready to attack this week.
While al Shabaab control over southern Somalia has largely been shattered, the area is still full of bandits and clan militias that often act like bandits. The area is still considered unsafe for non-Somali foreign aid workers. The locally hired foreign aid workers are not able to assure that food and other aid will reach those who need it, so not much aid is coming in yet. Shutting down al Shabaab is one thing, delivering law and order is quite a bit more difficult. Despite that, the economy is growing. Merchants and farmers can make deals to arrange security for themselves. This ranges from belonging to a clan with a large and energetic militia, to simply paying protection money to someone who can suppress crime in an area.
August 11, 2012: Al Shabaab gunmen attacked government troops guarding refugees camped along the highway south of Mogadishu. Casualties are unknown. Al Shabaab raids the refugees for food and recruits (usually children, who are easier to control and motivate).
August 10, 2012: In Mogadishu a roadside bomb killed two soldiers.
August 9, 2012: The AU (African Union) has ordered Uganda to send 600 of its 6,332 peacekeeping personnel home because Uganda has more people in Somalia than it is authorized to have (and the AU has money to pay for). Troops get paid several times more when acting as peacekeepers. However, Ugandan troops are complaining that about 20 percent of their peacekeeper pay is being stolen by their officers.
August 8, 2012: In Mogadishu a roadside bomb killed eight Somali soldiers.
August 6, 2012: In the southwest, where several hundred al Shabaab gunmen have taken refuge, a clash with Ethiopian and Somali troops has left over fifty al Shabaab men dead and many more wounded.
August 4, 2012: An al Shabaab force attempted to seize the town of Qansah Dhere but were repulsed, losing at least 15 men. The battle took place in the Bay region, which is 250 kilometers northwest of Mogadishu.