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Through history's lenses, Security and Economy of Somalia
by Osman Aidarus
Wednesday - August 11, 2021

 

Somalia is a country that has since it’s inception, had some ever-changing situations in regards to Economy and Security.

PRELUDE
Economically, the society, mainly nomadic and few portions of them farmers, has never had sustainable long-lasting wealth.

The nomad always chased wherever pasturelands take him to. Due to the semi-desert nature of the Somali lands, droughts were always there and in play. A drought meant less or no water at all, leaving the livestock in huge thirst which eventually led to their death. A drought or two were more than enough to bankrupt a man who prior to the drought, was by the Somali standard very rich.

On the other hand, the farmers had similar tough challenges to always deal with. The methods they used for farming were very laborious and tiring. It would take months of hard-work to produce a decent sellable amount of crops. This never meant that their troubles ended there but would instead open the gates for new ones. First there always was the risk of the occurrence of Floods, which would completely destroy the crops. If that risk was averted, there also was the potential failure to sell all or most of the crops. The market wasn’t that booming and opportunities’-filled. That would leave the farmer close to bankruptcy. In the Somali context, the amount of work put into producing crops out of farms never matched the profits they were expected to yield.

There was a third minor source of income for a small group of the society; Fishing. In fishing, the fisherman would make sure he secures his family’s meals on daily basis. This industry wasn’t as robust and prominent as the previous two, which meant that there wasn’t much of a room for the fisherman to “sell” fish and establish a good market for it. It wasn’t much of a gig.

Security-wise, the Somali people have found their abode in chaos and unrest, since it’s all they’ve known, throughout their existence.

Somalis, constructed in a clan structure, have always had tussles among them. Often ignited by disputes over the ownership of pasturelands, wells and villages, the fights were always there. Sometimes a marriage gone-bad or the failure to carry out a retribution upon a killer would result in a lengthy fight between two clans. There is this general belief that the nomadic portions of the Somali society are more hostile and less-peaceful than their Farmers’ and Fishermen counterparts.

If it’s not them (Somalis) fighting amongst them, tussles with the other neighbouring ethnicities were always in play. That in brief, means that the Somali peninsula never experienced true and utter peace.

POST-INDEPENDENCE

The kind of context the prelude explained was the most valid prior to the independence. Not to say that after the independence it totally disappeared, but the situation changed, a bit. Somalis were now under their own rule. The country governed in a democratic style, was in many ways promising. Surrounded by more powerful, west-backed, historical enemies, there always was the risk of being attacked, by them.

Somalia was very frail at that time, as there was no strong economy nor a reliable army the country had. Only four years after it’s independence in 1964, it was attacked by it’s classical enemy, Ethiopia, a country known for it’s expansionist agendas. Ethiopia which was gifted “Soomaali-Galbeed”, a very large territory ethnically belonging to Somalis by the British colonizer, was still not satiated. It launched an attack on the remaining Somali lands, which it was planning to annex to the territories under her rule. But known for their resilience, Somalis however feeble their state was, fought heroically and stood in the way of Addis’s greed. The international bodies including the AU, league  of Arab nations, several European states, and a rising USA managed to convince the two countries to adopt ceasefire and stop the fighting. Somalia was about to hold an election at the time the fighting erupted, and it’s then Prime minister, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke who also was a presidential aspirant, said the following words which became too popular; “We’ll fight (against Ethiopia) with one hand, and vote (pursue our elections) with the other”.

The then governing administration in Somalia always had the urge and motive of swiftly strengthening the country’s army. They early-on started sending emissaries to the countries with the strongest armies, pleading them to help them with building a strong army, for Somalia. One of  the countries where the first emissaries were sent to, is the United States. On November 27th 1962, a high delegation led by Prime minister Sharmarke were warmly received and welcomed to Washington DC by the then USA president, John F Kennedy.

Among other things, building a strong army for Somalia was topping it’s delegation’s demands. Other areas of discussion included establishing robust Diplomatic and Economic ties between the two countries. None of the other areas of discussion were significant to Somalia’s delegation as “Building an army for them”. It’s said that the USA promised to build a police force for Somalia, but circumvented the request of building a military force. One would think that a democratic USA would right away get in-sync with Somalia, which was Africa’s leading democracy at the time.

In Somalia’s eyes, that trip wasn’t a success as it didn’t yield in them getting their top prize. This resulted in a drift towards the Soviet Union, which unlike the United States, was a tyrannical state willing to give Somalia what it wanted, swiftly. The Somalis in rush signed military treaties with the Soviets which led to a huge Soviet infiltration in the country but in return, produced a strong Somali army. Based on the short-time benefits, it looked like a good deal but on the long-run, it was an unholy alliance which will later result some unbearable repercussions on Somalia. The Soviet, a die-hard communist polity whose wealthy class were either the government officials or the Oligarchs, diverted it’s contagious stratification system to a fragile and needy Somalia. Soviets, known for carrying out many Coup d’etats in order to advance their communist agendas, saw a great opportunity in the weak and needy Somalia, enforced by their capability to eliminate Somalia’s nascent democracy and install a dictator who works for them. That required getting rid of the elected officials, and what better way to do that than assassinating the elected President.

After the coup, Somalia evolved into a mini-Chechnya. Every major decision had to go through Moscow to be adopted. The Soviet used Somalia as a fiefdom of theirs, whereby they constantly harassed their major competitions for world hegemony. America was the main victim of the Soviet provocations. The then ambassador of the United States to Somalia John L. loughran who served at the post from 1975-1979 attests to that fact. He narrates that at the time, Mogadisho was worse for the Western diplomats than Moscow itself. The ambassador and his co-workers faced a 24-hour surveillance and continuous bugging carried out by Soviet trained Somali intelligence operatives.

In a dramatic change of events, all of that changed when Siyad launched a large-scale war against Ethiopia, another important ally of the Soviet. It wasn’t in the Soviet dictionary that two of her allies fight amongst them. Despite numerous warnings, an adamant Siyad moved on with his offensive against Ethiopia. In a Somali’s perspective, the cause was noble and worth fighting for. The timing of the offensive was beyond catastrophic though. Somalia, independent for only 17 years, abandoned by her only ally who switched sides and is now toeing lines with the enemy, walked right into the lion’s den. Even though some minor victories were achieved at first, it needed no brains to realize with certainty that Somalia will in the end, lose in an embarrassing way. That lost war costed Somalia a hefty price.
From a security perspective, the loss led to a huge fragmentation and mistrust among the army ranks. Barre, afraid of a possible coup that could be carried out by his disappointed and defeated army, killed most of the bright and gallant military personnel. That way he thought his seat was secure. Little did he know though that such a juvie move would anger most of the remaining officers. It was around that time in 1978, when the first rebel militias were formed. They were hosted and harboured by Addis, whose goal was to unseat Siyad in order to militate the occurrence of another offensive against her. For the armed militias, toppling Barre was the main goal as well. After more than a decade of fighting, Siyad fled the country. This is where the rebel groups will make their biggest mistake; turning against each other which will make a peaceful filling of the void left by the dictator, impossible. This is where the struggle branded as liberating Somalis from the tyranny will turn into an endless intra-clan warfare.
Economy-wise, the war cost Somalia a lot. The country whose economy was struggling even before the war, whose major export was banana along with livestock, some fish and frankincense, had it’s banks bankrupted by the war. This forced the regime to start taking loans from the international financial bodies like IMF and the world bank. Some countries, mostly the group called (The Paris Club) also loaned Somalia some hard money. Some of that debt was recently remised. Some of it isn’t and Somalia has to pay it.
 
The Civil War (1991-2004)
Security;
This is the most difficult period in the modern Somali history. This is a period marked with never-ending battles, continuous displacement, immense amount of anarchy and all other types of ill-doings. In this dark term of time, Somalis were focused on staying alive rather than thriving in various aspects of their lives. Getting to Europe or America was the most sought-after dream of all Somali families at the time. The rebel groups who at some point joined all their powers to topple Siyad, have now started one versus one battles, against one another. In utter disagreement over who’ll take-over Siyad’s vacant seat, the leaders of the rebels failed to reach an inclusive compact. It was obvious that each one of them wanted the seat for himself. The public, confused by the prevalent unrest had no say whatsoever in the political arena.

In such a chaotic climate, it was clear that security could not be maintained. Hearing the unpleasant sounds of bullets, rockets and grenades became the norm. Landmines stashed in the tarmacs’ flanks would blow off on the fleeing  voyagers between now and then. The question of “How many have died?” became more popular than the basic “Were there any dead?”. Bloodshed was the symbol of this era.

Economically;

Surprisingly, however in a disarray they were, Somalis endowed with a knack for business, managed to establish and set up an amazing and dynamic business environment for themselves. With countless amount of challenges against them and without any regulation and protection from a government, they succeeded in meeting the demands of the market. Taking advantage of the polyglot nature of the average Somali, and their geographic closeness to the Arabian peninsula, the likes of Yemen and the UAE became a business hub for Somali tradesmen. All of the basic food supplements were imported from the ports of  Dubai and Aden. Even 30 years later and a more stable Somalia, UAE is still the main business destination favoured by the Somali businessmen.

The lacking of a regulating government however, will set the trail for a very nasty behaviour, the hiking of prices.

This is where a greedy group among the businessmen will misuse the absence of a regulating government and will hold the poor and displaced people hostage. This is where monopolism will take a toll on the simple citizen.

Even though it’s very commendable how they even managed to create such a dynamic and active market in an unlivable situation, the way they fluctuated the prices was unbearable to the ordinary citizen. Until now, even with the presence of a symbolic government, business people fluctuate the market according to their will.

2004-Present day

From an economic aspect, not much has changed. The same status quo is maintained and the business class might have gotten wealthier, but majority of the ordinary citizens still find it difficult to secure their daily meals.

Security-wise though, there’s been a very sharp change. The playfield which was before 2004 occupied by mere clan militias, has since 2006 been taken over by fundamentalist Islamists.

To give you a context, in the year of 2006, Ethiopian troops entered Somalia at the invitation of the then president, Abdullahi Yusuf.  In the beginning, the city of Baydhabo was the interim administrative city of his rule.

Mogadisho was under the rule of several scattered and divided armed groups. They were not happy with Yusuf’s election and were mostly against him stationing his administration in Mogadisho. Yusuf with the help of the Ethiopian army captured Mogadisho. From his perspective, it was the restoration of law and order in the country’s capital city. In the eyes of Mogadisho’s residents, it was an Ethiopian invasion. That’s when a fierce fight will erupt between the Ethiopian troops and the locals. The fight will eventually end in a defeat for the Ethiopians, and a victory for the locals. After the exit of the Ethiopians, a political agreement will be reached by the leaders of the armed groups and the top leadership of the TFG (Transitional Federal Government). The fighting stops but for one emerging group among the armed militias named Al-Shabab, the fight is not over. Al-shabab, a terrorist group functioning for about 14 years, is unlike any rebel group Somalis have seen throughout their history, very sophisticated. The group functions with an extremist ideology. They deem anyone who doesn’t see things their way an apostate. The group controls very large areas of Somalia, the southern provinces mostly. They’re known for their allegiance to Al-Qaeda, a global terrorist group stationed in the middle-east. They on daily basis terrorise the public. They behead or kill in explosions all sorts of the community. One thing that makes them ahead of Somalia’s national army is the doctrine. Another is the immense utilization of the human capital whereby their single member can serve in more than one capacity. A third and important factor is the funding it gives to it’s fighters, who are given a decent amount of salaries while alive, and their families are well-compensated after their death.

They also charge and blackmail the Somali businesses, forcibly taking from them high sums of money. Businesses have to pay that money as it is the only thing that guarantees their continued existence and the lives of their owners and workers. Any firm that refuses to pay that extortion money is attacked by Al-shabab. The feeble government fails to give businesses protection from this terrorist group.

For the Somali army, the story is different. The doctrine isn’t considered something of a great value when training them. The soldiers can’t in most cases serve in more than one capacity and are underpaid or sometimes unpaid at all.

There are several things that could lead to the defeat of Al-shabab. The most important ones will be listed below;

    In order for Somalia to have a formidable state-of-the-art army, it has to tweak and constantly improve it’s army. It has to maximize it’s utilization of the human capital and equip it’s soldiers with the knowledge to serve in any needed capacity.
    Indoctrination of the military personnel should be prioritized and made indispensable during the training courses. It’s vital for the morality of the army. A good example of it’s vitality is the Ahlu-Sunna vs Al-Shabab battles, who belong to two different schools of Islam. Whenever Al-shabab tried to invade territories under Ahlu-Sunna’s rule, they lost terribly. Not because they were weaker than Ahlu-Sunna, but because like their soldiers are indoctrinated, so were Ahlu-Sunna’s, leading to huge casualties inflicted upon Al-Shabab.
    Privatizing the security apparatus; with the exception of the spying agency, a privatized military will hasten for the Somali government Al-shabab’s weakening and eradication process. The government has to allow, license and regulate private military contractors, rewarding them for the missions they do on her behalf. The government plus several private military companies all joining hands to fight Al-shabab will hugely expedite their extermination.
    Encouraging the local production of weaponry; Since there is an arms’ embargo on Somalia preventing it from purchasing developed and modern weapons, it has to try to produce them locally. Many precedents like this exist, whereby the likes of Turkey, Iran and even some armed groups like Hamas locally produce some verily efficient weapons. Locally produced weapons are cheaper than the purchased ones and in many cases, more efficient.

The Geopolitical aspect

Both economically and security-wise, Somalia has a huge potential to play a key role in the region.

Starting with the economy; Somalis are already in control of East Africa’s markets whether Nairobi, Addis, Lusaka or even Kampala. The acumen of Somalis in regards to business makes it easy for them to dominate markets wherever they go. Many of the horn’s multimillion-dollar corporations belong either fully or partially to Somalis.
That fait accompli can hugely work in Somalia’s favour. That accompanied by a savvy government-led plan can enable Somalia to lead the region, economically. A myriad of natural resources, countless-all-strategic number of ports plus the strategic location of the country gives it a head-start over it’s neighbours. The verily dynamic business-minded Somali person is also a huge deciding factor in this highly contested market.

Security-wise, Somalis after privatizing their security can export their military to carry out missions on it’s neighbours’ behalf. Imagine the Ethiopian or Kenyan governments pleading Somalia’s private military contractors to help them carry out missions. That way, Somalia gets hard money for the job and at the same time shields itself from any possible and  potential danger imposed by the neighbours. That way, Somalis can lead the horn militarily. In this context, military operations are a sellable service.

Osman Aidarus is an Architecture alumni at Istanbul Gelisim University in Istanbul, Turkey. He can be reached at: [email protected].




 





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