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Briefing Room

Straight Talk On Somalia Insecurity

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Abukar Arman is a writer, a former diplomat and an activist whose work on foreign policy, geopolitics and faith is widely published.

There is a broad-based consensus that security in Somalia has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. In the past few weeks, hundreds of people have been killed by truck bombs at two prominent locations in Mogadishu. The lethal potency of the explosives and the scale of death and devastation resulting from the Oct 14th one was far beyond what Mogadishu has witnessed in over quarter of a century of violence.

These successive deadly terrorist operations combined with allegations that attackers have used intelligence services ID cards have turned the spotlight on Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). Serious questions regarding the agency’s leadershipcompetence and the scope of its authority are being raised.

But how does one reveal unpleasant realities and tell a traumatized nation what appeared like a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ was in fact a runaway train coming at them? How does one do that without shoving them into state of self-defeating despair? These indeed are the dicey challenges, but truth must be told.

Somalia is in an existential race against time. Much like all other critical issues facing the nation, the Somali government does not control its intelligence or security. Worse, the government does not have the political will to address the real causes and effects.

The Ownership Dilemma

Somalia is the center of gravity of international predatory capitalism. Not only because of its untapped natural resources since many countries would qualify, but because Somalia is the gold standard of these three systematically destructive elements: corruption, ineptitude and disloyalty to the nation. How many nations do you know that host dozens of security and intelligence forces with various (domestic and foreign) commands and control? Here are some examples:

There is the revolving door syndrome of failed security leadership that recycles the same has-beens. Every year or so when a new commander is appointed and another is sacked. The former brings in his own clan comrades and cronies and the latter takes with him the manpower that he brought in.

There are former al-Shabab leaders with long ugly record who, despite never seeking the forgiveness of their victims, been co-opted by the government, and, yes, been giving highly sensitive positions at NISA and other branches of government.

There is the cottage industry of intelligence serves ID cards. These IDs are readily available for anyone willing to pay the going rate. Apparently it is the agency’s failure when individuals in charge of issuing these IDs make little over $200 for monthly salary and the going price for a false ID is twice their monthly salary. While civilians try to possess these IDs for various reasons, the most common is the need to get through roadblocks and checkpoints since there is no logging system to verify authenticity of employment.

There are multiple security and intelligence agencies that emerged within the five clan-based federal states that may share a name with NISA but functionally have nothing to do with that ‘national agency.’ Most of them take their substantive orders from one neighboring state or another.

There are the corrupt leaders in the political upper echelon that readily put Somalia’s national interest behind anyone with a bag full of cash or has the capacity to aid them in attaining or keeping a position.

There are many in the circles of influence, including ministers and parliament members, who own their own private security companies and directly benefit from increased insecurity.

There is the underground business cartel that considers the status quo a heavenly blessing.

There is the Blackwater project to advance what might be called ‘world peace according to Erik Prince’ while UAE and DPI provide the diplomatic and commercial façades.

There is UK –guised as UNSOM—to guard the Soma Oil and Gas interest by any means necessary. It is mandated face that governs the Halane compound where a mishmash of the good, bad and ugly and their mercenaries are hosted. In their possession is the carrot and stick that boost or undermine security, at will.

There is the US. In addition to AFRICOM drone operations, the US runs routine covert operations in cooperation with a Somali counter-terrorism unit that is trained, paid, and commanded by the US. Though this was a thinly veiled secret, it entered into the public discourse on US’ controversial activities in Somalia since the recent killing of a Green Beret, and its role in Africa when four other Green Berets were killed in Niger a few months later.

This needless to say raised both media and congressional interests in the US clandestine operations in Africa. For years, AFRICOM has been effectively managing perception by offering ocean-cruise version of embedded journalism.

Against that backdrop it is extremely difficult to pinpoint who, or which combination, has triggered the latest wave of terroristic atrocities.

Knee-jerking Into the Oblivion

As usual, the government immediately reiterated its counter-terrorism motto: al-Shabab and ISIS have committed this atrocity. They are out to eradicate the Somali people, therefore, we should all join hands to fight them in their bloody swamps. We should wage an all-out war in many fronts and many regions and “I will be the first in the line”, said President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo).

Never mind the fact that the terrorists—be they al-Shabab or one of the other clandestine candidates—are executing their deadly operations behind the roadblocks and barricades across Mogadishu. And never mind that the mightiest nation on the face of the earth could not defeat terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan in a conventional warfare involving hundreds of thousands of its best soldiers. President Farmajo declared a war and went off to solicit more military support from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Djibouti to ‘defeat al-Shabab, once and for all.’

So How Does One Get Out Of This Mess?

In order to stabilize Somalia all pieces of the insecurity puzzle must be accounted for. In addition to al-Shabab’s suicidal vision, the ever-worsening security condition is driven by the interplay of the aforementioned domestic and foreign elements.

Somalia continues being a lucrative project of international appeal, a regional cash cow, and geopolitical pretext for exploitation and military expansion. Except the government which, in theory, is the guardian of the Somali national interest, all others are entrenched in advancing their zero-sum strategies and interests. Out of that condition emerged a deadly system of ‘a favor for a favor’ that keeps insecurity ever-present, but manageable.

The Somali people need and deserve more than a cosmetic accountability fix that is intended to cover the wrinkles of incompetence and corruption.

Somalia needs competent leadership that puts its national interest in its appropriate place; leadership that is mindful of the fact that security does not exist in vacuum; leadership with strategic vision who are mindful that genuine national reconciliation is essential to harmonizing hearts and minds; leadership with the political will to demand immediate overhaul of the current dysfunctional security system; leadership willing to demand streamlining the command & control of the intelligence sector; leadership that demands a front-door entry into Somalia and thoroughly vets to select the right strategic partnerships.

Unless and until these fundamental issues are addressed, neither Somalia nor its (official and unofficial) guests could be safe. Security would be nothing more than an extended respite between one terrorist attack and another.

Briefing Room

Saving Somalia Through Debt Relief

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KEVIN WATKINS

Kevin Charles Watkins is the Chief Executive of Save the Children UK

Somalia needs humanitarian aid to stem its short-term suffering, but that cash will not break the country’s deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. To do that, the IMF must forgive Somalia’s crushing debt, just as it has for nearly every other heavily indebted poor country.

LONDON – Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, once asked his country’s creditors a blunt question: “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” That was in 1986, before the public campaigns and initiatives that removed much of Africa’s crushing and unpayable debt burden. But Nyerere’s question still hangs like a dark cloud over Somalia.

Over the last year, an unprecedented humanitarian effort has pulled Somalia back from the brink of famine. As the worst drought in living memory destroyed harvests and decimated livestock, almost $1 billion was mobilized in emergency aid for nutrition, health, and clean water provision. That aid saved many lives and prevented a slow-motion replay of the 2011 drought, when delayed international action resulted in nearly 260,000 deaths.

Yet, even after these recent efforts, Somalia’s fate hangs in the balance. Early warning systems are pointing to a prospective famine in 2018. Poor and erratic rains have left 2.5 million people facing an ongoing food crisis; some 400,000 children live with acute malnutrition; food prices are rising; and dry wells have left communities dependent on expensive trucked water.

Humanitarian aid remains essential. Almost half of Somalia’s 14 million people need support, according to UN agencies. But humanitarian aid, which is often volatile and overwhelmingly short-term, will not break the deadly cycles of drought, hunger, and poverty. If Somalia is to develop its health and education systems, economic infrastructure, and the social protection programs needed to build a more resilient future, it needs predictable, long-term development finance.

Debt represents a barrier to that finance. Somalia’s external debt is running at $5 billion. Creditors range from rich countries like the United States, France, and Italy, to regional governments and financial institutions, including the Arab Monetary Fund.

But Somalia’s debt also includes $325 million in arrears owed to the International Monetary Fund. And there’s the rub: countries in arrears to the IMF are ineligible to receive long-term financing from other sources, including the World Bank’s $75 billion concessional International Development Association (IDA) facility.

Much of the country’s current debt dates to the Cold War, when the world’s superpower rivalry played out in the Horn of Africa. Over 90% of Somalia’s debt burden is accounted for by arrears on credit advanced in the early 1980s, well before two-thirds of today’s Somali population was born.

Most of the lending then was directed to President Siad Barre as a reward for his abandonment of the Soviet Union and embrace of the West. Military credits figured prominently: over half of the $973 million in US debt is owed to the Department of Defense. Somalia got state-of-the-art weaponry, liberally financed by loans. The IMF was nudged into guaranteeing repayment through a structural adjustment program.  Repaying the debt today would cost every Somali man, woman, and child $361.

None of this would matter if Somalia had qualified for debt reduction. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC), created in response to the great debt relief campaigns of the 1990s, has written off around $77 billion in debt for 36 countries. Somalia is one of just three countries that have yet to qualify. The reason: the arrears owed to the IMF. (Eritrea and Sudan have also not qualified, for similar reasons).

The IMF view is that Somalia, like earlier HIPC beneficiaries, should establish a track record of economic reform. This will delay a full debt write-off for up to three years, exclude Somalia from long-term development finance, and reinforce its dependence on emergency aid. Other creditors have endorsed this approach through silent consent.

Somalia deserves better. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government has demonstrated a commitment to economic reform, improved accountability, and transparency. For two years, it has adhered to an IMF program, achieving targets for improving public finance and the banking sector. More needs to be done, especially in terms of domestic resource mobilization. But this is the first Somali government to provide the international community with a window of opportunity to support recovery. We must capitalize on it.

Waiting three more years as Somalia ticks the IMF’s internal accounting boxes would be a triumph of bureaucratic complacency over human needs. Without international support, Somalia’s government lacks the resources needed to break the deadly cycle of drought, hunger, and poverty.

Somalia’s children need investment in health, nutrition, and schools now, not at some point in the indefinite future. Investing in irrigation and water management would boost productivity. With drought-related livestock and crop losses estimated at around $1.5 billion, government-supported cash payment programs would help aid recovery, strengthen resilience, and build trust.

The benefits of these investments would extend to security. Providing the hope that comes with education, health care, and the prospect of a job is a far more effective weapon than a drone to combat an insurgency that feeds on despair, poverty, joblessness, and the absence of basic services.

There is an alternative to IMF-sponsored inertia on debt relief. The World Bank and major creditors could convene a creditor summit to agree to terms for a prompt debt write-off. More immediately, the World Bank could seek its shareholders’ approval for a special mechanism – a “pre-arrears clearance grant” – that would enable Somalia to receive IDA financing. There is a precedent for this: In 2005, the US championed World Bank financing for Liberia, which at the time had significant IMF debt after emerging from civil war.

The technicalities can be discussed and the complexities resolved. But we should not lose sight of what is at stake. It is indefensible for the IMF and other creditors to obstruct Somalia’s access to financing because of arrears on a debt incurred three decades ago as much through reckless lending as through irresponsible borrowing.

Somalia’s children played no part in creating that debt. They should not have to pay for it with their futures.

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Briefing Room

UNSC votes to extend sanctions on Eritrea and Somalia

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The United Nations Security Council has voted to extend an arms embargo imposed on Eritrea and Somalia for allegedly supporting al-Shabaab. The decision comes barely a week after a panel of experts called for the lifting of sanctions particularly on Somalia. CGTN’s Liling Tan filed this report from New York

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Somalia’s Humanitarian & Disaster Management Minister resigned citing “Confusion and Disorder”

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(GOOBJOOG NEWS) Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management Dr. Maryan Qasim said Wednesday she quit the job following what she termed as ‘confusion and disorder’ in government.

Addressing the media shortly after confirming her resignation to Goobjoog News, Dr. Qasim said she could not put up with the level of ‘confusion and disorderly manner in which the government operates’ but noted she was not in any way opposed to the government.

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