On September 1, the leader of the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabaab, Ahmed Abdi Godane, was killed in a US-led drone strike in an al-Shabaab stronghold in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region. The drone strike coincided with an ongoing military offensive launched August 25 by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and Somali government forces in southern and central Somalia, dubbed Operation Indian Ocean.
Jens Mjaugedal, Special Envoy of Norway to Somalia, is frustrated… which is hardly surprising given his mission to try to turn Somalia, which has officially been the world’s most failed state for many years, into a success. The biggest problem in Somalia is how to keep the deadly al-Qaeda-affiliated, Islamist militant group al-Shabaab at bay.
The African Union’s robust peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) expelled al-Shabaab from Mogadishu two years ago, and is now engaged in a major offensive to try to rid the country of the scourge altogether. AMISOM claims to have liberated 10 strategic towns so far, though the war is very far from won.
When we look at images of civil war such as the recent images from Syria, our gut response is that such destruction and suffering cannot and should not last. Surely war is a ‘means to an end’—and once that end is reached, civil society and the economy will rise from the ashes? Not necessarily so, says the literature on war economies: war can be ‘economics by other means’. We test this proposition by using satellite images to reconstruct the unwritten economic history of the Somali civil war.
War can be seen as a rational economic activity. Warlords and insurgent movements use violence to extract rents: through looting and extortion or by charging taxes and ‘protection payments’ from traders and producers in their territories. International aid can be a significant revenue source for such ‘violence entrepreneurs’: it can be embezzled, diverted at roadblocks or directed to allied populations rather than the vulnerable and displaced. A ‘combat economy’ thus creates an elite of warlords, criminals and fighters with a direct interest in the continuation of war.
The piracy problem
According to data gathered by the International Maritime Bureau, (attempted) piracy was reported in 77 countries in the period 1998–2009. However, the intensity of the piracy problem varies significantly and the number of pirate hotspots is limited. Countries considered notable piracy hotspots include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and, most importantly, Somalia.
Since 2005, around 200 ships have been hijacked and held for ransom by Somali pirates. If we consider that each of these ships has a crew of 20, this means that up to 4000 sailors have been taken hostage. Pirates have therefore had a great impact on the level of security in the Horn of Africa and there is some evidence that they have affected both the cost and quantity of shipping through the region.
Somalia could fall into the same trap as Afghanistan and Iraq where massive influxes of aid create a short-term boom in the economy but don’t necessarily lay the groundwork for sustainable growth, said Aisha Ahmad, assistant professor of political science at the University of Toronto and chief operation officer of the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, an internationally renowned organization in Somalia that has provided emergency relief to people throughout the civil war.
Ms. Ahmad said Mogadishu’s current stability is mostly due to the “green zone” established by the international community, and because aid sometimes doesn’t reach rural areas, desperate people are now drawn to the capital, “creating a number of new humanitarian and security concerns that we haven’t seen thus far.”
“Once you leave the green zone, the situation changes dramatically, and you’ll see a lot of the old militia coming out of the bush the minute you leave the capital city going into Afgooye corridor,” she said.