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April 8, 2009 / jeni

Somalia Brief

Defining the Somali Enemy

Diane Chido, ISN Security Watch

al-shabaab2

A nice snapshot of the situation in Somalia, starting with the emergence of a more clearly defined adversary in the country.

Only one group has refused to cooperate with the new president of the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the former head of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), who has publicly stated his aim to work toward peace with all elements in Somalia. Al-Shabaab, or “The Youth,” illustrated its recalcitrance by taking over police stations and then whole towns as Ethiopian security forces withdrew from Somalia in January this year. The group then captured the TFG stronghold in Baidoa, forcing the government to flee to Djibouti. It now controls much of central and southern Somalia.

Al-Shabaab’s leadership has long had direct links to al-Qaida and has been gaining strength with an influx of mujahideen fighters from Iraq and from Yemen. The latter, just across the Gulf of Aden, is quickly becoming a stronghold for jihadists.

A 19 March audio feed allegedly from Osama bin Laden denounced the new TFG president as having “changed to partner up with the infidel,“ and encouraged al-Shabaab in its insurgency efforts. From the morass of warlords and warring Islamist factions, the international community now has its “Public Enemy Number One.”

The brief also discusses piracy, the UN-approved ‘right of pursuit’, the new AFRICOM approach to security on the continent and, of course, oil.

Since oil prices skyrocketed in 2008, there has been greater international interest than ever in finding and controlling untapped reserves. Somalia is clearly no exception.

On 12 March, Canada-based Africa Oil announced “plans to start drilling two wells in Somalia by the end of this year, after picking a suitable partner for the work. [James] Phillips [participant in an oil and gas conference in Mombassa] also said the company was in talks with contractors to carry out seismic work in Ethiopia and Kenya.”

It should also be noted that the failed US-led humanitarian aid effort, Operation Restore Hope, which began in Somalia in December 1992, came on the heels of a 1992 World Bank report on hydrocarbons that “ranked [Somalia] second only to Sudan as the top prospective [oil] producer” in northeast Africa.

There is clearly broad collective interest in protecting international shipping, but once the Canadians begin drilling in Somalia, this collective interest will to expand to include protection of future drilling sites, as well as the stated aim of halting the spread of Islamic terrorism.

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