Al Shabaab related deaths declined 15 percent in 2018 compared to 2017. In addition to 700 fewer deaths in 2018 there were about seven percent fewer violent incidents. The decline in al Shabaab activity was the result of several factors. There was internal fighting by various al Shabaab factions including ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Then there was the growing resistance from local clan militias seeking to maintain access to food aid and commercial travel (goods coming in and going out of the area) in general. A favorite al Shabaab money raising method was roadblocks that demanded payments from vehicles. Those that could not pay often had their vehicle, and whatever it was carrying, stolen or held for ransom. This made life for everyone in a clan more difficult and created a willingness to do something risky (like taking on al Shabaab) to improve matters. In that effort they could call on the peacekeepers and increasing American air support. The Somali army was becoming more effective, especially their small special operations force. More Somalis regard al Shabaab as a bunch of bandits stealing “in the name of God” rather than “defenders of Islam” or much of anything else. Yet al Shabaab and Boko Haram in Nigeria continue to be the main sources of terrorist violence in Africa. Al Shabaab alone accounted for about 40 percent of such deaths throughout Africa. Boko Haram is making a comeback even as al Shabaab is declining (from being responsible for 4,700 deaths in 2017 and 4,000 in 2018).
The Root Cause
For Somalia Islamic terrorism is one of several violent responses to the massive corruption and inability to cooperate and form an effective national government. A continuing problem in Somalia is that even when there is a national government no one is really in charge. This is largely the result of being considered the most corrupt nation in the world. Somalia has been rated the most corrupt nation in the world for over a decade. Despite positive press releases from the government, outside observers cannot see any real progress. In 2018 Somalia ranked 180 out of 180 nations in a worldwide survey of corruption. That has been unchanged year after year.
Progress, or lack thereof, can be seen in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index where countries are measured on a 1 (most corrupt) to 100 (not corrupt) scale. The most corrupt nations (usually North Korea/14, Yemen/14, Syria/13, South Sudan/13 and Somalia/10) have a rating of under 15 while of the least corrupt (New Zealand and Denmark) are over 85. The current Somalia score is 10 (up from 9 in 2017) compared to 34 (35) for Ethiopia, 27 (28) for Kenya, 26 (26) for Uganda, 24 (20) for Eritrea, 14 (16) for Yemen, 13 (12) for South Sudan, 16 (16) for Sudan, 17 (17) for Libya, 27 (27) for Nigeria, 32 (31) for Mali, 43 (40) for Morocco, 43 (42) for Tunisia, 19 (20) for Chad, 34 (33) for Niger, 70 (71) for the UAE (United Arab Emirates), 62 (64) for Israel, 61 (61) for Botswana, 72 (75) for the United States, 35 (33) for Algeria, 25 (25) for Cameroon, 40 (39) for Benin, 41 (40) for Ghana, 43 (43) for South Africa, 20 (21) for Congo, 45 (45) for Senegal, 41 (40) for India, 72 (73) for Japan, 38 (37) for Indonesia, 57 (54) for South Korea, 18 (18) for Iraq, 41 (40) for Turkey, 49 (49) for Saudi Arabia, 28 (28) for Lebanon, 28 (30) for Iran, 16 (15) for Afghanistan, 33 (32) for Pakistan, 28 (29) for Russia and 39 (41) for China. A lower corruption score is common with nations in economic trouble and problems dealing with Islamic terrorism and crime in general. Somalia’s corruption score has not changed much since 2012, when it was 8.
February 2, 2019: In the southwest (Gedo, 320 kilometers from Mogadishu) a suicide car bomb went off outside an Ethiopian base, killing at least ten people. Ethiopian troops serve with the peacekeeper force in Somalia and are particularly effective against al Shabaab.
February 1, 2019: Some 48 kilometers south of Mogadishu an American UAV missile strike killed at least 13 al Shabaab gunmen. This is the tenth American airstrike in Somalia for 2019. In 2018 the U.S. carried out at 48 of these air attacks in Somalia (killing about 330 Islamic terrorists) compared to 35 attacks for all of 2017, 15 for 2016, 11 in 2015 and three in 2014. These air attacks are often a side effect of intel agencies (like the CIA) collecting intelligence (aerial surveillance and electronic monitoring) on Islamic terrorist activity in the region. This information is used to track changes in al Shabaab forces and capabilities and identify targets the Somali special operations forces can go after. These attacks are meant to disrupt al Shabaab operations or eliminate (capture or kill) their key leaders. These raids get noticed but the Somali special operations troops also carry out some surveillance missions which are purposely kept out of the news because these operations are mainly about future attacks.
January 30, 2019: In Hiran (a region 200 kilometers north of Mogadishu) Al Shabaab lost 24 men to an American UAV missile strike on their camp.
January 29, 2019: In Mogadishu a car bomb exploded near the Petroleum Ministry, killing two people. Al Shabaab was responsible and set off the explosives by remote control.
January 28, 2019: In the north (Puntland) al Shabaab carried out an offensive against a smaller ISIL faction based in the mountains around Bari at the northeast tip of Puntland. Al Shabaab quietly moved over a hundred additional fighters into the area during December after deciding to wipe out its troublesome rivals once and for all. During December al Shabaab failed in several attacks but kept at it and this month have been pushing the smaller ISIL force out of positions they have long held.
January 21, 2019: In the south, across the border in northeast Kenya (Garissa) police disrupted and repelled an al Shabaab attack on a Chinese construction site where work is proceeding on a new highway. Four people were wounded, one of them a civilian. Al Shabaab quickly left the area when they discovered the site was defended and the police were ready for them.
January 19, 2019: In the south (Middle Juba, 400 kilometers southeast of the capital) American UAVs used missiles to kill 52 al Shabaab gunmen who were in vehicles on the road returning from an attack on an army base. That base, outside the port city of Kiamayo, was attacked before dawn by over a hundred al Shabaab men who briefly pushed the soldiers out of the camp before dawn. Air support and other reinforcements arrived to help the base defenders regain control of the camp. Eight soldiers were killed and al Shabaab took their dead and wounded with them and that is where the American UAVs caught up with them.
January 18, 2019: In central Somalia (the Bakool region) al Shabaab kidnapped about a hundred civilians who refused to pay “taxes” to the Islamic terrorists. Kin of the taken have called on the government to help them out.
January 15, 2019: In Kenya al Shabaab carried out a violent and partially successful attack on the upscale DusitD2 hotel in Nairobi. The attack left 26 dead, including the five attackers and lasted 20 hours because the al Shabaab men took hostages. Most of the dead were hotel guests or staff. The hotel reopened in a week and police rounded up a growing number of al Shabaab members and sympathizers operating in Kenya. As with earlier al Shabaab attacks in Kenyan cities the pervasive corruption within Kenya helped make it possible for al Shabaab to get weapons and personnel into Kenya for such attacks.